CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's an interesting coincidence that the first game Steven Freeman coaches for Riverside comes against Cabell Midland.
Freeman, a graduate of Midland, also got his first assistant coaching position at the Ona school, and the Knights wound up as the first opponent his Warriors face in tonight's 7:30 contest at Riverside.
The past two seasons, Freeman served as an assistant at Huntington, one of Cabell Midland's top rivals, so it's a program he knows well.
"Obviously, the last two years [Cabell Midland] has been one of our biggest games,'' Freeman said. "I've got to see them and I've seen a lot of game film. I've even got to coach some of their seniors - not the ones who transferred in - but the ones who have been there since I coached [in 2010], Kasey Thomas and some other kids.''
Thomas is one of the top returning running backs for the Knights, who went 13-0 last year before losing in the AAA finals to Martinsburg. They also captured the Mountain State Athletic Conference title. Last year, Thomas ran for 676 yards and five TDs.
However, he's joined by a pair of polished transfers in Donte Hendricks, who gained 578 yards and scored nine TDs last year at Huntington, and Teran Barnitz, who rushed for 508 yards and nine scores at Point Pleasant.
"I think the biggest thing for us,'' Freeman said, "is that they're very good - explosive like they were last year even though they lost two very good backs in David Gaydosz and Lowell Farley. But they still have some kids and they've gone out and gotten a couple other kids who are pretty explosive.
"We do need to hold onto the football and keep possession. Every down's important. We don't want to put our young kids in positions where we ask them to do too much.''
Senior running back Will Jackson is one of just a few returning skill position players for Riverside. He ran for 334 yards and four TDs and caught 11 passes for 85 yards and a score.
However, senior place-kicker Derik Chestnut is a proven commodity for the Warriors, having booted 12 field goals and 71 extra points the past three seasons. He's hit three-pointers from 41 and 45 yards.
The teams have met every season since 2005, with Cabell Midland winning five of the eight games, including a 52-19 triumph last year. In that game, the Knights rushed for 474 yards and had 603 net yards despite losing two fumbles and suffering 12 penalties for 105 yards.
"The first thing you worry about when you play a team like Midland,'' Freeman said, "is that they don't play kids both ways. Especially with the compressed practice time we have - a new staff, a new program, everything different - we just haven't had much practice, especially kids who play offense and defense. That's a huge advantage in conditioning.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.