When the Riverhead Blue Waves take the field Thursday afternoon in their season opener, the starting running back may get a few curious glances from the crowd.
No. 7? Who’s No. 7?
That would be Ryun Moore, a sophomore who played on the JV last year as the varsity team rolled to its third county championship since 2003. Few might have expected a sophomore to be next in line to start opening day, but that’s the situation facing the Waves.
As Jeremiah Cheatom — last year’s featured back — deals with a hamstring injury, the Blue Waves will turn to a promising young runner to carry a hefty load.
“He’s one of the toughest running backs we’ve had in a long time,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “He came into camp in great shape and ready to play.”
Shay described Moore as a powerful, deceptive runner with good speed.
“He’s fun to watch,” Shay said.
As an opportunity presented itself early in training camp, Moore seized it. Shay said he’s seen Moore getting more comfortable as training camp has progressed.
With the dynamic passing duo of quarterback Ryan Bitzer and wide receiver Quinn Funn gone, the Blue Waves still feel confident their passing attack can give opposing teams trouble. Senior quarterback Cody Smith, who spent the last two years backing up Bitzer, now gets the opportunity to start under center.
“He’s going to get better and better every week,” Shay said.
The Blue Waves return three talented receivers: seniors Dan Czelatka, Darren Jefferson and Ryan Hubbard.
Shay has high expectations for Czelatka, who saw some action on both sides of the field last year.
“I think he’s as good as anyone we’ve had at that position,” Shay said.
Senior Mike Von Bommel slides to tight end this year and will be a pivotal player blocking and running passing routes. Von Bommel was a star defensively last year and led the team in tackles. He’ll play middle linebacker again this year and look to anchor the defense.
Senior Jaron Greenidge is another key returning player from last year who will play a fullback/tight end position.
Shay said Von Bommel and Greenidge should solidify a lot of the blocking up front and help assist the offensive line, which is still a work in progress.
“We have some new guys up there,” Shay said. “They’re getting better every day, but they’re making mistakes, which I would expect they would.”
The Blue Waves will feature senior Mike Drexel and junior Ethan Greenidge at the tackle positions. Senior Michael Curtis will start at center. Shay said Curtis was “a nice surprise at camp.”
Senior Ryan Harkin will start at guard. The other guard position is still up for grabs between three players, Shay said.
On the other side, senior Jonathan Lee, Ethan Greenidge and Drexel will play defensive tackle.
Sophomore Tyrese Kerr — the only other 10th-grader on the roster in addition to Moore — will play defensive end along with Harkin.
While Von Bommel anchors the linebacker core, the Blue Waves’ depth at the position was weakened from injuries and academic issues. Junior Raheem Brown will start at middle linebacker opposite Von Bommel.
Moore and senior Taiheem McKay will both start at outside linebacker.
On special teams Czelatka will handle the punting duties. Moore will return kicks — giving him triple duty as a sophomore. The Blue Waves begin the year without a bona fide kicker.
As defending champs and the No. 3 seed in Division II, the Blue Waves will face a challenging schedule, starting with Thursday’s opener, a rematch of last year’s county final.
It’ll be an uphill climb back to the top — no team has repeated as champion in Division II since Bellport won in ’05 and ’06 —but the Blue Waves are ready for the challenge.
“They believe they’re going to be the best team ever, so I like that attitude,” Shay said.