A Blue Ridge High team used to contending will try to continue its winning ways with a predominantly new lineup this season.
“We know that we’re going to be a very young, inexperienced team,” said Blue Ridge coach Wade Cooper. “Our goal is to get better each and every time we step on the field — at practice, in a jamboree or for a game. We want to try to improve every single time out, and, so far, that’s what we’ve done.”
The Tigers are coming off an 8-3 season, a total that tied for the most wins for the program during the past 22 seasons. Only four starters return from that squad.
Senior wide receiver Brennen Griffin is the lone returning starter on offense. He recorded more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, gaining 898 yards on 49 receptions and 174 yards rushing. He also scored 16 touchdowns.
Griffin will be catching passes from junior quarterback Ty Montgomery, the junior varsity starter a year ago. Montgomery will replace Caleb Rowe, a three-year starter now playing for the University of Maryland.
“We’re going to ask Ty to do what he is capable of doing,” Cooper said. “He can do some things Caleb couldn’t, so we’ll focus on what he can do. We believe he can be a very effective ball player for us. His background in baseball makes him effective in the short passing game. He has a quick release and he makes good decisions. He’s an excellent runner, a tough kid and he’s got good speed.”
Cooper said the offense probably will look somewhat different than it has for the past few years with Rowe under center.
“We’re going to coach to the players’ strengths,” he said.
Mikal Robinson, who rushed for 448 yards and three touchdowns with a 7.6 per-carry average last season, will assume the starting role at tailback, giving Montgomery a safety net in the backfield.
Stephen Turner returns to the receiving corps after missing most of last season because of a leg injury. Sophomores Tay Jenkins and Brian Garrett also figure to move into starting roles in Blue Ridge’s spread offense.
A smallish offensive line is a completely new group anchored by seniors Avery James and Michael Williams and junior Cody Morgan, JV starters who suited up with the varsity a year ago.
“They were eight-quarter guys last year, so they got valuable playing experience on Thursday nights,” Cooper said. “We’re not real big — we probably average about 5-10, 235 pounds across the front, but we’re pretty athletic.”
Senior linebacker Jonathon Bull and senior defensive back Brandon Bowen are the two returning starters on defense.
Bull anchors a group that Cooper said is the team’s strongest defensive unit.
Bull and Hunter Odom will start at outside linebacker with Steven Shock and Lake Stovall at the inside linebacker spots.
“We’ve got a lot of depth there and have had some great competition,” Cooper said.
Cooper also said that his athletic defensive front consists of a deep rotation. He will count on that rotation to stay fresh. Alex Surfus and 255-pound Alfredo Hernandez will anchor the line.
Bowen and seniors Corey Dogan and Justin Howard are expected to make up three-quarters of the starting secondary. Howard is returning after missing most of last year because of a broken back.
A largely new roster isn’t the only thing with which the Tigers will be attempting to acclimate themselves this season.
Blue Ridge, along with Greer and Pickens, is moving into the larger, eight-team Peach Blossom AAA Region consisting primarily of Greenville County schools.
The Tigers suffered a stinging home defeat to rival Greer in the final regular-season game last season, clinching the Region 3-AAA title for the Yellow Jackets. Cooper said he expects Greer to be among the teams to beat in the newly formed region as well.
“Traditionally, the Greers and Greenvilles of the world have always been at the top and that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said. “Greer beat us for the region championship right here on our field last year, so right now they’re on top. We have to be able to beat the best to be the best, and that’s our aim.”