Swamp Fox fans shouldn’t fret just yet
Many probably look at the Swamp Foxes' 4-8 record this football season as a step back. But maybe it is just a step onto a building block.
A year ago Ashley Ridge won its first football region championship en route to advancing to the semi-finals of the state playoffs so naturally Swamp Fox fans were disappointed this year. However, don't forget Ashley Ridge is a young school that started competing at the Class AA level and just this year reached the “Big 16” ranks. The school hasn't been around long enough to have the luxury of never having to rebuild, but simply having to reload.
The Swamp Foxes dropped a couple of games early in the season that perhaps they shouldn't have but they finished strong, winning three of their five region games to earn a playoff bid.
“You always feel as a coach and staff that we could've done better,” Ashley Ridge coach Kenny Walker said. “I knew we had some question marks going in this year in some areas and we also knew as a staff that it was going to take some time to develop players in those areas we were concerned about. I think this year was a year of missed opportunities. The difference to me this year compared to last year is that when we had to the opportunities to make plays we didn't.”
The Foxes were the last (16th) seed in the Division 1-AAAA playoffs, but gave the top-seeded team a good fight before being eliminated by Gaffney in the opening round.
“Our Gaffney game went just like our season — there were many opportunities in that game for us to come away with an upset on the road and we didn't take advantage,” Walker said.
One thing that didn't change from that near-storybook 2011 season was the talent level of the team's skill players.
Running back Romelo Doctor, a Shrine Bowl athlete, and quarterback Jacob Thompson both finished the season with approximately 1,600 all-purpose yards. Fullback Vernon Moree finished with more than 1,300 all-purpose yards.
When you have the number of students Ashley Ridge has you typically have some athletes with speed but the trick to success in the future will likely be twofold.
The Swamp Foxes will have to find skills players with the same character and dedication they had this season and they will also need to be tougher in the trenches. The team had talented linemen this season, but the experience and depth up front just wasn't enough to handle the Foxes' tough schedule.
“I think our success next year will be determined by how much we improve on the offensive line and how much we can improve on defense,” Walker said. “We lose some very productive seniors on both sides of the ball and if we improve next year it will have to be with our offensive line and whether or not we can stop the run on defense. We need to improve physically across the board and that starts in our weight room. We have seen big improvements from our returning players already.”