LAURINBURG —Though continued speculation over Jaylend Ratliffe’s health has subdued the excitement of football season, concerned coaches at the Southeastern Conference’s 4-A meeting did their best to stay focused.
Coaches and players from all six of the Southeastern 4-A teams converged upon the Bayonet Golf Course in Raeford Sunday as they met with media members to discuss the upcoming season and their expectations for what lies ahead.
Scotland coach Richard Bailey attended the meeting despite a tumultuous week in which he traveled back and forth to Charlotte to visit Ratliffe following last week’s ATV accident and to coach the Fighting Scots as they prepare for a Aug. 12 scrimmage at Douglas Byrd.
Bailey brought Robert McKoy, a senior strong safety, with him to the meeting. With the quarterback situation still in flux, McKoy realizes the team may have to rely on the defense even more this season — and he says he and the rest of the unit readily accept that challenge after Ratliffe’s injury.
“We have higher expectation than when we first came in,” McKoy said. “When we first came in, it was high, then when that happened it went even higher because we knew everyone was going to ride our back this year.”
McKoy said the defense has improved its communication since the beginning of the summer, and he knows that will be key going into a year in which the offense may need help more than it has in recent seasons when Ratliffe was under the helm.
“We’re just moving quicker to the ball and all 11 hats are there,” McKoy said. “We’re just making sure that we get the job done and we know the offense will get it done — it’s just more on our backs than theirs.”
As of Monday evening, Ratliffe was still in critical, yet stable, condition. His football future in doubt, the one thing that does seem to be certain is that Georgia Tech, the school he committed to last spring, will honor the scholarship he was offered.
“Georgia Tech has said that Jaylend is theirs and they are going to take him any way that they can get him,” Richard Bailey said. “They will honor his scholarship and whether he played football at Georgia Tech, it didn’t matter.”
Georgia Tech would not comment Monday, with a school spokesperson saying NCAA rules prohibit a school from commenting on a player that has not officially signed a National Letter of Intent.
Bailey said Ratliffe was the leader of the Fighting Scots on and off the field, and the team will have a hard time replacing not only him, but the presence he brings in the locker room. He is looking for other players to step up and fill that void.
“We’re counting on someone to take even more of a leadership role,” Bailey said. “Jaylend’s done our team prayer before every game — we’re going to have to find someone to take over that role and do that job and be our hype guy, but I’m fully confident somebody’s going to.”
The coaches at the meeting unanimously agreed to an idea first introduced by Pinecrest head coach Chris Metzger, who suggested all of the teams in the conference take donations at their first home game of the season for the Ratliffe family.
The coaches also submitted their poll ballots at the meeting — Scotland was tabbed first with five first-place votes, followed by Richmond, Pinecrest, a tie between Lumberton and Hoke, and Purnell Swett. Lumberton was the only other school to receive a first-place vote.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.