As Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School head coach Blake Raley tried to organize his dozen or so seniors for a photo Wednesday before practice, it was hard to tell that less than a month earlier, they had been members of rival teams.
"Unless you read it in the newspaper, you wouldn't even know what happened," Raley said. "The guys have been fine. It hasn't been an issue. It's been like, 'let's do it.' That's been the mentality."
What happened was consolidation. After the teams held separate spring practices, the Ridgeland and Hardeeville high school squads received little notice they would be playing together in the fall.
Over the summer the Jasper County School district decided to combine the two schools. Raley, the head coach at Hardeeville, was named the coach of the new Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School.
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While it's not fair to suggest anyone expected the melding of the two teams to cause trouble, a few bumps in the road weren't out of the question. But to hear the players talk, there was never a cause for concern.
"It wasn't a problem," said senior linebacker Amar Wilkins, a three-year starter at Hardeeville. "Most of the guys from the two schools knew each other. So when we came in, it wasn't a problem.. We're brothers. When we got together, there weren't going to be any issues. We came together as a team."
"You get the scrimmages to get all the frustrations out," senior linebacker Marquis McClennon said. "You come together to practice and you practice hard together, and the harder you practice, the easier this year will go."
A smooth transition has allowed Raley and the Jaguars to focus on football.
Raley said the Jaguars played well in the first of their three scrimmages, Aug. 3 scrimmage against Colleton County and Lakewood, despite prescious little preparation time.
"We only had four or five practices to get a whole spring practice in," Raley said. "I'm sure most people do that, but we actually had to start with terminology and line assignments and then build up, where if we'd had spring practice, all of that would have been in place and that would have been a refresher course."
While their timetable may be a bit rushed, there are some positives to consolidation.
"Finally having depth in certain areas is a big plus," Raley said. "I'm looking at going eight or nine deep on the offensive live and seven, eight, nine deep on the defensive line. Those things, as the season progresses, will be a huge factor for us."
Raley says the Jaguars will run an offense similar to Ridgeland's, which means a lot of running the ball.
Junior Derrell Myers is set to start at quarterback. Raley will employ a fullback by committee from the pool of Wilkins and sophomores Shemar Taylor and Gavin Bush.
Juniors Deovonte Doe and Marquis Griffin will split time at halfback, while seniors KeAndre Frazier and Michale Horton may see time at all three positions.
Whatever personnel or set the Jaguars employ, it's likely to happen quickly.
"Basically, we've got speed," said Wilkins. "Our quarterback is fast. We've got like 10 running backs. And those guys are running 4.5s. They're fast."
While he says he's been frustrated in trying to find depth at linebacker -- "youth and inexperience" -- Raley and the players agree the defense is the Jaguars' strength.
"Jasper County has pretty much always had a defensive mentality," Wilkins said. "That's pretty much what we're used to. Defense is not a problem because we bring intensity. That's what we've really always been about."
Since Ridgeland was set to move from Region 5-A to Region 6-AA this season, the new school simply slid into Ridgeland's spot.
Raley said the Jaguars are familiar with some of their new region foes, like Academic Magnet and Battery Creek, while they know others by reputation.
"Bishop England is the defending 2-A state champion, and Woodland is going to be loaded," Raley said. "I think everybody else is fighting for third and fourth."
Raley said he likes where his team is at, but he isn't willing to make any predictions about his team's success.
"I don't want to put odds on us," Raley said. "I used to sit down and kind of map things out, but God kind of laughs at us when we make our own plans."
With how well things have gone this summer, Raley says the last real hurdle is to find out how his team handles adversity. He'll get his first chance Friday when the Jaguars travel to Class 4-A Bluffton for their season opener. The Bobcats dismantled Class 1-A Whale Branch, 50-0, in their Week Zero season opener.
"There's nothing fun about preparing for Bluffton's offense," Raley said, "except I get to be the scout team quarterback.
"It's good to be C.J. Frazier."
Stadium: Jasper County Stadium
Region: Region 6-AA
Coach: Blake Raley (first year at Ridgeland-Hardeeville; 17-36 in five years at Hardeeville)
2011 results: First year; Ridgeland was 8-4, lost 19-14 to Bamberg-Ehrhardt in the second round of the 1-A playoffs.; Hardeeville was 1-9.
