By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
With a perfect season in the books, Russell Christian Academy and head coach Nate Ballard will now turn their attention to continuing the Warriors success into the future. Since coming to Russell Christian, Ballard has transformed the Warriors from a 2-8 club to champions in just two years.
Ballard and the Warriors will face many uncertainties this season, including where they will play in the upcoming season. One thing that won't change for Russell Christian is the preparation the team will put toward the season. The Warriors will now look build a winning tradition at the 11-man level next season.
“The move to 11-man has been constantly on my mind,” Ballard said. “It something that we will have to get on pretty quickly. Training will begin the first of May and we will have to continue to work hard during the summer if we are going to be successful next year.”
One thing that is certain for the Warriors is the amount of talent they will return next year. The Warriors will bring back three interior linemen, as well key play-makers on offense, quarterback Jacob Howse, running back Arik Washington and wide receiver Ashton Temple. Russell Christian will also return hard-hitting linebacker Jesse Barksdale, who made the game-saving strip to cause a fumble late in the championship game against Calhoun Academy.
“We have got a core group that is already there and has been tested,” Ballard said. “We got a great ninth-grade class moving up as sophomores. They should be able to fill some of those gaps. We had a really good junior class and a good freshman class to build on for next year.”
When Ballard came to the Warriors from Clarke Prep in Alabama, he brought with him a intense strength-building program. Russell Christian has since seen the results of the program in its two seasons under Ballard and will rely on it once again during the transition to 11-man.
The main thing we are going to have to do is hit the weights and get stronger,” Ballard said. “Our biggest weakness this season was that our offensive linemen did not have a lot of depth. To go from three offensive linemen to five offensive linemen, we are going to have to take some of these guys from our sophomore class and get them a lot stronger so they can compete.”
The Warriors have proved to Mississippi, they have talent to be a champion. Still, there are some that doubt whether or not the Warriors can continue that success into the 11-man level. Ballard said his team will play with a chip on their shoulder in the upcoming season and will look to once again prove skeptics wrong.
“What we are going to do is just work really hard,” Ballard said. “We will go out there and play our best. We will leave the results to the hard work and the time these kids put in too the offseason.
“It is an exciting time to be a Warrior. I think a lot of people around Lauderdale County are surprised to hear Russell Christian as a state champion. It is just a very exciting time.”