RHS Houston

Our Game of the Week story is brought to you by Vanderbilt Orthopaedics

If you've seen Ravenwood football head coach Matt Daniels around town lately, you might've noticed the red mohawk. 

It's easy to spot and means much more than the coach deciding on a festive hairdo to ring in the holidays. 

It's a payoff for a promise to his state-bound Ravenwood Raptors and their fans. 

"It is a part of a deal that I made with our student section," Daniels explained. "It actually goes all the way back to the Cane Ridge game. We were trying to drum up some excitement for that because that's a really good football team we played in the second round. 

"We wanted students to come out and we wanted us to get everyone excited about winning that game, and so, I made a deal that, if we beat Cane Ridge and we went on to play Brentwood, I'd do a mohawk, and I'd let one of the players cut my hair in school during one of the pep breaks we had." 

A second deal was cut that, if the Raptors defeated the archrival Bruins in the season's second Battle of the Woods, the hair would go red. 

Two deals met, two promises kept, one Ravenwood-red mohawk for all to see. 

If you see Daniels around Tennessee Tech's campus this Saturday with a Raptor shaved into the side of his head, you'll know that the third promise was met and the team defeated Houston in the semis to reach the 6A state finals. 

"Maybe just going back to normal and shaving it all off would be crazy enough," Daniels said as to what the bet might be if the team brings home its third-ever state title. 

That's one fashion statement. Let's discuss another. 

It'd be wearing a Ravenwood offseason workout shirt on it with the number "24" prominently displayed, "24 more" the message reading on the front. 

That represents the 24 minutes that separated Ravenwood's 2018 team from making it to the state title game last November. 

The Raptors got up to a 24-10 halftime lead against Whitehaven in last year's 6A road semifinals game, only to let up 33 unanswered points in the last 24 minutes of the cold, rainy game, hence the rally cry. 

"We wanted everybody to have in their minds throughout the whole offseason, going into the preseason, any chance we got, we were going to remember those 24 minutes," Daniels said. "We were always going to put in that little extra work and make sure that feeling never happened again. 

"Really, these last couple games, Brentwood and Houston, when we've had some decently-comfortable leads at halftime that kind of resembled that Whitehaven game, alot of our seniors stood up and said, 'We're exactly where we want to be. We've got 24 minutes, and we've got to prove it. We can't let it happen again.'

"So that's kind of been the driving force all year and really the last couple games when we found ourselves in that familiar position." 

The new position for Ravenwood is as one of the representatives for the 6A state title game Saturday night at Tennessee Tech. 

The last time the Raptors found themselves in the big game was in 2015, when they took home a state title against Maryville under then-coach Will Hester (now in Florence, Ala.). 

This year's team will face off once again against Maryville, this year 13-0, for the crown. Despite its loss in 2015, that school has a legacy of taking home state titles. 

This year's state game pits proven tradition against unreal talent, with Ravenwood boasting one of the most talented rosters in all of Tennessee and perhaps the Southeast. 

You look at the offense and see guys like quarterback Bryan Garcia, who set multiple school records in his stellar senior stand, or wide receiver Andrew Mason (Rice), who tied the TSSAA's record for receiving touchdowns in a game in September. 

The offense also has guys like linemen Graham Barton (Duke), Gabe Sleenhof (Yale) and Luke Shouse (Ole Miss), all projected to play college ball. 

Do you stop Mason? Good luck getting to running back Tony Rice, wideouts Ross Johnson and Trevor Andrews or tight end Jake Briningstool (who has offers from most of the best college teams in the country, including Clemson and Georgia). 

The defense has been feared and revered for a reason. Recent Oklahoma commit Reggie Grimes leads a unit consisting of guys like Barton, Junior Colson (who has an offer from LSU on the table), Jordan Smith (Richmond), Avery Miller (likely to play at next level), Bryan Rice (the 2018 WillCo Defensive Football Player of the Year) and Shane Craig (Tennessee Tech), just to name a few.

Stop them in the red zone? Kicker and UCLA commit Luke Akers pops in the field goal. 

It's an absurd assembly of high school athletes that Daniels knows well. 

"They're ready for the long haul," Daniels said of his team's physical and mental preparedness. Even if they get nicked up, they come back strong. 

Smith's return to the defense in mid-October has been a particular boost. He's been one of their best defenders down the stretch.

"There's an expectation that we are going to be playing this late, and if you're going to be playing this late, why not be playing your best football," Daniels added. 

The coach has been with the seniors on this team all four years in the red and black. 

"It's incredibly special," Daniels said of watching the seniors grow. 

He knew then he had something special when that freshman team went undefeated in 2016 in their individual play while he was an assistant on the varsity team. 

"There weren't many close games, if any," Daniels remembers. "Just from that alone we knew it was a special group. Obviously, at the time, I had no idea it was going to be a group that I was going to be in charge of within a few months after that season ended, that I was going to be the next head coach. Obviously, very lucky in that regard." 

Daniels took over as head coach in 2017 after one-year coach Richie Wessman was in charge. At the same time, some of those freshman began to take larger roles as sophomores. 

"I knew that that was going to be a very fun group to lead, and knew that they would have a chance as sophomores to be contributors, and sure enough, they were in that 2017 season," Daniels said. "I think we surprised a lot of people." 

That season, Ravenwood won a region title and made it to the quarterfinals in a loss to Cane Ridge, who lost to Maryville in the '17 6A state title game.

Two years later, it's Ravenwood's turn to face that storied program to bring home the gold ball. 

"These guys have been talking about this kind of success for a long time," Daniels said. "They've been playing football together for a long time." 

A word the team has thrown around is destiny, according to the coach. 

Is this team destined for greatness? 

"These guys were meant to do big things together," Daniels said. "They've focused a lot over the last four or five weeks, and they've had their eyes on that state championship for a long time, and they've worked their butts off to get to this point.

"So I couldn't be more proud of seeing a team, and seeing a class, set a goal as freshmen and talk openly about that goal, about winning a state championship, and having the opportunity to do it is really special. It's rare in sports when you get a chance to set a goal as a group and then really have a chance to meet that goal." 

Grimes reflect on opportunity ahead as HS career closes 

Defensive end and Oklahoma commit Reggie Grimes II didn't start his career with Ravenwood, but he's certainly happy about closing it out with his new Raptors teammates. 

"Coming from where I came from, just being here around the guys, I love it," Grimes, often called the best player in 2019 Tennessee high school football, said about his experience. "I can't wait [for state]. There's no other way I'd rather go out.

"I'm glad that we're all meshing well together as a team." 

Grimes transferred to the school from Mt. Juliet in the summer, along with his father, Reggie Grimes, an NFL vet and the team's defensive coordinator, and his sister, Reghan Grimes, a standout on the girls' basketball team. 

His impact on the Raptors cannot be overstated. It's helped transform a great defense into an even greater one. 

The unit pitched two shutouts in the playoffs and held rival Brentwood to 6 points total. Holding then-undefeated Houston to 21 points was, in and of itself, quite impressive. 

"We set a standard, especially up front," Grimes said of the Raptors. "You're not going to be able to run the ball on us. If you're going to score, you're going to have to earn it." 

It's hard to believe this Raptors outfit lost a game, but they lost by double-digits to Brentwood in the regular season. What made the difference to get past that and go on a win streak? 

"We clearly have a lot of talent," Grimes said. "It's just that we weren't clicking [in the beginning]. So I feel like that loss to Brentwood really helped us as a team. We rallied behind each other. We all started to fight for one common goal...10 games later, we're in the state championship. That's big." 

Grimes quotes obtained by Charlie Bateman.