Ex-OSU running back Ryan McCants takes over Roosevelt football program on the rise

By Mike Wilson

Over the next few weeks, SBLive Oregon will break down every 6A, 5A and 4A football team in the state in anticipation of a six-week season in March and April. Even if the season is postponed or canceled, we will continue to highlight more than a hundred teams and more than a thousand players in Oregon. Here’s our look at the Roosevelt Roughriders of the Class 6A Portland Interscholastic League.

ROOSEVELT TEAM PAGE

HEAD COACH 

Ryan McCants, first season

2019 AT A GLANCE 

Overall record: 5-5

League record: 4-1, second in PIL

Playoffs: Lost 70-29 to West Linn in first round

ALL-LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED 

OT/DL TJ Price, first team on offense and defense, defensive player of the year

TE/DL Malik Kelly, first team on offense and defense

RB DaMarzhe’ Nelson, first team

Utility Malique Sabb, first team

LB Flen Grisby, second team

DB Roshellio Sanders, second team

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Senior OL/DL Sosiua Taumoeanga

Don’t let Taumoeanga’s position on the interior lines fool you. He’s also a rugby player, and at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, the senior brings a very athletic streak to the position. “He moves very well for a guy his size,” McCants said. “When we’re doing our agility drills, he’s out there competing with some of the skill players. He’s very well put together. And he just moves like a skill player in a bigger guy’s body.” McCants foresees Taumoeanga playing at tackle on offense and tackle or end on defense.

Senior OL/DL Nathan Horsey

Horsey was second-team all-Portland Interscholastic League at offensive tackle as a junior after being a first-team pick as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder brings a high motor. “He loves to work, loves the game of football,” McCants said. “He’s going to be another anchor on the line for us.” McCants said some of the local small colleges are looking at Horsey. “He’s a real hard worker, and he’s going to do whatever he can to prove that he can play at the level that he’d like,” McCants said.

Junior QB Imarion Kelly

McCants lauds Kelly for his tangible skills as well as his intangible qualities. “He’s got a heck of an arm,” McCants said. “He can run, he can throw. He’s one of our best athletes as well.” Kelly took over at quarterback in the second half of the 2019 season and has apparently been on an upward trajectory since. “In the few months I’ve known him, he’s grown into a leader,” McCants said. “I see him leading more and more each day and making sure the guys are doing the things they’re supposed to be doing.”

Junior RB/S Lindell Betts

Getting the ball into Betts’ hands — wherever he lines up — appears to be a priority for the Roughriders of North Portland. “He’s really explosive,” McCants said. “When he runs, when he turns it on and he has a step on somebody, he’s not going to get caught.” A strong student in the classroom, Betts might line up at wide receiver depending on what offensive package Roosevelt runs. “He’s really quick,” McCants said. “He can make you miss in a phone booth, as they say.”

Junior WR Jackson Fletcher

A relative newcomer to high school football, Fletcher has impressed McCants with his receiver talents and his ability to make things look easy. “He has a natural route-running ability and just great, soft hands,” McCants said. “He can catch the ball really well in all conditions.” McCants said Fletcher looks well-suited to a position as a slot receiver but can also be an asset lining up outside.

Senior RB/WR/LB Keone Rekemsik

Versatility from play to play is among the assets of Rekemsik, who can play fullback in one offensive look and slot receiver in another. “He gives us flexibility with our packages,” McCants said. Even though Rekemsik’s resume reads “skill player,” McCants said he has the size and mentality to block linebackers and defensive linemen.

Junior WR/LB Izaya Laguardia

At receiver, Laguardia brings good size, good route-running and good hands. At linebacker, he brings speed. And everywhere, he brings leadership. McCants said Laguardia has been instrumental in informing other players about practice information and with his overall communication. “He has really good leadership skills,” McCants said. Though Laguardia has played in the defensive backfield, he’s targeted to a linebacker spot this season. “We like his speed at the linebacker position,” McCants said, “so he’s been practicing at both (defensive back and linebacker). We want to have our linebackers be able to run and make plays.” On offense, McCants said Laguardia could line up as a second tight end or a slot receiver as well as a wide receiver.

Senior OL/DL Jonathan Griffith-Bynum

McCants looks to Griffith-Bynum as another anchor on the offensive and defensive lines. He’s ticketed to play center or guard on offense. “He’s a really smart kid who has been showing up every day,” McCants said. “He has a really high motor. He works his butt off every time he’s out there. And he just loves the game of football.” McCants characterized Griffith-Bynum as a leader by example more so than a vocal touchstone. “You look over and he’s always doing the right thing,” McCants said. “He’s really coachable and always willing to learn.”

OUTLOOK

It was only in 2017 that the Roughriders had a 1-7 season, one perhaps overshadowed by a head coaching change one week before the season opener. Roosevelt enters this season with a first-year coach after the resignation of Tim Price, but the hire of McCants was handled with more lead time before the 2020-21 season was supposed to have started.

McCants, a former Oregon State running back, came to the North Portland school from Lincoln in Southwest Portland, where he was an assistant coach for six years. He took over a program that has made the OSAA Class 6A playoffs each of the past two seasons.

In assessing his team, he said skill players are the strength. The interior lines have some key players and compose another unit providing optimism.

“We do need to develop some of the younger guys and some people who are new,” McCants said, alluding to the offensive and defensive fronts.

The Roughriders have a quarterback in Kelly who has starting experience. Even with a new head coach, some features of the former offense will remain.

“We’re going to do some things that are similar to what the team did last year with multiple backs,” McCants said. “We also do spread it out as well.”

He added, “The ability to be multiple and scheme based off what a defense is giving us is really going to be useful. I think we have the personnel to get it. It’s just how do we put them in positions where they can succeed?”

Keeping the opposition from scoring was an issue last season. The Roughriders allowed 40 or more points in half of their games. But assuming they have a schedule similar to what they played last season, a winning record doesn’t look out of reach as a team with a strong junior class — in numbers and in talent — takes a step toward a promising fall 2021 season.

COACH SAID

“For us at Roosevelt, I would say, staying healthy is No. 1 and also learning the system and executing — being able to execute the X’s and O’s down to the details. I think if we can do that, the scoreboard and the competition piece would take care of itself, if we’re preparing correctly.” — Ryan McCants

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