Rams’ renewed spirit could go a long way

The 2016 football season was not one to put at the top of a scrapbook for the Pleasant Ridge Rams.

They opened the campaigned in powerful fashion, winning convincingly over Holton, before a six-game losing streak capped off by a shock, last-second defeat against Maur Hill-Mount Academy

That defeat would ultimately give way to a season-ending two-game winning streak for the Rams, but not enough to claim another District 3A-2 title, which eluded them in the MH-MA loss.

All told, six starters on both sides of the ball return from the Rams who finished 3-7 with a opening-round playoff lost at Nemaha Central, and right now it appears there is no looking back in this bunch.

“I really like the joy and enthusiasm for the game this team has,” Pleasant Ridge head coach Patrick McCollim said. “They have a great attitude to work hard every day at practice which makes it very enjoyable to me and our staff to couch these kids.  I also like our athleticism and knowledge of the game.

“Jason Barnes and our middle school coaches have done a great job preparing these kids for our high school program with our offensive and defensive terminology and basic fundamentals down.”

Even with talent like Breydon Baragary, Konner Walker, Hunter Wagner, Eli Schwinn, Colton Comer, Zac Carnoali and Clayton Richter back to lead the charge, thoughts of a turnaround are practical, as long as the newcomers can step up.

“We are young at many positions and the spots we aren't, our backups are,” McCollim said. “So until we play a game, we may not fully know where we are at as a team.  But as I said, this is a group who loves to practice and work hard so I have confidence we will be ready by Sept. 1 to play Horton.”

Three offensive linemen are back that helped plow the way for Baragary and that can only help the Ram running attack.

“Our team is working a lot harder than we were last year already, I feel everyone has bought into it,” Baragary said. “If you joke around, we aren’t going to put up with it. (The newcomers) if they stay on track and do what they’re supposed to do, they should be good. Everybody’s job, no one should take for granted.”

Last year’s struggles have done more to push this group forward than to bring it down.

“It motivated our team a lot,” Richter said. “A lot of the older kids don’t want to go through that again and are working hard to avoid it.”

Richter said that a good-sized freshmen class has come in and played with purpose.

“Every freshman has an adjustment period, but they are a confident class,” Richter said. “But the whole team is more confident than last season.”

Hopefully the team can avoid the avalanche of injuries that didn’t allow the Rams to ever get any serious momentum last fall.

“We have been definitely worked harder in the summer and had more guys show up for our summer weights program,” Richter said. “A lot of our team got bigger and stronger, so hopefully that will help.”

As McCollim settles in as the Rams’ front man and has navigated through some of the heights and recent lows, he feels the program is in good shape if not standing where he’d still prefer it.

“As a coach, I am not sure you ever feel like you have your program exactly where you want it, I believe there will always be things to improve,” McCollim said. “But I am very happy about the attitude and passion this group of kids play and practice the game with, and to me that is one of the most important aspects of a successful program and one we can work with and build on to get the program where we want it, winning league championships and in the playoffs.” 

These guys may be able to secure one of two district playoff spots, but battling it out in the Northeast Kansas League will be a grind.

“I think the defending NEKL champs of Jefferson County North and Jackson Heights will be very good again this year, as well as Maur Hill,” McCollim said. “The other teams in the league have been playing lots of young guys the last couple seasons and will also be tough to beat.  I think we have a great chance to finish at the top if we can play disciplined football.  The kids have had a lot of energy and a great attitude every day this week and are working very hard.  It has been a very enjoyable start to the season.”

Schedule breakdown

There is enough to worry about this year as a number of the Rams’ foils last year come back even better this year.

The Pleasant Ridge squad brims with renewed enthusiasm and confidence and that will go a long way as a number of opponents bring back a lot of talent this fall.

Sept. 1, at Horton, 7 p.m.

Horton returns 14 starters, seven on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Levi Watts who has been the main signal caller since his freshman year, four years later. It will be tougher for Pleasant Ridge to start another season with a big win.

Sept. 8, HOST Jackson Heights, 7 p.m.

The Rams’ home opener comes up against a team that fell short of the playoffs thanks to being in a tough district. Heights brings back 15 starters, but loses its quarterback and top running backs from a 6-3 squad.

Sept. 15, at Jefferson County North, 7 p.m.

JCN was a tough out last season, finishing 8-2 and earning a short-lived trip to the playoffs. They could be just as good in 2017 with a number of players returning for an encore.

Sept. 22, HOST McLouth, 7 p.m.

Two years ago, McLouth went 1-8 with a bevy of freshmen starters including quarterback Jeremy Carlton. Last year, they went 4-5 and will return 16 starters including Carlton who threw for 1,500 yards a year ago.

Sept. 29, HOST Jayhawk-Linn, 7 p.m.

J-Linn saw a resurgence a year ago, going 9-1 and pummeling the Rams. But Pleasant Ridge will have the advantage of being at home and playing a team that lost 12 starters from that lineup. They do return running back Harley Stone who could cause fits.

Oct. 6, at Oskaloosa, 7 p.m.

Oskie went 4-5 in 2016 and went into the offseason with three straight losses. They return 12 starters including an underclassmen-led backfield spearheaded by running back Jarred Miller (412 yards in last six games).

Oct. 13, at Maur Hill-Mount Academy, 7 p.m.

Pleasant Ridge has to cleanse the demons from last year’s, late, shock home defeat to MH-MA that ultimately gave the District 3A-2 title away. The Rams will aim to get the ring back with a win they should have had a year earlier. MH-MA returns 17 starters and top running back Ronald Faulk-Tindal (1,492 yards, 17 TDs) so the task will be a tough one.

Oct. 20, HOSTS Atchison County Community School, 7 p.m.

Pleasant Ridge will be confident, but wary against a program coming off of an 0-9 season. This will be a key game for the Rams to hopefully clinch a Class 3A playoff spot.

Oct. 26, HOST Maranatha, 7 p.m.

The other half of the Maranatha/Immaculata co-op remains in play and the Rams will wrap the season at home against a team that will have some talented skill players, but not super speedy rusher Micah Webb. 

This game could be the decider for a trip to the playoffs.