News Column

Dandy Dozen No. 3: Ridgeway poised to take next step

August 21, 2014

By John Varlas, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.



Aug. 21--Duron Sutton says he likes his odds.

Now heading into his fifth season as Ridgeway's head coach, Sutton has presided over one of the area's most successful programs in that span. But despite coming close, the Roadrunners haven't been able to get over the hump and reach the 5A state championship game.

But to a man, the Roadrunners believe 2014 will be different.

"I think we're a little more comfortable, a little more seasoned with where we are," said Sutton. "These seniors won the West Tennessee state championship when they were freshmen and they've been together for a while. They've started to figure out the process."

D IS THE KEY

It's no secret the key to Ridgeway's success will rest with the defense. The Roadrunners gave up 29 or more points in all five of their losses last year, but Sutton is banking that the returning talent, along with a new coordinator in former Kirby head coach Jeremy Stewart, can produce.

"We're hearing (other people's) opinions, but we're going to hold our ground," said linebacker Darron Johnson. "We're all hustling, coming to the ball together and working to be mentally and physically prepared."

Johnson, a 6-0, 200-pound junior, is poised for a breakout season after leading the team in tackles last year. Lineman Elontae Bateman has committed to Arkansas State and fellow senior Terry Fultz will also play major college football.

Josh Malone and Deharrius Smedley, the team's interception leader, return to lead the secondary.

"They've even been stopping us at times," said tight end Marquette Murdock. "And I feel like if they can stop us, they can stop anybody."

HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE

If the defense can come through, this may just be Ridgeway's year. Because -- at least on paper -- the offense looks second to none.

Senior Braxton Conard returns for his third year as the starting quarterback. He'll bring poise and a cool head to the huddle and has been very accurate over the last two seasons, throwing for 48 touchdowns with just 18 interceptions.

Sutton likes to mix things up with his running game and the Roadrunners have two stars in senior Earl Harrison and junior Lilotis Walker, who both made all-metro a year ago.

Harrison, who ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at a camp in Houston over the summer, has already committed to Arkansas State after gaining 1,655 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns in 2013. Walker chipped in with 1,195 yards and 14 scores.

Ridgeway also has one of the best tight ends in the state in Murdock. Sutton accurately describes the 6-3, 220-pound senior as a "matchup nightmare," and his presence will open things up for receivers Katavious Johnson, who has committed to Jacksonville (Ala.) State, and Cayman Gordon.

Veterans Cameron Jones, Larry Palm and Nick Wiseman anchor a line that has plenty of size and experience.

"I think we're loaded on offense," said Murdock. "We're a run-first team but that opens things up for the passing game. Our wide receivers are so good that they (defenders) can't target me.

"We've got too many weapons."

COACH SUTTON'S BOTTOM LINE

"We've had some good success, but we're tired of getting to the quarterfinals or semifinals (and losing). We want to get a taste of some real success and we're really just itching to take that step."

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A closer look at: No. 3 Ridgeway

Coach: Duron Sutton (fifth year)

Last season: 7-5 (lost to Henry County in the 5A quarterfinals)

Key players: TE Marquette Murdock, RB Earl Harrison, DE Terry Fultz, RB Earl Harrison, RB Lilotis Walker, DT Elontae Bateman

Key games: Sept. 5 at Southwind; Sept. 26 vs. Whitehaven at Halle; Oct. 9 vs. Collierville at Halle; Oct. 17 at Houston

Season opener: Friday at Olive Branch, 7 p.m.

___

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com

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Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


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