Slade Dale never has encountered a challenge he didn't meet head on or a situation that overwhelmed him. In the happy-go-lucky world of the Ringgold two-sport star, every day is sunny and the possibilities are endless.
So when the senior quarterback is asked about the football Tigers' suddenly high expectations, he says it might be wise for Ringgold fans to save this year's team picture.
"This team picture might be one for the record books," said Dale, one of 10 returning offensive starters for coach Robert Akins. "This is the year, one for the history books."
History says Ringgold, despite more than 60 years of varsity football, never has won a playoff game or an outright region championship. Dale, who recently committed to play baseball at the University of Georgia, would love to change all that in a Region 5-AAA that has one dominant returning team, Cartersville.
"We have a chance," Dale said, the ever-present smile on his face spreading. "We play [Cartersville] in the last week of the regular season, and I'm counting on that being for the region championship."
The Tigers reached the playoffs last season as Dale passed and ran for more than 1,000 yards each. However, despite leading several late-game comebacks, he was worn down at the end of the season due to taking too many hits in the option-based offense. Akins and new offensive coordinator Chase Fleming are tweaking the offense to keep their star healthy.
"An injury to Slade would be devastating," Akins said. "Last year we put Slade in some situations where he could get hurt. We don't want him hit on every play, so we're putting him a little deeper in the shotgun."
Akins, like his quarterback, understands and accepts the expectations on this year's team. The coach of more than 30 years sees more than just returning talent as a reason to be optimistic.
"We've got a lot of returning starters - 10 on offense, eight on defense - and while we're excited to have those kids back, we've been pressing the issue with them that just because we have a lot returning doesn't mean we're necessarily going to be good," the coach said. "I really think this team, more than any team I've had recently, has a focus on really going deep into the playoffs."
Joining Dale on the explosive offense are elusive running backs Kile Sholl and D.L. Goins, veteran receivers in Christian Plott and Caleb Peters and a line featuring Ryan Emmer, Bryan Derbern and Zach Shahan that should be among the region's best. However, it all starts with Dale.
"Slade Dale is as good a high school player as I've been around," former Ringgold assistant and current North Murray head coach David Gann said. "He can make things happen in any situation, and he's at his best when a game is on the line. Any chance to beat Ringgold has to start with controlling him."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.