After seven consecutive losing seasons, the Ridgeland Panthers reeled of their second straight winning season last year, going 7-4, losing to East Paulding in the first round off the playoffs. Some top-notched talent returns for Coach Mark Mariakis, including perhaps the state's best wide receiver in Michael Bowman.
The 6'4, 206-pound Bowman, the younger brother of former Oklahoma State receiver Adarius Bowman, has offers from several SEC schools and provides the Panthers with a dynamic passing attack.
Bowman is one of many returning seniors for Coach Mariakis' squad who'll be looking for their straight trip to the postseason and only their seventh in the school's 20-year history. Ridgeland will be competing in Class AAA for the first time since 1999.
Top Returning Offensive Starters
WR Michael Bowman
RB Terryl Freeman
QB Carlan Bowman
OL Chad Smith
While Michael Bowman gets most of the pub, and deservedly so, his cousin Carlan is a player in his own right. Carlan, a three-year starter at quarterback, is a skilled athlete also capable of making plays in the running game.
If Michael Bowman is the offense's Ferrari, Terryl Freeman is its Dodge Ram armed with maximum towing capacity. Freeman, one of the state's more underrated running backs, rushed for a whopping 2,051 yards as a junior.
Chad Smith is the top returning offensive line starter, having played every snap as a junior.
Top Returning Defensive Starters
ILB DeVaughn Buchanan-2nd leading tackler last season
NT Cedric Weaver
DE Michael Roberson
The defense was hit hard by graduation and returns only four starters. Ridgeland only graduated nine seniors last year, but most of them were on defense. The defense will, however, be aided by the addition of another Bowman, Michael's younger brother Devin Bowman, who transferred from Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.
Bowman, just a rising sophomore, is good looking prospect at 6'1, 180 and is expected to help out a defense that will be filled with inexperience and players playing out of position. Coach Mariakis says Bowman will contribute in the secondary and the offensive backfield.
Darius Walton-played on both sides of ball last year and will be asked to do a lot this year, particularly on defense.
Alex Ridge, a sophomore, is a good athlete who will get some snaps behind Carlan Bowman at quarterback and log quality minutes at different positions because of his versatility.
The Panthers will certainly need their offensive playmakers to emulate their junior seasons to ensure another successful season and go deeper into the playoffs.
Team speed, returning playmakers on offense
The Panthers are not the biggest of teams but they will certainly use what they do have to their adavantage-speed. Defensively, Coach Mariakis thinks everybody on defense has speed as an attribute but the offense may need to score early and often early in the season as the defense gels.
The Panthers certainly have the firepower to do just that with weapons like the Bowman trio and Freeman. Michael Bowman poses a mismatch for opponents every time he steps on the field.
Depth of offensive line, defensive inexperience
Success breeds confidence and high expectations and the school's fans and supporters are looking for another good season.
"Expectations are a little high," Coach Mariakis admitted. "We do have a lot of kids back from last year. This is the biggest senior class I've ever had as a coach and I've been coaching 24 years. We're going to have 23 seniors on the team so if the seniors play like they're supposed to play and lead like they're supposed to lead then it should be a great football season."