MONETTA — Ridge Spring-Monetta has seen improvement in each of head coach Heath Corley’s first two seasons with the program. The culture change in Monetta led the Trojans on a one-of-a-kind playoff run last season and is something the coach is looking to continue to build at the small Class A school. It’s all about believing, according to Corley, who said he feels the program has much to believe in after last season.


2013 in Review

The Trojans got hot at the right time last season. They finished the regular season with a 5-5 record and just a 2-4 mark in Region 4-A play, but they rolled over their first two playoff opponents. The impressive victories included a 34-13 victory over Wagener-Salley, which had defeated RS-M a week prior to the playoff opener.


The team built a 10 point lead in the Upper State title game before Hunter-Kinard-Tyler came storming back. After scoring a touchdown on the final drive, H-K-T gambled for the win. Instead of tying the game with an extra point, H-K-T went for a 2-point conversion, which former Williston-Elko star Jarius Jenkins converted – ending RS-M’s season a game shy of the Class A, Division II state championship game.


The 7-6 overall record was a big jump from Corley’s first season with the Trojans in 2012. The team notched three more victories and got a taste of playoff success. Now, with many of last season’s big names gone, Corley and crew have no intention of regressing.


Returning Stars

RS-M will be looking to replace several core players on the offensive side of the ball. Most notably Travious Wigfall, the Aiken Standard’s Offensive Player of the Year. Wigfall graduated and will attend South Carolina State. He leaves big shoes to fill, as Wigfall racked up 1,721 rushing yards and scored 27 touchdowns last season.


Craig Burton, who split time with Wigfall at the beginning of the season before breaking his arm, is back. The senior preformed well prior to the injury. He’ll be a part of a trio of backs looking to keep the Trojans’ rushing attack going. Corey Hopkins will also be lining up in the backfield again this season.


New Faces

Bra’Quon Preston has been with the team since ninth grade, but his first two seasons were both cut short by injuries. This season, Preston will be tasked with running the offense from under center.


Last season the Trojans had two quarterbacks see action. Reggie Preston started the year at the position before he tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the season.


Samuel Bedenbaugh stepped in after that and was the quarterback during the second half of the season and the team’s playoff run.


“Although he’s a junior, he’s brand new, but he’s picking up on it well,” Corley said of Bra’Quon Preston. “He’s football smart. That’s the biggest thing. If we can keep him healthy, we think we’ll be fine at that position. Right now we’re trying to get him as many reps as he can get.”


Freshman Ty’Quaz Smith has impressed the coaching staff in the scrimmages so far this season. He’ll be part of the platoon at running back.


“He ran really well (in a scrimmage with Ware Shoals) and earned himself some more carries,” Corley said. “So, we’re excited about him.”


Games to Watch

Although the regions have shifted and RS-M made the move to Region 1-A along with Fox Creek, it won’t be too different for the Trojans this season. They’ve had McCormick and Dixie on their schedule often in the past as non-region games. This season the matchups – McCormick on the road on Oct. 10 and Dixie at home on Oct. 31 – will hold even more importance as region games. Region 4-A opponent Wagener-Salley has remained on the team’s schedule and will make the trip to Monetta on Sept. 5.


RS-M will play up a class on Sept. 19 when it will welcome defending Class AA, Division II state champion Batesburg-Leesville to town.


Corley added that he’s looking forward to some of the unfamiliar faces the team will see. Calhoun Falls and St. Joseph’s are also on the schedule.


Fox Creek will be in Monetta on Oct. 3 for a rematch of last season’s thrilling overtime game.


“Of course we’ve seen Fox Creek, so we’re pretty excited there,” Corley said. “We just hope we can make it that far healthy and feel pretty good about the progress of the young guys we’ve got.”


Offense

Corley still plans to have a good mix of running and passing on offense with running portion of the playbook being utilized a bit more often. The team’s ability to be versatile from week to week, depending on what’s best, is something the head coach thinks is invaluable.


Much will depend on how Preston develops at quarterback throughout the year, but he does have weapons at wide receiver. Johnathan Gibson will be back at receiver again this season. Corley praised Gibson for his aggressiveness.


“He’s a player, and he plays big,” Corley said.


Defense

“You’ve got to be sound at every level on defense, and we’re working on getting there,” said Corley.


William Bedenbaugh and Jacob Deloach will anchor the front line on the defensive side of the ball again this season. The experience will be important for RS-M because it’s relatively young at other spots on defense.


Stanley Roland returns at linebacker, but he will have the added duty of being a leader of the young linebacker unit this season. He’ll play alongside a first-year kid in Quinshawn Jeffrey.


“He’s going to have his hands full helping coach back there, but Stanley will be fine,” Corley said.


Jonathan Elam injured his knee during soccer season last year and has yet to be cleared. He was expected to be the leader of the Trojans’ secondary with most of the defensive backs being freshmen and sophomores. Corley said it has been an adventure so far in the secondary with the young players. However, he feels they will progress in the future.


Special Teams

Much of the special teams situation for RS-M is still up in the air. Carlos Fernandez was big for the Trojans as the placekicker last season but has graduated. Wigfall was the main return guy for the team. Corley said those spots are to be determined. He does think Gibson will emerge as the return guy.


The one returner on special teams is Hopkins, who will again handle the punting for the team.


Overall Outlook

In Corley’s 13 years as a head coach, he said he has learned one of the keys to motivating his athletes.


“If you tell a kid something, and you believe it strong enough, they’re going to start to believe,” Corley said. “We’re at least looking to match what we did last season. We’d love to take it a step further.”


He noted that the kids don’t see themselves as any different from the star players on last year’s team. If that turns out to be true, the Trojans are looking to take the next step in their progression as a program.


Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on twitter @EricJ_Russell.


2013 RESULTS


• at Pelion 12-6 Win


• vs Saluda 37-12 Loss


• at Dixie 24-0 Win


• at McCormick 46-12 Win


• vs H-K-T 20-13 Loss


• at Fox Creek 42-41 Loss (2OT)


• vs Blackville-Hilda 49-12 Win


• at Williston-Elko 38-25 Loss


• at North 42-26 Win


• vs Wagener-Salley 35-28 Loss


• at Wagener-Salley 34-13 Win*


• at Great Falls 56-12 Win*


• vs H-K-T 20-9 Loss


2014 SCHEDULE


• Aug. 29 at Saluda


• Sept. 5 vs. Wagener-Salley


• Sept. 12 at Blackville-Hilda


• Sept. 19 vs. Batesburg-Leesville


• Sept. 26 vs. Whitmire


• Oct. 3 vs. Fox Creek^


• Oct. 10 at McCormick^


• Oct. 17 at St. Joseph’s Catholic


• Oct. 24 at Calhoun Falls^


• Oct. 31 vs Dixie^


^ Region 1-A opponents


PREVIEW SCHEDULE


Aug. 4 North Augusta


Aug. 5 Strom Thurmond


Aug. 6 Fox Creek


Aug. 7 South Aiken


Aug. 8 Williston-Elko


Aug. 9 Wagener-Salley


Aug. 11 Silver Bluff


Aug. 12 Aiken


Today Ridge Spring-Monetta


Thursday Midland Valley