published Friday, August 17th, 2012

Preps Preview: Ridgeland Panthers

The Ridgeland Panthers enter the season with lofty goals.
The Ridgeland Panthers enter the season with lofty goals.
Photo by Tim Barber.

BY THE NUMBERS

4 — Returning starters on offense, though the Panthers do benefit from a pair of key line transfers.

27 — Major college football scholarship offers for Vonn Bell, rated one of the top safety prospects in the country by scouting services.

31 — Combined wins last year for Ridgeland’s first three opponents, including the opener with defending Class AA champion Calhoun.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 31 at Calhoun

Sep. 14 River Ridge

Sep. 21 Cedartown

Sep. 28 at Pickens County

Oct. 5 Dalton*

Oct. 12 at Southeast Whitfield*

Oct. 19 at Northwest Whitfield*

Oct. 26 LaFayette*

Nov. 2 at Heritage*

Nov. 9 7-AAAA play-in game

* Region 7B-AAAA game

RIDGELAND PANTHERS

Coach: Mark Mariakis (52-36 in eight years here, 69-69 in 13 overall)

Stadium: Bowers and Painter Field

Address: 2478 Happy Valley Road, Rossville, GA 30741

RECENT HISTORY

The Panthers have made the GHSA playoffs six consecutive seasons and before last season had won three region championships in succession in Class AAA. The program has yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs. Here’s a look at the regular-season win total the last five years:

2011 ——————(6)

2010 —————————(9)

2009 —————————(9)

2008 ————————(8)

2007 ———————(7)

THREE STRENGTHS

1) Vonn Bell. The Panthers’ senior receiver/safety is one of the premier game-changers in the country. Last season he scored on runs, receptions, special teams and defensively.

2) Led by Bell and running back Darryl Bridges, the Panthers will be able to out-athlete most teams this year. The coaching staff hopes once region play begins the new starters will add precision to their athletic ability and the Panthers will peak.

3) If the Panthers have a secret weapon it’s kicker Evan Courtney, a three-year starter who’s been through some tight games.

THREE CONCERNS

1) The lack of a reliable passing attack has hampered the Panthers in recent seasons when they play elite defenses, and the coaches are concentrating this summer on working with Trevor Long, who started the last half of last year.

2) The Panthers return one offensive line starter from a year ago, though Dade County transfer Gannon Hampton and East Ridge transfer Grady Matthews will help right away. Depth in the trenches is a problem.

3) As good as the Ridgeland skill players are, the team isn’t equipped to deal with injuries in those areas.

THREE QUESTIONS WITH DANIEL JOHNSON

(Senior linebacker)

Q: Looking back to last year, how were you guys able to regroup from a slow start to have a good season, and how will that benefit you this year?

A: We had a bunch of newer kids last year and they didn’t know the Ridgeland Panther way. We didn’t really have a bunch of leaders, either. We came together after the Dalton game, and the juniors stepped up in leadership roles. That experience will benefit us going into this season.

Q: You have been a part of three consecutive playoff teams. Has that raised your expectation level, and if so, how much?

A: Most definitely. First, you’re hungry for a playoff appearance. Then you want a region championship. We’ve been through those first two stages and now we’re hungry for something bigger — a state championship or at least a [Georgia] Dome appearance. We’re hungrier for that experience.

Q: Academics are a high priority for you. How do you juggle academics and athletics?

A: You’ve got to put academics first because you can only play football for so long, no matter how good you might be. With that being said, when you’re not doing academics you’ve got to focus on athletics. If you’re going to do something, as my dad said, you’ve got to do it right. Give it your all and there will be no regrets.

ROSTER

2 Sharone Porter - Senior

3 Trevor Long - Senior

4 Tracy Miller - Junior

5 Evan Courtney - Senior

6 Bradley Stailey Junior

7 Vonn Bell Senior

8 Dillon Peterman Junior

10 Darrell Bridges Senior

11 Hunter Kaufhold Junior

13 Austin Bowen Sophomore

14 Jacob Russell Sophomore

15 Shaqualm McCoy Senior

16 Devartay Turner Freshman

17 Trey Stubbs Junior

18 Tarian Bridges Freshman

19 TristinBethune Freshman

20 Trevor Mcclure Junior

21 Caderius Word Freshman

22 Zach Weathers Sophomore

23 Dayton Jackson Senior

24 Nate Strickland Freshman

25 Terry Bell Freshman

26 Marquise Bryant Junior

27 Joshua Bess Freshman

28 Noah Cooper Junior

29 Shaun Sryock Junior

30 Jeremy Masley Freshman

31 David Peterman Freshman

32 Josh Smith Sophomore

33 Chase Crawford Sophomore

34 D.J. Chesney Sophomore

35 Dustin Peterman Freshman

36 Jordon Bentley Sophomore

37 Jamie Berry Freshman

38 Ian Hayes Sophomore

39 Chandler Carver Freshman

40 Tyrell Smith Senior

41 Kory Pearson Freshman

42 Larry Turner Sophomore

43 George Johnson Junior

45 Cody Davis Senior

46 Jerome Smith Junior

47 Josh Masley Junior

48 Alex Williams Junior

49 Nathan Morgan Freshman

50 Gannon Hampton Senior

51 Troy Minchew Senior

52 Sam Cobb Sophomore

53 Malik Couch Junior

54 Noah Nelson Junior

55 Daniel Johnson Senior

56 Cody Wilbanks Senior

57 Jacob Byrd Sophomore

58 PJ Gardner Sophomore

59 Josh Skates Junior

60 Damian Moore Sophomore

61 Dakota Pace Sophomore

62 Adam Davis Freshman

63 Justin Allen Freshman

64 Hunter Shirley Junior

65 Tre Daniels Junior

66 Dustin Davis Senior

67 Justin Bess Freshman

68 Mason Low Junior

69 Cameron McGill Freshman

70 J.D. Defrieze Junior

71 Grady Matthews Senior

72 Kasey O’Shields Freshman

73 Hunter Presnell Junior

74 Zack Robertson Sophomore

75 Brett Byrd Junior

76 Joby Pickett Freshman

77 Stephen Hurst Freshman

78 Austin Burns Junior

79 Michael Trew Sophomore

80 Samuel Akins Freshman

81 Eric Perry Junior

82 Sam Hutchinson Junior

83 Tyler Collis Sophomore

84 Justin Whitecotton Junior

85 Will Boydsten Freshman

86 Gannon Harris Senior

90 Brandon Poteet Freshman

91 Michael Baxter Freshman

92 Stephen Byrd Freshman

93 Jermane Conyers Junior

94 Justin Bolton Sophomore

95 Garrett Brown Freshman

96 Akil Bentley Sophomore

97 Logan Wattenburger Freshman

98 Tim Graham Freshman

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