Coach: Robert Akins (23-21 here; 249-147 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 4/5/1
Remember these names: The Tigers will lean heavily on their ground attack this year, keyed by running backs Mark Fairbanks (Sr., 6-1, 190) and Shaun Anderson (5-10, 205) and linemen Chace Orr (Sr., 6-4, 310), Jacob Hargrove (Sr., 6-2, 215) and Tyler Adams (Jr., 6-3, 265). The defense is strong in the secondary with Dezmond Harris (Sr., 5-9, 170) and Adam Ray (Sr., 5-9, 165).
Will be a memorable year if: The Tigers can use April’s tornado tragedy as a team chemistry builder instead of a distraction. Akins knows at some point his players will get tired of talking about the storm, and he understands that teenagers can only handle so much. He is counting on seniors such as Fairbanks, Harris and Wright Hackett to help keep the team focused on its goal of making the playoffs.
Aug. 26 Lakeview-FO
Sept. 2 at Murphy, N.C.
Sept. 9 Pickens County
Sept. 16 Cartersville
Sept. 30 at Heritage*
Oct. 7 at Southeast Whitfield*
Oct. 14 Dalton*
Oct. 21 at Ridgeland*
Oct. 28 LaFayette*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7A-AAA game
He may be the the most anonymous 1,000-yard rusher in the Chattanooga area, but Mark Fairbanks believes that soon will not be the case — and it has everything to with his team.
The Ringgold senior had a quiet 1,009 yards a year ago for a team that underachieved largely because of injury, so few outside Catoosa County took notice. It didn’t help that the Tigers began the season in the spread offense, but when quarterback Josh Moore was injured and freshman Slade Dale took over, they became a running team.
That experience, along with the most talented returning line in Region 7-AAA’s north subregion, should equal success for the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Fairbanks, who was timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40 at a Rivals.com camp this summer.
“I believe this offense, considering our linemen, can be real good,” Fairbanks said. “In our spring game, and in our practices, we’ve shown that. We’ve got some things to work out in the passing game, but everyone knows we’re going to be able to run it.”
Fairbanks won’t have to be a one-man gang, either. The Tigers have several options in the run game, according to coach Robert Akins.
“We’re probably three deep at our wingback and fullback positions,” Akins said. “Mark showed us last year what he can do, so we’re expecting big things this season, especially if our line plays as it can.”
That line, anchored by 6-4, 300-pound tackle Chace Orr, won a linemen competition at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga this summer. Playing behind such a unit has Fairbanks thinking he might be able to match the accomplishments of the player he replaced in the backfield.
“Being able to play under Martez Eastland, one of my goals was to have more yards than he had in a season, so that would be a nice goal to attain,” Fairbanks said of the Tigers’ all-time leading rusher. “If I get those yards it will mean this team is having success, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Such talk is nice to hear for Akins, who spent the past three months leading a massive effort to help raise funds to rebuild the Ringgold athletic facilities following late-April’s tornado. That tragedy has helped bring the players closer, but the veteran coach said there still is work to be done on that front.
“The tornado unified us some, but the team chemistry is not there yet,” Akins said just before the start of camp. “We want to get to that point where the kids are unified and that when we win they don’t care who gets the credit. If we can get to that point, we’ll be OK.”
Ringgold fans will never forget the field goal that ruined the most successful regular season in in three decades.
The Tigers were 9-1 and hosting Cedartown in the Region 7-AAA semifinals. More than 4,000 fans filled the bleachers and lined the field to witness a defensive battle that saw the Tigers’ vaunted running game held to 55 yards and Cedartown’s heralded quarterback, Auburn-bound Brian Burgdorf, complete just 10 of 25 passes with two interceptions.
Ringgold trailed by six when quarterback Darrell Baggett engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive, with Baggett scoring from a yard out to tie the game with 7:15 remaining in the game. Jody Roach’s point after was true and Ringgold fans started dreaming of a region title game berth.
However, Burgdorf completed four of six passes on the ensuing drive that stalled at the Ringgold 12 with three minutes remaining. On came kicker Bob Tracy, whose kick was high enough, but obviously not struck very well. The ball wobbled toward the goal posts and ticked the bottom crossbar as it fell over for the three points that would end the promising season.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...