Wheatmore’s Riley Strickland prepares to throw a pass during a game last year. (Randolph Record file photo)
TRINITY – Wheatmore’s football team has something no other Randolph County team has.
A returning starting quarterback.
“That’s actually pretty cool,” said Wheatmore’s Riley Strickland, who holds that distinction. “I still have two years.”
Strickland and the Warriors began the first of those with Friday night’s 33-7 victory at West Davidson.
That outcome served as a sign of the development for Wheatmore, which won seven games the past three seasons combined.
“My biggest takeaway from Friday night is we’re better than last year,” Strickland said. “Our defense is way better. Everybody wants it more and you can tell that.”
Wheatmore coach Philip Yarbrough said the Warriors have been building toward success. It has been a process.
“It was not an ideal situation and I told our parents that at the beginning of last year,” Yarbrough said. “It was knowing and believing that there would be a payoff.”
In recent seasons, the Warriors dealt with opponents who were bigger and more experienced.
“It was very tough sledding last year,” Yarbrough said. “What we did a very good job at as a program is creating a culture. It has been fun to watch the growth. We went through all those learning curves that you would like to go through on JV (and not varsity). The playing field is a little more even now. But it’s just Game 1.”
The challenging times might have set the foundation.
“It has been rough,” Strickland said. “We were really young last year. We were really timid. We’ve been young for a long time. Everybody is more confident this year.”
Strickland’s time as a starting quarterback is unique in Randolph County this year because Eastern Randolph, Providence Grove, Randleman and Southwestern Randolph had seniors at quarterback last season. Dominic Payne has moved from quarterback to running back at Trinity, while Asheboro has transfer Logan Laughlin as its starter.
It hasn’t been easy for Strickland to get to this point. Ben Walker was Wheatmore’s starter in 2021, but a knee injury at Asheboro ended his season, so Strickland moved to the first-string spot for three games.
In the third game, he suffered a broken collarbone on a scramble against Trinity. He was back as the starting quarterback as a sophomore last year.
Strickland, who’s about 6-foot and 150 pounds, said he has been intent on improving. He said he has better pocket presence and that helps him stay calm.
“I’ve definitely improved on pre-snap reads,” he said. “I have to get better with that.”
Yarbrough called Strickland a general on the field for his efforts. The Warriors, who play their home opener Friday night against East Davidson, also will rely on junior running back and outside linebacker Jonathan Kelly. He gained 91 rushing yards on 16 carries in the opener.
“I’m kicking myself for not giving him the ball a little bit more,” Yarbrough said. “Our offense runs through him.”
Defensive standouts in the first game included senior linebacker Max Smith and junior cornerback Clay Hill.
So for one night, it all came together.
“It was way better,” Strickland said. “We had people get hurt and cramp in that game and we didn’t give up. We kept going and going.”
Yarbrough said he no longer saw the Warriors as a young, overmatched team.
“We showed a lot of maturity, a lot of poise,” he said.
The Warriors might be able to distinguish themselves with speed because their coach said, “We’re a fast football team for Randolph County and 2-A football.”
Now it’s a matter of making all these assets work.
“We’re just trying to make a statement,” Strickland said.