Above Ragland in the poll were Marion County, last season’s state champs, Linden and Maplesville.
In his first season as head coach, Jonathan Nix said he was very pleased with the poll results.
“Well, I think that’s an accomplishment that these kids have earned through their reputation,” Nix said. “Even though that’s a preseason poll, I think that’s an honor to them. It’s an honor to the coaches for the hard work, and it’s really an honor especially to last year’s team because most of preseason is based on where you finished and what you have coming back. We’re so excited to have that honor. I think it just goes to show that hard work pays off.”
Coaching a well-established team doesn’t come without its challenges. The Devils graduated four offensive starters and six on defense, including Cole Bearden who was named to the ASWA 1st Team All State roster.
“I think definitely on defense it’s going to be a little more of a struggle,” Nix said. “That was what we were so strong at last year- teams really had a tough time running the ball on us and we graduated some key seniors that were able to help with that. They had a great stat of their rushing yards; that’s something they took pride in. They tried to go every game giving up less than 75 rushing yards. That was a goal they set, I would say at least 80 percent of the games that was accomplished.”
Last season, Ragland went undefeated in 10 regular season games to make the state playoffs.
After wins against Gaylesville, Berry, Fayette and Collinsville, the Devils went on the road to play Marion County in the semifinal game.
The team’s championship hopes were dashed as Marion County came away with a 35-14 win.
Nix said that game has driven his team toward success.
“I think it’s getting so close to the filet mignon, so close to the best steak you can have,” Nix said. “Seeing last year, us being so close in the fourth quarter and then losing to Marion County and then us going down there and watching Marion County win a state championship the very next week has really left a bitter taste in the kids’ mouths. Just how close they were to a football state championship.”
The taste is especially bitter since Ragland has no football state championships in school history.
The players coming up will have big shoes to fill.
Last season’s Devils rose from a preseason rank of No. 10 to finish the season No. 3. The offense averaged just more than 38 points per game while the defense gave up just 12 points per game.
Nix said his team will get battle tested early and often in 2012.
“Week two we go on the road to Addison- that’ll be the first time we travel and we’ve got so many new people in our region that we really don’t know about,” Nix said. “We just know the tradition that they have. It’s been a while since we’ve played some of them, and some of them we’ve never played. Appalachian is always a rival game. There’s no love lost between Ragland and Appalachian. Both teams come out heavily against each other. Sumiton Christian dropped down from 3A to 2A to now 1A; they’ll be strong.”
Even though the road ahead is filled with challenges and some young players might get distracted with preseason favorites, Nix is confident in Ragland’s determination.
“We’ve got on the back of our shirts ‘Commit to finish’ and that’s what their main goal is just to finish this year,” Nix said. “You know, to finish every rep hard, to finish every practice, everything that they do they’re working on how to finish. I think that energy at practice has really helped making practice hop around and these kids are really eager. That’s probably our most positive thing right now is just they’re so excited to be out there. That makes coaching fun.”