Whatever preconceived notion you might have about Ridgeland-Hardeeville football, throw it out. The school has a new coach, a new playing surface at its football stadium, a new weight room, new jerseys and helmets, and a new mindset.
These are not the downtrodden Jaguars who have totaled only seven wins over the past three seasons.
“We’re seeing some of the fruits of our labor,” said first-year coach Wilbert Lampkin. “We’re seeing some of the kids develop into better people before they become better football players.”
Lampkin was hired in mid-May after interim coach Thomas Balkcom left to join the staff at Georgia Tech. His first objective has been to instill discipline and accountability, which he says can be a slow process.
“For the first year, until you start winning, it might mean lower numbers because not everyone wants to follow through, and it may mean a few losses early on when you make an example of some players,” Lampkin said. “But if you keep believing in what you’re doing and you keep striking the stone, the stone’s going to crack one day.”
The Jaguars have talent to build around, but Lampkin has had to shuffle the deck a bit to account for the graduation of several key players. Jertaveon Smalls, the team’s leading receiver a year ago, moves from receiver to quarterback, where he hasn’t played since midget football. Lampkin likes the winning mentality Smalls brings to the position as a member of the state runner-up basketball team.
“To be able to go up there and line up at (Colonial Life Arena), you’ve got to have a little ice water in your veins,” Lampkin said. “You learn so much from being in an atmosphere like that, and we hope some of that can carry over into football.”
The Jags have to replace their top offensive producer in Jabari Williams, but Smalls has some tantalizing targets in Ronald Zimmerman, Travis Taylor, and freshman Brandon Howard, and he says the offensive line is improved from last year.
“If we stick together as a team, we can be very dangerous,” Smalls said. “Hopefully we can make it to the big time.”
The defense has a chance to be a strength but begins the season with three starters on the shelf with injuries. Malachi Johnson will anchor the defensive line until they’re back, and Lampkin hopes the Jaguars can weather the early-season storm and be ready to compete when region play rolls around.
“They’re buying in as much as they’re supposed to right now. You never know until that first bit of adversity hits. I feel we have a few who are going to help right the ship for those who will be teetering.”
RIDGELAND-HARDEEVILLE JAGUARS FOOTBALL
Coach: Wilbert Lampkin
Record at RHHS: 0-0 (1st season)
2017 record: 3-6 overall, 0-4 region
Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense
Offensive scheme: Single-Back Zone
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Top returners: QB Jertaveon Smalls, WR/DB Ronald Zimmerman, OL/DL Jeremiah Orr, OL/DL Myles Pinckney, TE/DL Malachi Johnson
Notable losses: QB Derald Nelson, WR/DB Jabari Williams, RB/LB Freddie Aiken III
Breakout candidates: RB/DB Mar’Quese Grant, WR/OLB Brandon Howard, WR/DB Travis Taylor
PLAYER TO WATCH
Brandon Howard, WR/OLB: Lampkin raves about the true freshman, who will play outside linebacker on defense and fill the hybrid “ice back” role on offense.
Will the Jaguars galvanize at the first sign of adversity? In the past, RHHS has fallen apart when things started to unravel, like last season when the Jags started 3-0 before losing their last six games. Lampkin is trying to change that culture, but it’s yet to be seen if it will take hold in year 1.
REGION AND BEYOND
The region figures to be competitive with Bluffton moving out and Lake Marion moving in. Defending champion Wade Hampton is the favorite until proven otherwise, but the Jaguars have a chance to add their name to the list of up-and-coming programs May River and Battery Creek who can contend.
8/17 — vs. Woodland (at Hardeeville-Ridgeland MS)
8/24 — at Estill
8/31 — vs. Bluffton
9/7 — at Whale Branch
9/14 — vs. Hilton Head High
9/21 — at Colleton County
9/28 — Open
10/5 — vs. May River*
10/12 — at Battery Creek*
10/19 — vs. Wade Hampton*
10/26 — at Lake Marion*
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