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Ridgewood reshuffles deck and finds pieces are in place for success

Ridgewood LB Ralphy Dawkins (24) is among a key group of seniors hoping to shrug off two disappointing seasons.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Ridgewood LB Ralphy Dawkins (24) is among a key group of seniors hoping to shrug off two disappointing seasons.

WESLEY CHAPEL — A car load of Ridgewood players drove to the wrong part of east Pasco County.

As they navigated unfamiliar roads to Wesley Chapel High, guided by their GPS, a teammate explained by phone that they were supposed to be at Wiregrass Ranch.

First-year coach Kent Reed could only shake his head, looking around at the seven players with him at the field.

Roster numbers have taken a dip since the opening of Fivay High, so when Reed couldn't find the right campus for seven-on-seven a couple of weeks ago it hurt.

Despite all the brace-for-impact scenarios (many expected Fivay to attract more Ridgewood athletes), Reed is happy with the 50-plus players in his program and how Ridgewood seemed to avoid a great exodus to its shiny new rival.

"I haven't really seen it," Reed said. "… We have a good class of seniors. I have to bring them together. Our strength is not in our passing game. We're a very physical team up front. We have to bring the senior class together."

Reed, who took over from Chris Taylor (now at Fivay), sees his seniors being key to success. Among them is quarterback Scott Kujack, one of the players lost en route to seven-on-seven, linebacker Ralphy Dawkins and running back Cameron Rodriguez.

"Scott Kujack's going to have to have a big year," Reed said. "We're going to try to put him in shotgun a little more to help him see the field better. And Cameron rushed for 1,300 yards last year. We basically bring the bulk of our line back. We're going to be a running team. We're going to be a run-first team."

Of course, Reed, who is taking over the varsity for the first time, realizes he needs to step it up as a head coach if the Rams hope to emerge from back-to-back 3-7 seasons.

So far, the players seem to be on board with hopes of their first winning season since going 9-2 and winning Class 4A, District 8 in 2007.

"Everybody had a lot of key losses," Dawkins said. "We should be good. We lost a couple of people. We lost a lot of JV kids. We should be straight. We should have a pretty competitive team."

How do they know?

In many ways, seven-on-seven has been eye-opening, exposing the Rams to county opponents.

"What I'm seeing right now is just the number of athleticism," Reed said of the other teams. "We beat up on each other during the spring. We thought we were at a certain higher level of playing. I see there's a lot of athletes and it's going to be pretty competitive."

As long as Reed can keep the Rams' senior-laden group on board with his philosophies, he believes there will be very few missed roads in 2010.

"We're still a work in progress," Reed said. "… I want to be competitive this year. If we can be in position to win these games we're going to be all right."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com.

Ridgewood reshuffles deck and finds pieces are in place for success 07/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 7:12pm]
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