By David Berry
Music blasted from the press box into the cool Lane Stadium air. Players and coaches on the Al Raby football team jumped up and down, bobbing their heads and dancing in jubilation
It's hard to blame the Raiders for feeling so excited. Raby is 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2008, when the Raiders went 10-0 and won a conference championship. To date, it is the only time in the program's 10-year history that Raby has not lost a game in a season.
The biggest difference, however, between 2008 and now is that Raby is playing in the Chicago Conference, considered the top tier in Chicago Public League (CPL) football. In 2008, the Raiders were still a baby program that won the Intra-City North conference title.
Last Thursday, Sept. 10, the Raiders jumped out to an early lead and held on in the fourth quarter to defeat Hubbard 38-26. The excitement coming from Raby's sideline was noticeable for a few reasons.
"It's a real big win for me because it's our 10-year anniversary of Al Raby football," Raider head coach D'Angelo Dereef said. "[Hubbard head coach] Elton Harris is one of my biggest mentors. He's one of the guys I've always been close with. It's very big because we've played them once before [in 2010]. We've been talking all summer. Now it's 11-on-11 and we came here and did our thing."
Dereef has seen the football program at Raby grow from literally nothing into one that made the state playoffs last season and expects to do it again. The team is still young; according to Dereef, Raby, it's starting at least seven freshmen. Because of that, the Raiders have to depend on the older leaders to come up big in big situations.
One of those leaders is Travis Powell, whom Dereef nicknamed "Florida," because that is the state where Powell was born. Powell is considered one of the top wide receivers in the Chicagoland area and has received college scholarship offers from Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, along with interest from numerous other schools. Powell lines up everywhere for Raby, from quarterback to wide receiver to defensive back. He also returns kicks and punts.
Against Hubbard, Powell was vital in helping the Raiders to victory, rushing for 55 yards and a touchdown, as well as scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery.
In Raby's first two games, Dereef acknowledged that he used Powell more as a decoy. He knew that, in order to beat a team like Hubbard, one of his star players would have to make a difference.
"I knew that in the first two games, all [opponents] were doing was keying on me," Powell said. "When I lined up at wide receiver [against Hubbard], they yelled out 'Florida, Florida,' but we have players that will go and dominate."
Senior lineman Malik Haynes, nicknamed "Sapp," is another leader and playmaker for Raby. Haynes currently holds an offer from Army and also has strong looks from other schools as well. Haynes is a big kid that is very athletic, running down and making tackles on kickoff coverage at over 280 pounds.
According to Haynes, this team has put the work in to get to where they are at right now.
"We prepared real good," Haynes said. "Practicing at six in the morning, practicing on holidays, practicing on weekends. We just practice to get better; that's it."
Despite the big wins, the schedule does not get any easier as Raby opens up Land of Lincoln Conference play against King this Friday. One of the more anticipated conference matchups should be Raby against Phillips on October 9. Phillips was a 4A state finalist last season and last week they defeated CPL power Simeon, snapping the Wolverines' 49-game winning streak against CPL opponents.
Dereef acknowledged that last season, his team was too focused on the Phillips game. This season, he is preaching one game at a time and thinks that could make an impact.
"If we mess around and get six wins this season," Dereef said. "Watch out for us."
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