Sometimes leaders emerge from difficult circumstances.
That’s the case with East Ridge’s CJ Branham.
Last season, Branham broke his ankle and had to miss six games of the season.
With the coaching switch midseason, one of East Ridge’s most talented players had to sit and watch.
Branham’s back this season and ready to get back on the field and be a leader for a young Warrior squad.
“It means a lot,” Branham said. “It means more than anything. That’s why we play, to step up and take that role of being a leader. I had to sit out six games last year because I broke my ankle, I’m just ready to get back out there.”
Last season, Ben Runyon took over coaching duties for the Warriors. Runyon will enter this season as the head coach.
“Just being with him (Runyon) and having him around since I’ve been here has been great for us,” Branham said. “He’s been loyal and that’s all we can ask.”
On offense last season, Branham was 10 for 23 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown. He rushed the ball 43 times for 157 yards and two TDs. He caught two passes for 10 yards.
On defense, Branham had 19 total tackles.
Branham can play anywhere on the field. You can line him up in the backfield to run the ball, you can put him behind center if need be or you can split him out as a wide receiver on offense. On defense, he’s a safety who can do a little bit of everything.
“It’s important to have a versatile player like that on your team where you can just stick him in anywhere and know he’s going to get the job done,” Branham said.
East Ridge opens the season in the 35th Annual Community Trust Bank/WYMT Pike County Bowl against Phelps.
The Warriors are hoping to open the season with a lot of momentum.
“It’d mean the world (to open the season with a win in the Pike County Bowl),” Branham said. “We’ve won it, we’ve lost it, we know what it’s like to be there, we know what it’s like to be in a close game, we know what it’s like to be in a blowout, we’ve been all in it and we’re just ready to get back out there.”
After re-alignment, Class 2A District 8 will be a six team district. Besides East Ridge, the district will consist of Shelby Valley, Prestonsburg, Martin County, Bath County and West Carter.
“The district has new faces and new teams that we’ve never played before and we’re excited,” Branham said.
Regardless of the day, Branham and the Warriors have one outlook for the season.
“We’re just going to focus and take it one day and one game at a time and see how it goes,” Branham said.
East Ridge kicks the season off August 30 at 7:00 p.m. against Phelps at Belfry in the first night of the 35th Annual Community Trust/WYMT Pike County Bowl.