This time last season, the Jaguars were barely a team.
Ridgeland and Hardeeville high schools consolidated over the summer of 2012, and the sum of the two football squads had roughly three weeks to get to know each other and find an identity before a daunting season opener at Bluffton.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville would endure a rough 4-7 season, though they did make the Class 2-A playoffs. This year, however, will be another year of change, and just coming together as a team won't be enough.
"There are expectations," head coach Blake Raley said. "The kids are all on the same page now. We've got a new defensive coordinator, a new offensive coordinator. Obviously, schematically, things have changed. And expectations on both sides of the ball have changed."
The biggest change is the Ridgeland-Hardeeville offense. The Jaguars are trading in the ground-oriented wing-T for the more pass-friendly spread formation installed by new offensive coordinator Eddie Johnson.
Raley, who said he would have run the spread last year had his team experienced spring practice together, believes he has the athletes to run the new offense. It's the learning curve that could be a concern.
Johnson didn't start until July and the offense has had a minimal amount of time to work in the new system.
"We're just trying to get the base stuff down and expand from there," Raley said. "We're running the whole no-huddle spread, signals, protection schemes, the whole implementation. It's a lot. That road is moving a bit slow, but you know, when you run the Wing-T for 80 years, it's hard. It's not natural yet. It's not instinctive."
The Jaguars have some time, though. Region play doesn't begin for them until Week 4. Raley hopes the new offense is old hat for his team by then.
"It's going to be slow at first. If we can be full-tilt by region, that's our goal," Raley said. "We're shooting for 80, 90 percent by region play."
Senior quarterback DJ Myers, a returning starter, is charged with running the new offense. He said the goal is simple: get the ball to the team's best playmakers in space and let them do the work.
But he admits the new scheme has been tough.
"It's more thinking -- a lot more thinking," Myers said. "We want to get to where we don't have to think that much, but where it's reaction. Like the back of my hand."
In the backfield, senior Marquis Griffin must step up and fill the void left by the departure of last year's leading rusher, Deo'vonte Doe. Doe who transferred to Hilton Head Christian Academy, rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
While Myers and Griffin are key to the success of the new offense, Raley said the offensive line may play a bigger role.
"It will be very hard for us to find success without positive play from our guys up front," Raley said. "They are the most important part of our team."
Raley said the Jaguars hoped to have eight almost interchangeable bodies along the offensive line in order to provide depth.
Defense is a different story.
Raley said the defense is picking up where they left off in spring practice.
On that side of the ball, depth isn't an issue, Raley said. Defensive line is his deepest position.
"Right now, we are able to rotate eight or nine guys along our front," Raley said. "We are looking for our entire unit to stand out."
In addition, Arthur Gardner, defensive coordinator at Ridgeland in 2010 and 2011, has returned after a year's absence.
"(He) has brought another level of intensity to that side of the ball," Raley said.
Raley is confident Ridgeland-Hardeeville will be better on defense this season and is hopeful the offense can move the ball and take advantage of scoring opportunities. But where will that put the Jaguars?
"We're just trying to close the gap," Raley said. "Those lopsided scores there -- Hilton Head, Bluffton, Woodland, Bishop England -- we're just trying to close the gap. Did we do enough to be better than them? I don't know yet. Hopefully the gap has been closed."
Some of Raley's players have more on their mind than just closing the gap.
"We're going to make the playoffs, but we're trying for more than the playoffs," Myers said. "We want to play on that last Saturday. The last game you play."
Stadium: Jasper County Stadium
Region: Region 6-AA
Coach (years at school): Blake Raley (2nd year, 4-7)
2012 results: 4-7, lost to Edisto, 45-12, in the first round of the Class 2-A playoffs
Key losses: DT Osano Saunders (graduation), LB Amar Wilkins (graduation), RB Deovontae Doe (transfer to HHCA), WR Chris Edwards (transfer to HHCA), OL Sam Thompson (transfer to Thomas Heyward)
Top returning starters: QB DJ Myers, RB Marquis Griffin, OL/DL Tyrae Simmons, TE/LB Victor Simmons, WR/DB Gavin Bush.
