12 Sep D.C. football notebook: National Collegiate gets over the hump
D.C. football notebook: National Collegiate gets over the hump
First-year National Collegiate football Coach Malcolm Hilliard looked down the sideline Friday after being scored on for the first time this season, saw senior quarterback D’Errico Riggins and realized, “I love this guy.”
The Panthers had out-scored their opponents, 98-0, in the opening two games of his tenure, but now they were facing the defending D.C. Public Charter School Athletic Association champions. This was a team National Collegiate had never beaten since starting its football team three years ago. Hilliard half-expected to see drooped helmets considering past years’ film showed the Southeast Washington charter school had a tendency to “give away games.”
Instead, he witnessed Riggins running up and down the bench while smacking everyone’s helmet. He guaranteed a touchdown in response and then delivered by firing a scoring strike to junior Andre Ross on the ensuing possession.
“These boys kept on fighting,” Hilliard said. “Nobody put their head down, and when we took the lead, we made sure we didn’t give it back.”
The emotional lift provided by National Collegiate’s 22-14 win over Cesar Chavez might have been more important than the actual result, as the Panthers’ attempt to become a football force among the District’s charter schools this fall.
This surge began last March when Hilliard was hired after winning a third straight D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title at Stuart Hobson Middle School. “We’d been funneling a lot of talent through the city,” Hilliard said, noting former players like Ballou’s Tarajah Ruffin and Wilson’s Sevin Beasley, and he’s trying to replicate the formula at the high school level with National Collegiate.
“Everything just feels new,” Ross said.
The addition of several impact freshmen from Stuart Hobson is paying immediate dividends, but Hilliard also convinced several players that were already enrolled at National Collegiate (3-0) to come out and play for the football team this fall.
The perception among students, Hilliard said, was that the Panthers were only good at basketball. But his swagger from previous championship runs quickly caught on and players soon realized, “they’re not going to accept mediocre in a team,” Riggins said.
The new coaches also brought a more complex playbook that immediately resulted in a boost in both scoring and confidence. But piling up points against inferior competition can’t compare to beating the defending league champion.
“That was a huge win because we overcame that hump,” Riggins said. “That’s like a next step for the program.”