Without question, Scotland sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe has been one of the biggest success stories for the Fighting Scots in 2012.
Earning raves from teammates and coaches for his command of the offense, Ratliffe has displayed maturity beyond his years throughout Scotland’s 10-1 record thus far this season.
But ask Ratliffe about his role as the Scots’ signal-caller, and he will give you the same answer every single time. The 15 year-old and first-year starter credits the performance of his offensive line as a primary reason for his continual development under center.
“The biggest honor an offensive line can have is if they get praise from their quarterback and running backs,” said Scotland offensive line coach Norman Quick. “They don’t get a lot of accolades, but it says a lot about these guys that our skill position players trust them.”
“When it comes to our job on the offense, it’s really all about trust,” said Scotland offensive lineman Brad Baines, who along with Cody Fay, Martin Locklear, Ethan Hulon and Garret Best forms the starting five for the Fighting Scots.
“Jaylend and the offense trust us to give them enough time in the pocket to make plays, and we trust them to make those plays. We block for them and they score for us,” he said.
Though the talent was apparent right from the get-go, perhaps nobody could’ve envisioned the explosiveness that Scotland’s offense has displayed time and time again this season. With a slew of talented but unproven skill position athletes, the Fighting Scots have averaged 32.4 points per game on the year, with Ratliffe himself accounting for 12 passing touchdowns to just three total interceptions.
“It’s a lot of pressure to be counted on to give your quarterback time in the pocket,” said Best, who as a left tackle has been tasked with guarding Ratliffe’s blind side all season. “You have to be strong mentally and know your assignments, and I think we’ve showed we can do both.”
The Scotland rushing attack, however, has been the catalyst for the Scots’ offensive success this year, with their three primary backs (Jalen McLean, Josh McPhatter and Ratliffe operating from the spread option) combining for nearly 1700 rushing yards, 27 touchdowns and a 6.15 yards-per-carry average.
The Fighting Scots have made believers out of everyone this year in terms of what they’ve been able to accomplish offensively. And it all begins at the line of scrimmage.
“Coach Quick always tells us that the entire football game comes down to us in terms of protecting the quarterback and creating holes for our running backs to make plays,” Baines said. “It seems like we get the credit when our running game is good, but we’ll also get criticized if our offense doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”
For Hulon, the turning point in the season for the offensive line came in Scotland’s 21-16 week two lost to New Hanover, a loss that made the Fighting Scots look within themselves and learn to become a better team.
“That was a wake up call for us,” Hulon said. “It showed that we weren’t perfect and that we have to fight for everything that we achieve as a football team. We have to focus on improving week-to-week.”
In the end, that’s exactly what the Fighting Scots and their offensive line have done since that early loss, with Fay observing that the line “really matured and improved a lot over the season, because we know that we can’t come out flat in any game.”
And in Quick’s eyes, the expectations have only increased with each passing week once he saw the character that his offensive line possessed.
“At the beginning of the season, we thought that the line would be one of our weaknesses,” Quick said. “But this unit wants to get better and they have the desire to win football games.”