RIVERTON — In five seasons as head coach, Johnny Mallatt has seen a steady improvement in interest for his Riverton High School football team. Just three years after having a total of 16 players, the Rams are nearing a 40-man roster for the 2019 season.

“The biggest challenge for us is recruiting the halls for football players,” said Mallatt, who has a 16-20 record in his previous four seasons on the Rams’ sideline. “Riverton has good athletes, but they all don’t play football. We are in the process of changing that mindset. A small high school needs kids to play three sports and not specialize in just one or two sports.”

Now that the numbers of players have increased at RHS, Mallatt is hoping that translates into more wins on the football field. Last season, the Rams opened with four straight losses before winning two games against Northeast-Arma and Southeast-Cherokee during Class 2A-District 1 play. That gave them the fourth playoff spot out of the district. Although the season came to an end with a first-round loss to Silver Lake, resulting in a final record of 2-7, it did give the squad some momentum heading into the offseason.

“We learned that we can compete against school in our Class 2A,” Mallatt said. “The new district gives us a chance to be competitive.”

Riverton has plenty of experience returning this season with 14 players back that started on both sides of the ball at some point in 2018. That includes All-CNC League performers such as seniors Bryce Johnson (quarterback/defensive back), Gavin Gilmore (running back/linebacker), Patrick McLaughlin (offensive/defensive line) and Tervor Parsons (offensive/defensive line).

Also back are senior Ethan Shawver (running back/linebacker); juniors Will Sawyer (running back/linebacker), Brayden Stewart (running back/linebacker), Kaylb Allen (running back/defensive back), Jayden Faircloth (wide receiver/punter); Walker Mallatt (running back/linebacker), Domanick Rooks (tight end/defensive line), Titan Grieshaber (offensive/defensive line) and Austin Anderson (center/defensive line), as well as sophomore Hunter Crowder (running back/linebacker).

Several other returning players could step in to fill some holes, including seniors Elijah Mestas (wide receiver/defensive back), Brandon Nielson (offensive/defensive line) and Levi Ewen (offensive/defensive line); juniors Sawyer Sewell (wide receiver/defensive back) and Josh Lynn (offensive/defensive line); and sophomores Derek Larison (tight end/linebacker), Zayne Shireman (offensive/defensive line), Garin Gilmore (offensive/defensive line), Derek Price (wide receiver/defensive back) and Levi Hedrick (tight end/linebacker).

“We will finally have a large senior class for our size football team,” Mallatt said. “This is something that we have not had around here in a long time. I expect great leadership from all of our seniors.”

Riverton will face a stiff challenge to open the season on Sept. 6 at Class 3A playoff qualifier Galena. That will be followed up with the home opener on Sept. 13 against Baxter Springs. The Rams then close out the pre-district portion of their slate at Light House Christian (Mo.) on Sept. 20.

Three of the team’s 2A-District 1 contests will be at home, including back-to-back matchups with Erie (Sept. 27) and Northeast-Arma (Oct. 4) to get things started. The Rams will then head to Humboldt on Oct. 11 before making their final home appearance on Oct. 18 against Southeast-Cherokee. They close out the regular season on Oct. 25 at Jayhawk-Linn.

“We expect to improve each day and hope that it carries over to Friday nights,” Mallatt said. “We also will strive to win our district and move into the playoffs again this year … only to go deeper into the playoffs.”