RINGGOLD, Ga. - Asked to put a label on his exciting junior quarterback, Ringgold High School coach Robert Akins called Slade Dale "a gamer."
For the veteran coach who is trying to direct Ringgold to its first football playoff win in school history tonight at North Oconee, the label has two meanings for a player who has amassed nearly 2,700 total yards and 28 touchdowns and who is the team's top cornerback.
"First of all, Slade's not much of a practice player," Akins said with a laugh, "but when the lights come on he's ready to go and lay it all on the line. He's one of those players who can really dig down deep and perform when the team needs it most."
The usually laid-back Dale thrives on adversity. He led the Tigers back from double-digit deficits three times in the first five games, though Ringgold lost all three by a total of five points. It was after the third loss, a thrilling 40-38 defeat against Adairsville, that the coaching staff decided the team needed a boost of confidence.
"The staff got us together the Sunday after Adairsville and told us just to believe in ourselves and that we still had a great shot to make the playoffs," Dale recalled. "We went out after that and trusted each other and played for each other and the community."
A four-game winning streak followed, including a 14-9 nail-biter over Catoosa County rival Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe that only added to Dale's growing legacy. Trailing by a point with under four minutes to play, the Tigers had one shot at keeping their playoff hopes alive as they began a drive from their own territory.
A penalty, an incomplete pass and a run for no gain left the Tigers staring at a third-and-20. It was here Akins decided that if the team was going to lose, it would at least go down behind its best playmaker.
"We know Slade can change a game immediately, and on that occasion I actually drew up a play in the dirt for him and [receiver] Christian Plott," Akins said of what turned into a scrambling bomb that moved the ball deep into LFO territory. "Even after that play we had to run the option to get it in the end zone, and I wanted it in his hands."
Dale admits the thrill of the moment outweighs any pressure he might feel when the game's on the line.
"It's an awesome feeling, and before plays like that I just say a little prayer and put the trust in God and my teammates," he said. "We have a lot of confidence that we can get the job done in any situation."
The Tigers will need that swagger as they face a 9-1 Titans team ranked in the top 10 in a hostile environment. Dale already can feel what it would be like to quarterback the school's first playoff winner.
"It's never been done, so our names would go down in history for our school," he said. "What could be better than that?"