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East Ridge’s Jo Jo Ratliff (55) looks to make a tackle in action against Betsy Layne last season. The Warriors look to be a much improved team this season.

East Ridge’s Jo Jo Ratliff is out to prove something.

What is he out to prove?

That he and his East Ridge teammates can compete with anybody.

The Warriors had a tough season last year.

East Ridge started the season off on an 0-9 mark.

But in the final game of the season against Knott Central, the Warriors finished the season with a 30-15 win and momentum going into the offseason.

“Last year, we definitely started out rough, but when we started to pick things up, it made us want to be there more,” Ratliff said. “Ending the season with the last game, the way we did, we really came together. It sucked to walk away from it when you’re just now making that progress that most people usually get in the early part of the season. It made us come together and the guys are still here and we’re still playing together and ready to get back out there.”

Ben Runyon took over as his first full season as head coach last year.

He was the Warriors’ third head coach in three years.

The Warriors were young and hit by the injury bug last season as well.

But East Ridge kept improving throughout the season and once the defense came together, the Warriors saw the results with the season-ending win against Knott Central.

“It was huge for our defense to come together,” Ratliff said. “As one of those older guys, we had to pick the younger guys up a lot. They weren’t experienced. As they got more in game reps, they started to get better and whenever they started getting better, it gave everybody else that energy to move forward and do your own job better.”

“Ratliff will be one of the senior leaders this season.

He is a defensive end who got a lot of experience last season.

Ratliff along with Jeremy Taylor will anchor the defense.

The Warriors compete in Class 2 A District 8 against some physical teams.

East Ridge will have to be ready for that physical play.

“In district play, a lot of the teams run the ball a lot,” Ratliff said. “So you always have to be ready for that. When you’re going against a physical offensive line, you just have to be the more physical player if you want to stop the run. It’s just dog-eat-dog up front. You either get past them or you get blocked. If you want to make the play, you just have to be more physical.”

As a defensive end, Ratliff likes getting after the quarterback.

“Yeah man, you always want to get back there and make that sack,” Ratliff said. “Fans love it and as a defense, that’s the main goal. We covered the pass pretty well and I think we’re getting better on that. When we struggle on that, you want to make sure they don’t get back there and throw a deep bomb because one of your guys may not be able to cover them as well.”

Ratliff also plays tight end on offense.

Last season, starting quarterback Zack Mason was hurt to kickoff the season and he didn’t play all year.

That put the offense behind the eight ball.

“Last year early in the season, we weren’t ready for that,” Ratliff said. “When we were playing our scrimmages we had him out there. We really didn’t get a lot of reps in with the second string quarterback, so whenever the time came and he (Mason) threw his elbow out, our playbook went from maybe having 60 or 70 plays per game to 12 or 15 plays. When you have a quarterback who doesn’t throw the ball as well it limits what you can do. Now that he (Mason) is back it expands our playbook. It’s going to be harder to scout us because not a lot of people know the kind of offense we’ll have.”

The Warriors know that a lot of teams are looking past them this season and being in that underdog role helps motivate them.

“Being an underdog makes you push much harder,” Ratliff said. “These younger guys get that and we’re tired of being a team that just gets looked over. We just want to come out and show teams we can compete a lot better than we have in the previous years and have close games against some of these better teams that we’ve never even scored 20 points on them. We just want to be able to compete and do the best we can.”

The seniors on the team have a special connection with coach Ben Runyon.

Runyon was an assistant for years before being named interim and then eventually, head coach.

The Warriors want to have success for themselves and Runyon who has stuck by them.

“With coach (Ben) Runyon and the way he treats us seniors, he’s always been there for us,” Ratliff said. “So we all have that special bond with him. When everybody else walked out, he was the one guy who stayed true and stayed in there with us. The younger guys see that and it creates loyalty. I think some of these freshmen are picking up on how good of a guy he is. He’s just a great guy. On the field or off the field, even if you just want to talk about something, he’s the guy you go to.”

With the COVID 19 outbreak, things change daily.

Most college football programs have canceled their seasons.

The KHSAA still has the high school season ready to kickoff practice August 24 and the season to get underway September 11.

“It’s huge,” Ratliff said. “They say you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. That’s the truth. I think some guys may have taken paying football for granted before and now we cherish every minute on the weight room or on the field. We just want to get those extra reps in because we didn’t have them for so long. It makes you work harder. I try to thank God every time I get an extra minute on the field. They’re saying we’re going to get to have a season and that’s great because that’s what we’ve been working for. We’re just ready to go out there and prove that we’ve come a long way since last year.”

East Ridge is scheduled to kickoff the season at home Friday, September 11 against Pineville at 7:30 p.m.