As a junior at Scotland High School last year, inside linebacker Chris Moss viewed himself as a “little brother.”
Moss modeled his drive, work ethic and desire to improve as a student athlete after the example set forth by the 2011-12 varsity Fighting Scots, all while he patiently awaited his opportunity.
“I looked up to every single starting senior on that field last year,” said Moss, who credits former Scotland players such as Ernie Robinson, Red Covington and Dominique Green as primary influences for his 2012-13 senior season. “They taught me what I had to do when I became a senior, and that motivated me to be a leader when it was my turn this year.”
Like Moss, the vast majority of the Fighting Scots this season were first-year starters, with only offensive lineman Martin Locklear and outside linebacker Artemis Robinson returning from last year’s team.
But any questions about Scotland’s ability to catch lightning in a bottle once again were gradually dispelled with each passing regular season and 4A state playoff victory. And though the team fell short of its’ state-title dreams after last week’s 23-6 loss to New Bern in the Eastern Regional championship game, Scotland’s superb 12-2 season didn’t go unnoticed by the Southeastern Conference.
Announced this past weekend, 13 Fighting Scots (including Moss) have been named to the All-Conference team. In addition, Scotland coach Richard Bailey was named conference coach of the year, sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe earned co-offensive player of the year honors (which he shared with Hoke running back Detrez Newsome) and Robinson was selected as the defensive player of the year as well.
“Nobody thought we would play like we did this year, but we always knew we could do it,” said Scotland wide receiver Tyron Jones, who was selected to the All-Conference squad along with fellow 6’3” wideout Tra’Shawn Gregory. Though Scotland was a run-intensive spread offense this year, Gregory managed to haul in 13 touchdown receptions through the regular and post-season, while Jones provided another big reliable target for Ratliffe.
“As wide receivers, we stayed after practice and worked on routes with Jaylend every day. We worked hard and made people believe in us,” he said.
After receiving an honorable mention last season, Locklear earned an All-Conference nod along with fellow offensive lineman Ethan Hulon after a Scotland season that saw nearly every skill position offensive player flourish. The remaining starters on the line (Bradley Baines, Cody Fay and Garret Best) received honorable mention distinctions as well.
With consistent blocking up front, Scotland’s multi-tiered rushing attack became one of the most prolific backfields in the state. Through the first 13 weeks of the season, senior Jalen McLean and junior Josh McPhatter combined for more than 1200 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns on the ground, averaging nearly seven yards-per-carry in the process.
However, Scotland’s leading rusher this season was Ratliffe, who dashed for more than 1000 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns of his own. And despite his youth, Ratliffe was commended for his poise and calm demeanor throughout the season, as he finished with 15 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions and a 54% completion rate.
Ratliffe’s maturation throughout the year was one of the prevailing storylines in the 2012 football season. And according to Scotland offensive coordinator Will Clark, it became all the easier for the sophomore to adjust behind center with such a strong supporting cast surrounding him.
“Jaylend was tremendous for us this season, and the other guys out there blocking, running and catching passes helped help him make a smooth transition,” Clark said. Scotland’s offense averaged 35 points a game this season.
“Considering they were new to playing at the varsity level, these kids did a great job understanding their roles, learning the game of football and all the situations that come with being successful in this game,” he said.
While the Scots’ offensive production was stellar at times this season, the defense gradually gelled into the most dominant unit in the conference, and one of the most dynamic in North Carolina. Utilizing a 3-4 scheme built on speed and causing disruption at the line of scrimmage, Scotland wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all season long. Prior to their loss at New Bern, Scotland’s opponents were held to just 12 points-per-game in the regular season and playoffs combined.
With 47 tackles and three sacks (tallied through the first 13 regular season and playoff games), senior lineman Ed Cain was the sole representative for Scotland’s defensive line on the All-Conference team. Cain also had four forced fumbles and 10 quarterback hurries, both team highs.
The Scotland secondary had three players selected to the All-Conference squad this season: Safety Robert McKoy, and cornerbacks Ryan Leak and Malik Diggs, the latter of which was also selected to the 2012 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. In addition to Diggs and McKoy finishing in the top four of Scotland’s best tacklers (totalling 160+ tackles combined), the three members of the secondary also had two interceptions (Diggs and Leak) and 22 passes defensed through 13 games as well. McKoy registered an interception during the clash with New Bern also, which occurred in the end zone.
But in terms of anchoring the defense as a whole, the Fighting Scots fed off the efforts of its’ linebacking core, of which two made the All-Conference team. They were Moss and Robinson, who emerged as both team and locker room leaders during the course of Scotland’s deep postseason run.
Moss would collect more than 135 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble once he finally was inserted into the starting lineup after years of waiting for his chance. And as the most decorated player on the team, Robinson led the Scots with 145+ tackles and also added three sacks and two picks of his own. Robinson even netted two touchdowns this season, which came on a fake punt against Pinecrest (a direct snap to the linebacker that went for a 54-yard score) and a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 40-5 rout of East Chapel Hill, occurring in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.
Having recently made a verbal commitment to NC State University to continue his football and academic career, Robinson believes his final Scotland football season was full of lasting memories, citing a Southeastern Conference championship and win over Richmond (the second straight year for both) as among his most cherished.
“Even though we didn’t win state like we wanted, these awards say a lot about this team,” Robinson said. “But more importantly, we became a family this season, and that won’t stop now that the football season is over.”
Other All-Conference honorable mentions for the Fighting Scots included kicker Ben Utter, linebacker Tim McNeil, defensive linemen Shy’Keim Oliver and Avery Simmons, wide receiver Justin Brown and defensive back Trejon Monley.