Sports

Even before hire as head coach, Risper a big part of Westside program

Sheddrick Risper was relaxing in his dorm room when he received the phone call.

The then-West Georgia senior picked up the phone and heard the voice of a man who, up until that point, he knew only through reputation. The man on the other line was Robert Davis, a close friend to Risper’s high school head coach, Tommy Perdue, and new head coach at Westside. After speaking with Perdue, Davis called Risper to gauge his interest in joining the new staff at Westside, which was about to begin its first full varsity season in 1998.

Davis valued Perdue’s opinion and requested a chance to wine and dine the 23-year-old with hopes of bringing him to Macon.

“Me and Tommy are very close, and I take his opinion very seriously,” Davis said. “I really wanted this kid. I wanted to get he and his wife (Demetria) up here to buy him a steak.”

So Davis told Risper he’d take him anywhere he wanted to eat.

Risper fired back quickly: “Burger King.”

“I thought, ‘That’s my kind of guy,’ ” Davis said. “Simple, to the point. I liked it.”

The two sat down, ate some burgers and fries and discussed the blossoming Westside football program. Davis didn’t know at the time that Risper already knew he wanted the job before the meeting.

“He asked me if I wanted the job, and I think I said, ‘Yes,’ before he finished the question,” Risper said. “I don’t know if he knew how serious I was.”

Neither could have imagined that Davis was interviewing his eventual successor.

“I wanted a job and was excited about the program,” Risper said. “I never knew it would lead to this point. Never would have dreamed of this.”

Risper was confirmed by the Bibb County school board Thursday to replace Davis as the athletics director and head football coach at Westside.

It was quite a long journey in a short period of time for the 34-year-old Thomaston native.

Risper went from a 5-foot-2, 95-pound football player who received the nickname “Spoon” because of the way his small frame looked in shoulder pads and a football helmet to Westside receivers coach to Weaver Middle School athletics director to Macon Knights receiver to Seminoles head coach in 15 years.

“You can see what kind of a coach he is by the way he has progressed through his career,” Bibb County athletics director Raynette Evans said. “Everyone who has been around Sheddrick has come away very impressed. I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Davis said Risper played an integral role in the Seminoles’ early success. He helped develop Marlon White, a Westside standout who had a productive career at Vanderbilt. Only Davis has been with the Westside program longer than Risper.

But after the 2002 season, Risper decided to step away from everyday duties with the varsity program. He was playing with the Knights, and his first of four children, Sheddrick Jr., was just born. Risper also plays bass guitar alongside other family members in his traveling church band, and he didn’t want to give that up at the time.

“I just had to step away,” Risper said. “God and family are the two most important things, and I didn’t want to compromise those. Being able to spread (religion) through music is a very powerful tool.”

Davis felt Risper was too valuable to lose altogether, so they worked out a deal with Risper running the football team at Weaver with the same system Westside would run. It would allow the young coach to stay close, but also to develop a dangerous feeder program for Westside. It also gave Risper a chance to stay close to Davis and continue to soak up knowledge from the winningest coach in Middle Georgia history.

Weaver won six middle school championships in seven years under Risper, and many of the Westside standouts came up under Risper’s watch. He coached an extremely potent girls basketball program and also oversaw track.

“We wanted to have a system in place that would benefit Weaver and Westside,” Risper said. “It worked out great.”

Risper never missed a Westside home game, spending each game on the sidelines and often talking strategy with Davis. He suited up in uniform when the Seminoles played an athletic quarterback to give the defense an accurate scouting report.

But Risper never planned on returning to Westside full time. Even when Davis retired, Risper wasn’t immediately sold on applying for the job.

“It didn’t hit me at first,” Risper said. “But I just felt God was leading me in that direction. It was time to give it a try. Westside means a lot to me.”

Evans’ selection of Risper has drawn some criticism. Fans on the popular Georgia Varsity Sports Vent as well as the Macon.com message boards have questioned the hire and whether a middle school coach should have landed a job at a school with Westside’s prestige. The Seminoles have never suffered a losing season.

Risper said he’s used to having doubters, that they come along with being “an undersized football player who is too slow.”

“People said I couldn’t play at West Georgia,” Risper said. “They said I was too slow to play arena football with the Knights. Now, they’re saying I can’t handle this job. I love pressure, and I love to prove people wrong. You think I want to let down (Evans) and Coach Davis? Not a chance. I’m keeping track of every negative comment and using them as motivation.”

Said Davis: “People keep saying that he’s just a middle school coach. Just a middle school coach? He’s one of us. He always has been. He’s every bit a part of Westside football than anyone else. He’s organized and ready. He’s a great coach, a great leader and he’ll do great things at Westside.”

Within 24 hours of landing the job, Risper already met with coordinators Joe Dupree and Hosea Laney, as well as Davis. He scheduled spring football to start Monday.

“We’re going to hit the ground running,” Risper said. “We’ve got a great young group of coaches and players. We’ve got to get ready for the season and prove some people wrong.”

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