WALES — He’s not the biggest. Not the fastest. Not the strongest.

Heck, Ethan Richard won’t even stop there.

“I’d say I’m not that great of a player, to be honest with you,” the Oak Hill linebacker and center said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a superstar. I wouldn’t even say I’m close to being an All-Star in this conference.”

Maybe not. But when the Raiders are gearing up for a defensive stand, or huddling up at the start of a clutch drive, it’s Richard’s voice that they’re hearing. Calling out plays. Tweaking them for the situation. Telling everyone else where to go, or who to cover.

“He calls the defenses, he calls the run scheme and the pass protection up front,” coach Stacen Doucette said. “On defense he’s calling it, making sure we’re in the right place, he’s calling stunts and calling adjustments. … We put him in a thinking man’s role, so to speak, so he does a lot of the field thinking. … He does a very good job.”

And after the play, if a Raider misses a tackle or drops a pass, there’s a good chance he’ll be hearing Richard’s voice again.

“He’s, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime leader on the field and off the field,” Doucette said. “He demands the best of everybody, but he’s always positive, always thinks the glass is half full. He’s just a once-in-a-lifetime player as far as leadership.

“This time of year, you really lean on those types of athletes when you’re about to enter the playoffs.”

Richard, a 5-5, 190-pound senior and two-way starter, learned early on that he wasn’t going to be the one tossing blockers aside, running down go routes or paving over defensive linemen, and that he was going to need to find another way to make himself indispensible for a team.

“My mom’s not five feet tall and my dad’s 5-10, so I knew the genetic lottery was not in my favor,” he said. “I was going to be small, and working hard was going to play a big part.”

The only senior on the team to have played consistently since third grade, Richard made himself a sponge during practices growing up, compounding his own growing football experience with every word his coaches were saying. He learned concepts and schemes, not just the plays his teams were running but why they were running them, with the goal of ensuring that, when the ball was snapped, he’d always be in the best position to succeed.

“I tried to pick up on everything, mentally, that I could,” Richard said. “Sports I.Q. is more important to me than anything. If you lift every day but you don’t know where to go, you’re not going to be a good football player. You’ve got to know what you’re supposed to do before you can do it.”

With the mental side taken care of, Richard also chipped away at his physical limitations, learning ways to work around his modest size.

“He’s the smartest kid on the field, so he knows how to use his body and he knows how to use angles,” Doucette said. “He uses that to his advantage, so the size is not a big deal. And (it’s) work ethic. He just outworks the kid in front of him.”

“You don’t always have to push someone back to get a good block, you just have to push them away from the play,” Richard said. “I get in front of people and I push them out of the way, use their momentum and maybe their strength and how big they are against them.”

Richard became a good tackler, solid blocker and aggressive player. And where there were still holes, Richard, who also plays for the lacrosse team, used other sports to fill them.

“Last year, Coach moved me out to outside linebacker, and at first, I was kind of struggling with coverages and covering the flats,” he said. “But then I realized that the movements were a lot like covering a man in lacrosse. … When I realized that, it started to make a little more sense to me.”

Now, Richard is often tasked with being the one to help teammates going through their own struggles with the concepts — a role he relishes.

“He has the ability to memorize everything,” Doucette said. “So when you have that ability, sometimes we put him next to a kid that may have struggled, and we ask him to help them out. That way you help out the group instead of the one. It’s kind of gone that way for four years. He’s kind of always been that guy.”

“I think that’s my strength,” Richard said. “And it seems that this team, my senior season, has given me a chance to do that.”

And even when everyone is squared away on the Xs and Os, a leader knows the job isn’t done. It’s been a trying season for Oak Hill, with two losses by a combined four points keeping the Raiders from the top of the D South standings.

“We should be tied for second place,” Doucette said. “Kids are frustrated, putting in a lot of work, and sometimes they get discouraged.”

Still, the coach knows which of his players will know what to say.

“Ethan finds a silver lining,” he said. “He lets them know that we’re winning off the field. We’re accomplishing things and achieving things, and they don’t know it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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