For Ashley Ridge, much of the focus this spring has been on identifying players to step in and fill key defensive spots.
The Swamp Fox football team wrapped up its spring practice Thursday with its annual Spring Game. Last year the inter-team scrimmage was rained out so coaches are just happy they were able to complete their agenda this year.
“We had a good spring,” Ashley Ridge coach Kenny Walker said. “The numbers aren’t bad and I think we are in good shape if we can just stay healthy. I’m looking forward to getting our kids in the weight room this summer and seeing what improvements we can make.”
Between the varsity and JV teams, approximately 130 athletes came out for spring practice.
“This time of year we get the chance to evaluate guys coming up who might help us to fill voids,” Walker said. “It is always good if you can find a surprise or two, a guy who maybe didn’t come out the year before who can help you. I think we have some of those. Our sophomores who are moving up to the varsity have a lot of talent. That group won eight games last season, but now they are having to transition to a faster and more physical level of play.”
The Swamp Foxes have to replace some of their anchors on the defensive side of the ball as they lost lineman Josh Spigner, three-year starting free safety Kendall Felder and two defensive ends to graduation.
“It is hard to replace Josh, but we have some guys who have been waiting their turn who I feel can do an effective job there,” Walker said. “The defensive ends we lost were very football savvy but we have some young guys who show promise and could see some playing time early on. Felder made all our calls for the defense so his position is tricky to fill.”
However, Walker believes he has found a good candidate for the position in Kingston Thomas, the son of Swamp Fox defensive coordinator Brad Thomas.
Senior linebacker Tyquan Tucker does return as the vocal leader of the AR defense.
On the other side of the ball, the major challenge this spring has been finding a replacement for a pair of talented receivers the team lost to graduation.
“Our core group of offensive linemen have all been together for the last few years,” Walker said. “They will be the heart of our offense. We lost some skill players but our first and second-string receivers are talented and of course running back Tyler Garland is back. We should be set there if we can find a second back who can come in and give him a breather every now and then.”
Chandler Avenel returns after starting at quarterback last season. He split time with Sean White and the Swamp Foxes like to use multiple offensive packages so the coaches are giving other players chances to show what they may be able to offer in the QB position.
On special teams, the Swamp Foxes return both kicker Matt Gable and punter Ashton Hughes.
Both will be seniors next season. Rising junior Justin Peterson also returns as one of the top-rated long snappers in the country.