Key losses: OL/DL Wesley Scott, ATH Charlie Morrison-Ford, WR/S Tyron Mikell, LB Dominque Riley, OLB/RB Philip Harris, RB Torray Amlett, LB Alvin Brown, ATH Xavier Capers, LB Derrick Solomon, WR/DB William Dupont
Top returning starters: OL Kareem Singleton, LB Amar Wilkins, WR Garretson Seeden, RB Deovonte Doe, OL Xavier Gist, DB Gavin Bush, DL Osano Sanders, S KeAndre Fraiser
Key newcomers: OL Sam Thompson
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 24 Bluffton 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 Hilton Head 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 SAVANNAH COUNTY DAY 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 Burke* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 BATTERY CREEK* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 ACADEMIC MAGNET* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 North Charleston* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 WOODLAND* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 Garrett Tech* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 Bishop England* 7:30 p.m.
HOME GAMES IN CAPS *Region opponent
Players to watch
Deovonte Doe and Marquis Griffin, RBs
It's impossible to mention one of these guys without the other. The two juniors possess ridiculous speed and will be in the backfield together. If the rushing-oriented Jaguars click, it will because these two are given the opportunity to put that speed on display. They are learning to play alongside each other, block for each other," Raley said. "And I think each will make the other better as we go through the season."
Amar Wilkins, LB: The senior, who also plays fullback, was a three-year starter at Hardeeville and will be counted on to mentor younger players at the position where the Jaguars are short on depth. He has the opportunity to be an important leader on a strong defense.
Three Keys to the Season
2011 roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Height Weight Class
1 Deovonte Doe RB 5-8 165 Jr.
2 Gavin Bush DB 5-7 145 Soph.
4 Derrell Myers QB 6-2 170 Jr.
5 Marquis Griffin RB 5-9 165 Jr.
6 KeAndre Frazier S 5-10 175 Sr.
8 Michale Horton FB 5-10 165 Sr.
11 Tyler Jones QB 6-1 210 Soph.
12 Frank Fields QB 5-8 155 Fr.
13 Marquis McClennon LB 6-0 170 Sr.
15 Nazair Wilson WR 5-4 135 Soph.
20 Amar Wilkins LB 5-10 185 Sr.
21 Garretson Seeden WR 6-2 165 Sr.
22 Derrice Miller S 5-10 150 Soph.
23 Desjon Fraser DB 5-7 135 Fr.
24 Shemar Taylor LB 6-0 200 Soph.
28 Caylon Morrison-Ford RB 5-6 180 Sr.
31 DeAndre Dopson LB 5-10 170 Soph.
32 Kaelin Devore FB 5-10 190 Jr.
34 Steven Fuller DB 5-7 145 Jr.
35 Shawn Wilsom DB 5-8 145 Soph.
43 Marquis Alexander DL 5-9 190 Sr.
44 Jameel Grant DL 5-10 180 Sr.
50 Craven Howard LB 5-11 185 Soph.
51 Dennis Chaney OL 6-0 220 Jr.
52 Jeffrery Gadson LB 6-2 165 Jr.
53 D'Vante Williams OL 5-7 160 Fr.
54 Zack Fields LB 5-9 155 Fr.
55 Kareem Singleton OL 5-11 225 Sr.
61 Jamari Mack OL 5-8 250 Fr.
62 Tyree Simmons DL 6-2 280 Jr.
63 Diquan Mitchell OL 6-2 230 Sr.
64 Takarry Polite OL 6-0 260 Fr.
65 Santonio Ford OL 6-0 240 Soph.
66 Xavier Gist OL 6-0 280 Jr.
68 Dervon Jones OL 5-11 240 Soph.
69 Ja'len Beacher-Orr LB 5-11 185 Soph.
71 Chsester Newton DL 5-8 230 Jr.
72 Samuel Thompson OL 6-1 235 Jr.
73 Duheem Singleton OL 6-3 280 Fr.
75 Osano Saunders DL 6-0 320 Sr.
76 Henry Wright DL 6-4 315 Sr.
77 Ashley Mitchell OL 6-3 280 Soph.
79 Savon Hamilton DL 6-1 220 Jr.
80 Jacoree Beaton WR 5-8 150 Soph.
81 Chris Edwards WR 5-10 145 Soph.
82 Carlton Williams WR 5-9 145 Fr.
84 Kevin Mitchell WR 5-10 150 Jr.
85 Darius Solomon WR 5-9 150 Fr.
86 Javon Allen WR 5-9 145 Fr.
88 Martin Sotelo K 5-7 140 Soph.
90 Victor Simmons LB 6-0 170 Jr.