By Brandon Speck
RIPLEY – Ripley may have passed its toughest test Friday with a win against Calhoun City.
The Journal’s top-ranked Tigers (5-0) may even be a little ahead of where second-year coach Chad Cook thought they would be.
That’s fine with him.
“They’ve surprised me. I never thought we would be sitting right here where we are,” Cook said. “It’s been fun watching, especially our defense. A lot of them are undersized, but they make up size with effort and determination. It’s been a fun start.”
The defense has allowed more than 20 points only once, but the offense scored 46. All the current players played last season except two, quarterback and receiver. Defensively, everyone played, minus a few defensive backs.
But when Cook arrived in March prior to last season, there was a lot of work to do.
“I had to start over. And that’s no disrespect to anybody else. But the way I feel like you need to run a program, the way you need to lift weights, the way you need to be held accountable, the way you need to practice, all those things were way off,” he said. “It was kind of overbearing at first.”
Ripley split its first three games last season and has since won 10 of 12.
It’s been a balanced attack this season and seniors have led the charge. Quarterback Dalton James entered Friday’s rain-soaked game with 876 passing yards. In the rain, leading rusher Christian Johnson took over with 174 yards on 24 carries.
Cook has also had the luxury of an abundance of one-way players, thanks to quality seniors and up-and-coming talent.
Some 18 players are participating on offense. None of them play defense. None of the defensive guys play offense. That may not always be the case every season, but Ripley is glad to take advantage of it.
“We have split practices basically,” Cook said. “One kid is learning one position. The coaching staff I’ve got, it’s the best overall, top to bottom, I’ve ever been on. These guys know football.”
Ripley closes non-division play at Pontotoc on Friday before opening division play at Lafayette.