Every new football season brings plenty of change. Players graduate, coaches move onto the next job. It’s all part of the process.
It’s not until you look back at photos and articles from last year that you realize just how different the Robeson County football scene is going to look this year.
Of the players listed in Brad Crawford’s preseason top 25 last year, only three are back — Travis Suggs and Jermaine Williams of Lumberton and Terry Collins of Red Springs. That’s on top of a county-wide coaching shuffle that saw Mike Setzer take over at Lumberton, with key members of the Pirate coaching staff taking top positions elsewhere.
The list of the graduated is a who’s who of county football from last season that includes such as Jarrod Neal, Demetri Sheridan, Malik Livingston, Chuck Oxendine and Juan Ellerbe, among others. Trey Sasser and Randy Ragland took the brunt of it, with St. Pauls and Fairmont losing a combined 41 seniors from last season.
It’s a curse, but also a blessing.
The hype for Red Springs last season was largely built around Blake Greene and with good reason: the kid was statistically one of the top quarterbacks in the state and was one of his team’s top players on both sides of the ball last year.
But with Greene gone and Ron Cook switching the Red Devils to a spread attack, there will be plenty of players given the chance to shine. Rather than a one-man show, numerous running backs, receivers and a quarterback will share the responsibility, the man behind center serving as a ringmaster, of sorts.
There will be similar opportunities in St. Pauls, Fairmont and South Robeson. The teams deep in experience will be the larger schools with Auston Foley and Thristian Lowry getting the chance to step up as the county’s elite quarterbacks and Lumberton running back Josh Sheridan looking to become one of the most versatile players in the county.
Beyond that, there are plenty of questions about who else will step up when their team needs them to and become the county’s next great players, but in the coming weeks, we’ll know when they present themselves on the field.
Scotland tragedy more than football
One of the most-covered stories in the region lately has been about the untimely injury to Scotland quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe, who was hurt after an ATV accident and immediately left in critical condition.
At this time of year it’s the type of event that can be looked at two different ways — a horrific accident that happened to a talented player or an opportunity for someone else to get ahead in his absence. Fortunately, nobody I’ve talked to since the incident has looked at it selfishly and all talk has been the concern for his well being.
I’ve never met Ratliffe or had the opportunity to watch him play, but the accident has and likely will continue to affect his life. He’s not just a football player but a student. It’s not just an injury that will affect his high school career, but also one that left his college status in doubt until Georgia Tech announced that it would honor his scholarship offer.
The outpouring of concern not only in Laurinburg, but around the Southeastern Conference, says more than words could. At their first home games, conference teams will collect money to help him and other conferences have pledged to help as well.
Ratliffe has a sterling reputation and it would be a shame if this accident ruined all the positives that came before it.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, that’s not going to happen.