Despite losses of key players, Roosevelt aims to defend football title

Roosevelt junior quarterback Leon Gray has already received college offers. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

After running through the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s Stripes division in 2016, Roosevelt’s football team enters this year with a much younger squad but high expectations.

“We won the championship last year. We had 12 seniors last year, and eight of them are playing in college,” said Roosevelt coach Chris Harden. “We are big and have nice size. We have some good athleticism. We have a good chance. After some weeks go by, we will start gelling.”

The heart of the team is its size on the lines, and the soul of that unit is one of the team captains: Kareem Williams, who stands 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 320 pounds.

“Our strength is up front,” said Harden. “The back end of the defense is young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores starting.”

Another captain is junior quarterback Leon Gray, who is a dual threat at the position and who can befuddle defenses with his mobility. Gray and Williams have both received college offers and interest.

So far this season, Gray has completed 30 passes for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns with a 97.8 quarterback rating. The passer has also been an effective rusher, running for two touchdowns.

Gray’s top target has been junior wideout Darrius Buchanan, who leads the team with nine receptions and two caught touchdowns. Sophomore receiver RuQuan Brown is second on the team with six catches and a scoring reception.

The Rough Riders’ ground game is led by senior Alonzo Beverly, who had 54 carries for 386 yards — an average of 7.1 yards per touch — and three touchdowns.

In addition, there’s senior cornerback Derien Ross, who is tasked with guiding the team’s inexperienced secondary. The other captain is linebacker Lacount Jones.

“They mean a lot to the team. All of those guys except the quarterback are seniors. They are all good leaders,” Harden said. “They’re dedicated to what we are doing. They’re very aggressive kids. They’re great kids.”

Roosevelt started the season like a team looking to replace eight college-level athletes, falling to Falls Church High School 38-0 on Aug. 24 in a game that was marred by critical penalties and other miscues.

“They kept fighting,” said Harden. “We started out slow with penalties and touchdowns called back. Our guys learned a lot, and I think we did a pretty good job.”

Roosevelt did find its footing in its second game when it defeated KIPP 32-26 on Sept. 1. And the Rough Riders stuck to their winning ways on Friday night when they shut out Northwest rival Dunbar 28-0.

Roosevelt followed it up with a 30-6 loss to H.D. Woodson in a clash of D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Conference champions, with the Rough Riders representing the Stripes division and the Warriors suiting up for the Stars league.

The Rough Riders will look to improve their 3-2 record when they host Northwest rival Coolidge on Friday at 6 p.m.