Coach Marty Paxton and his Hickory Ridge football team had a season they will never forget last year.
After winning a school-record 11 games – including a perfect 7-0 record in South Piedmont 3A Conference play – Paxton says it’s time for the Ragin’ Bulls to move forward as they go into a restructured conference.
“I want our kids to understand what we accomplished last year and remember it,” Paxton said. “But it’s also in the past now. I hope that winning is contagious throughout our program. We want to continue to have the same kind of success on a consistent basis.”
That task won’t be easy. Paxton comes into the season after losing 28 seniors, including 14 starters from last season’s squad. Four starters are back on each side of the ball.
Hickory Ridge will also have to take on a tough new SPC schedule this year. It faces Carson, East Rowan, South Rowan and West Rowan, in addition to familiar league opponents Central Cabarrus, Concord, Cox Mill and Northwest Cabarrus.
“It’s not going to get any easier for us in the SPC,” Paxton said. “We are going to have to bring our ‘A-game’ every night.”
The Bulls’ offense will look to match last year’s production, when it averaged 41 points per game.
Paxton will give senior quarterback Justin Wallace the keys to the triple option attack. The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder has a strong arm, but he will have to prove he can run the ball effectively when needed.
Senior running backs Romello Barnett (16 touchdowns) and Trent Jordan should also get the ball often; both players have started often and shared the backfield well last year.
Junior wideout Nate Mullen should open all kinds of possibilities as the team’s “home-run threat,” says Paxton. With 4.5-second 40-yard speed, Mullen will line up at wideout, in the slot and in the backfield, while also returning kicks and playing cornerback.
“We have to get Nate the ball as much as we can,” Paxton said.
Mullen hopes so, too.
“Every time I touch the ball, I’m trying to make a big play,” he said. “I feel like I can help our team win games, and that is what I’m focused on doing.”
A key to the team’s offensive success will be its line, where only junior Almon Young III – a 6-2, 300-pound guard – returns as a starter. But Paxton believes the group can be just as talented as last year’s.
The Hickory Ridge defense will also look to step up its game. Linemen Ryan Kent, a three-year starter, and Will Putnam try to set the tone in the Bulls’ 3-4 front.
The team’s secondary should be in good shape with junior Kyle Tyson returning at safety. Paxton hopes senior cornerback Clinton Jones can recover from an ankle injury in time to get back in the lineup for the start of the season.
Paxton must replace all four linebackers and says he is still looking for starters to emerge.
The Ragin’ Bulls hope to become a consistent factor in the SPC and believe they can make another run.
With respected Concord and West Rowan programs as well as emerging teams like Central Cabarrus and East Rowan, every Friday night will be a battle.
“We are looking to build on last year’s success and be just as hungry to win this year,” Paxton said. “We know you’re only as good as your last game.”
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