Key newcomers: FB/DE PJ Washington (did not play in 2012), RB Tony Flint (freshman), RB/LB Kameron Williams (freshman)
Date Opponent W/L Score
Aug. 24 Bluffton L 67-0
Aug. 31 Hilton Head Island L 54-12
Sept. 7 SAVANNAH COUNTRY DAY W 16-13
Sept. 14 Burke W 33-12
Sept. 21 BATTERY CREEK L 26-18
Sept. 28 ACADEMIC MAGNET W 42-21
Oct. 5 North Charleston W 34-0
Oct. 12 WOODLAND L 54-12
Oct. 19 Garrett Tech L 38-16
Oct. 26 Bishop England L 41-8
Nov. 2 Edisto* L 45-12
HOME GAMES in CAPS *Playoff game
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 23 at Savannah Country Day 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 HILTON HEAD ISLAND 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Bluffton 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 BURKE* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Battery Creek 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Academic Magnet* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 NORTH CHARLESTON* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Woodland* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 GARRETT* 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 BISHOP ENGLAND* 7:30 P.M.
HOME GAME in CAPS *Region opponent
Players to watch
DJ Myers, QB
It all starts with Myers. The pressure will be on the second-year starter as the Jaguars move from a run-oriented offense to the spread. Last year, Myers made only 52 pass attempts in 11 games, completing 22 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. If the Jaguars are to be successful this season, those numbers will have to improve drastically.
Victor Simmons, DE
Raley calls Simmons the team's emotional leader on defense. "He's our high motor guy, very passionate about the game," Raley said. Simmons made 56 tackles with 6.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery at linebacker last season. This season, the senior has moved to defensive end, Raley said, to simply "get him closer to the ball."
Three keys to the season
2013 roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Class
1 Dee Frazier WR/DB Soph.
2 D.J. Myers QB/DB Sr.
3 Tre Robinson QB/DB Jr.
4 Shawn Wilson RB/LN Jr.
5 Marquis Griffin RB/LB Sr.
7 Kevon Williams WR/DB Soph.
10 Dominique DuPont WR/DE Jr.
12 Frank Fields QB/LB Soph.
13 Mike Smith WR/DB Jr.
14 Tyshawn Payne WR/DB Fr.
15 Tony Flint RB/LB Fr.
17 Victor Simmons TE/DE Sr.
20 Jeffery Gadson TE/DE Sr.
21 Gavin Bush WR/DB Jr.
22 Derrice Miller WR/DB Jr.
23 Josh Fields RB/DB Sr.
24 Shemar Taylor TE/LB Jr.
31 Deandre Dopson FB/LB Jr.
32 Kaylon Devore FB/DL Sr.
33 Kamrin Williams RB/LB Fr.
34 Steven Fuller WR/DB Sr.
35 Andre Devore WR/DB Sr.
44 P.J. Washington FB/DE Jr.
45 Jerry Englum WR/DB Fr.
50 Craven Howard OL/LB Jr.
51 Tyler Jones OL/LB Jr.
52 Dennis Chaney OL/LB Sr.
53 Jalen Beacher-Orr OL/DL Jr.
54 Ashawn Kemp OL/DL Jr.
55 Ben Edwards OL/LB Jr.
62 Tyree Simmons OL/DL Sr.
65 Santonio Ford OL/DL Jr.
66 Jarrod Woods OL/DL Jr.
69 Jarquest Fields OL/DL Jr.
71 Chester Newton OL/DL Sr.
77 Ashley Mitchell OL/DL Jr.
79 Savon Hamilton OL/DL Sr.
81 Javon Allen WR/LB Soph.
84 Kevin Mitchell WR/LB Sr.
85 Darius Solomen WR/LB Soph.