The Rider defense was an unknown coming into the season, especially at linebacker where four seniors from 2011 exited after a run to the Region I-4A final.
Then the season started with a 43-36 loss at Abilene Cooper and there were still questions about where the Raiders were on that side of the ball.
But it didn't take long for a group of playmakers to emerge and help the Raiders (7-2, 5-1) earn yet another playoff berth as they get ready for the regular-season finale against Wichita Falls High School on Friday.
Bradley Goldstein leads the team in tackles with 112. He has displayed great instincts, quickness and a level of fearlessness in finding the football.
But he's not alone. Sam Scribner, who played on varsity last year, leads the team in sacks with four and has 71 tackles. Josh Haisten is a big-hitter who had 82 tackles including five for losses, matching Scribner. Caleb Levell has six tackles for losses and 61 stops overall.
"These guys are all over the place, making checks and doing things right and disguising what has to happen," Rider coach Jim Garfield said. "The toughest thing about being a linebacker is you're responsible for two things (run and pass) and there are a lot of technical things you have to understand."
This group has been good students in the film room and quick to take what they've learned onto the field. There were a few things to clean up after their first game, but to be fair that was against a Class 5A team that has scored 40 or more six times in nine games.
Garfield said the most impressive thing about the quartet is how they are "attacking the ball." And he points out there's not a lot of drop-off between the starters and reserves. He believes the team has eight good linebackers.
Goldstein, a junior, is having a ball finding guys to hit.
"I wasn't very good at offense but my nose for the ball helps me on defense," Goldstein said. "And I like to hit. We have big hitters. We're small, but we can't be scared.
"We have a lot of juniors who are in their first varsity year but we came together as a team. I like this team a lot."
"Bradley has a drive to be good," Garfield said. "He is a kid who wants to be around the football all the time. His initial read at the snap is probably as good as we've ever had here. Once he decides what's happening, he's on it, and he's right nine out of 10 times."
Garfield said Haisten is one of those "old-time Dick Butkus type of linebackers."
Wichita Falls High School coach Jayson Lavender was impressed by the group on film, too.
"Really impressed with their outside backers, their perimeter players are fence posts and turn everything to the inside linebacker," Lavender said. "Sam Scribner and No. 10 (Levell) are good players. Coach Gar does a good job with those guys."
Goldstein said he wasn't a key player when his freshman team went 10-0. His JV team went 9-1 last year. He and his linebacker friends will have to continue to be in the middle of everything if the Raiders are to reach their goal of a state championship.
First, there's a rivalry game they haven't forgotten about.
"It's a big game because it's Rider-Old High week," Goldstein said. "We're going to win this game. There's a little pressure, and everyone is talking mess and everything, but we're just going to go out and play our game."
Their game has been pretty good, not allowing more than 22 points since that first week. The average of the past eight opponents has been 15 points.
"We were kind of down (after Cooper), but I knew we were a good defense," Goldstein said. "That Amarillo game we stepped up big-time, and that's when I thought, OK, this can be a good defense."
The next real losses came with injuries to safety Mason Stone and quarterback J.T. Barrett.
"It affected us a little bit at first, but we had more people to put in," Goldstein said. "Our goal is to win state, and we're going to make that goal."