For the first time in over two decades, Raiders coach Jim Adams was not in attendance, directing the team for photo shoots and giving interviews to media members.
In June, Adams had his coaching contract renewed by the Norton School Board. But in July, the school system suspended him with pay after hiring the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct a noncriminal investigation.
Also last month, the board appointed seven-year assistant coach Jacob Caudill as the program’s interim head coach.
Adams — the Raiders’ coach for 21 years under whom they’ve finished as VHSL Class 1 runner-up five times, won six regional and six district championships — has filed a motion seeking an injunction requiring the school system to reappoint him as a teacher and coach.
FOR THE KIDS
Caudill and the Raiders opened practice on Aug. 1. They’re moving forward with the goal, as always, to repeat as Cumberland District champions. They won the district title with a 9-3 record last year.
Caudill said Friday he was surprised to be named interim coach of the program.
“It’s just been crazy. I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said, adding: “I’m not going to get into all the political stuff on that. I’m not in a position to do so. I’m just here for the kids.
“When they asked me to step in as interim head coach, I said yes because I didn’t want to turn my back on the boys. I just felt like they needed a familiar face. I didn’t want to turn my back on the boys and I wanted to be here for them.”
Caudill said everything was hectic at first with him manning the new role. However, things have since calmed down and the focus has been on football.
“The program is the biggest thing and the boys have responded to that,” Caudill said.
SENIORS LEADING BIG SQUAD
The Raiders are 36 players strong, giving them one of their bigger rosters in recent years. Their seven seniors are leading the team through the transition.
“It’s been a great start to the season,” said senior running back Najee Steele. “Coach Caudill came out and has pushed everybody hard. It’s been a great change of energy and culture to the program.
“Everything has changed drastically, but for the better. Everybody came out hyped for the season and it can only get better from here.”
Mikey Culbertson, another senior and the Cumberland’s returning two-time defensive player of the year, called it an exciting time for the team’s leadership.
“This is exciting, but I’m just trying to take it one step at a time and trying to make the most of it in my senior year,” he said. “We’re working hard in practice and doing as much as we can to get better.”
Senior lineman Tyler Spriggs said having Caudill at the helm gives the team needed familiarity.
“He’s a good coach. I’ve had him since I was a freshman or eighth-grader,” Spriggs noted. “So I’m used to him coaching. He’s a good coach.”
GETTING TO WORK
While the situation is unique, Caudill and his players have little time to worry about anything but the challenges they face on the football field.
The Raiders open the season Aug. 29 at home against Class 2 power Ridgeview. They then face Region 1D champion Chilhowie at home on Sept. 6 before taking on another Class 2 opponent, host Lee High, on Sept. 13.
“The first thing I was thinking about when I stepped in as interim coach was first the kids and how they were going to respond, and second was looking at Ridgeview coming in on that Thursday night, hopefully for a packed house,” Caudill said. “Those first three (games) are really going to be a good test to see where we’re at with this young football team.”