LAURINBURG — Football without Jaylend Ratliffe.
That’s the reality the Fighting Scots had to cope with as they took the field for the first official practice on a cool and cloudy Friday morning.
Players and coaches did their best to begin the necessary work that had to be put in before the season opener at South View on Aug. 22. As much as head coach Richard Bailey wanted to cancel practice, the NCHSAA mandates that a school must have a certain number completed before the first scrimmage to remain eligible.
About 140 players showed up for Friday’s practice — including varsity, junior varsity and tryouts.
Ratliffe remains in critical condition, but was stable following brain surgery Thursday and remains so as of Friday evening. Doctors had taken him off the ventilator on Wednesday, but put it back on that night as a precaution.
An MRI scan Wednesday morning did not show any obvious spinal damage. According to a source, he was talkative and responsive most of that day before suffering the setback.
Bailey said that the team and staff are doing their best to focus on football at a time in which the sport feels so trivial.
“It’s good and hopefully a little therapeutic,” Bailey said. “Usually it’s exciting — walking out I saw a lot of long faces but once they got out here they’re starting to work at it.”
The competition for the unenviable task of replacing Ratliffe soon begins for the other quarterbacks on the Scots’ roster. Two players have emerged as the frontrunners — DeShawn Ferguson and Ty McLaurin.
“We’re just looking for somebody to stand out and act like they want to be that guy,” Bailey said.
Bailey said if the team had a match today, Ferguson would get the nod. A rising junior, he led the junior varsity team to a 8-2 record last season.
“… We’re going to put some pressure on him,” Bailey said. “DeShawn is one of those guys, and I don’t mean this as a bad thing, he’s really good at everything, but he isn’t great at anything.”
McLaurin, a rising sophomore who played wide receiver last year as a freshman, is still learning how to play quarterback as he adjusts to a new position. But Bailey said that he has the athletic ability and the potential to become a big-time playmaker on offense.
“Ty McLaurin’s a very good athlete but he’s got a long way to to learn the position,” Bailey said. Typically we have a dynamic playmaking guy back there and Ty’s a lot more that kind of guy than DeShawn is …Ty has a few great attributes, but he isn’t as good at some other stuff.”
Both quarterbacks were somber as they discussed their roles on the team this upcoming season. Ferguson and McLaurin were good friends with Ratliffe, and pledged to dedicate their play, as well as the team’s season, to him.
According to source information, Ratliffe and teammate Dakota Holland were riding together though the woods on Holland’s ATV about 4:30 p.m Tuesday when Ratliffe lost control of the vehicle, causing it to overturn. Holland, who sought treatment locally, wore a leg brace and was on crutches Thursday at Ratliffe’s vigil held at Scotland High, but did not have the brace on at Friday’s practice as he watched his teammates run through drills.
“Really, I’m just gonna try to dedicate this season to Jaylend,” Ferguson said. “Jaylend was like a brother to me and when he went down, it’s time for me to man up and lead this team.”
McLaurin, who is currently second on the depth chart behind Ferguson, added that he wants the team to “play how Jaylend would want us to play.” Although he is competing with Ferguson for the starting position, he doesn’t see the two as rivals. He considers the quarterback group to be a brotherhood —a brotherhood that will always play for Ratliffe.
“When I was a wide receiver, I was there for Jaylend and would catch his balls,” McLaurin said. “Now, I’m back here trying to help his brothers out and do it the way he wanted it to be.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.