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Ridge returns to William Blount as football head coach

William Blount graduate Justin Ridge speaks with Blount Press Row earlier this month about becoming the new head football coach of the Governors. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Was he ready?

The new Governor helmets with have a matte-blue finish.

Justin Ridge gave the question a lot of thought when friends began asking would he apply for the William Blount job.

A 1998 William Blount graduate, was he too young?

He did wonders at Greenback. Doubling as the school’s wrestling coach, he produced a state champion in Jeremy Miller in 2007. The Cherokees as a team nearly won it all in wrestling in 2010, finishing third.

The gridiron Cherokees went 10-2 last season and reached the quarterfinals.

Greenback plays Class 1A football. William Blount plays in 6A, the state’s biggest classification.

Could his analytical approach to coaching work there?

“I really didn’t think of myself as a candidate too much,” Ridge, 32, said. “I really didn’t think they’d be interested in me because of my lack of experience at the higher levels.

“The more I looked at it, the more I thought, ‘I might be that guy.’”

The Governors return an emerging talent in sophomore Joel Graham.

On Jan. 3, Ridge came home. Introduced by athletics director Mike Brewer during a press conference at the school, the former William Blount lineman, the first kid in his family to go to college, became the new head coach of the Governors.

Brewer was running backs and linebackers coach during Ridge’s days as a Governor. It was never a question of the school not knowing whom it was getting, he said.

“No. 1, we knew the type of person he was in terms of his character,” Brewer said. “I coached coach Ridge when he was here, so I knew how hard he worked. We wanted someone that knew the Blount County landscape. We wanted someone that knew William Blount.

“We wanted someone who had tasted success, someone who’d been around it, someone who knew what it looked like.”

While Ridge worried if his lack of experience at a higher classification would hurt his chances, his days at Greenback, in many ways, made him the perfect fit.

The Cherokees are a tradition-rich program but small nonetheless. Graduation can take a heavier toll than at bigger schools. In Ridge’s three seasons, Greenback went 30-15, most of the losses coming in an opening 3-7 campaign. The Cherokees reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons, finishing 10-2 this past season and reaching the quarterfinals.

Even during the season, next year was never far from his mind, he said.

Sophomores Brandon Tipton (3) and Michael Bryant (37) are a big start to rebuilding the William Blount backfield.

“If you’re not developing the players behind them, you’re always going to go up and down,” Ridge said.

William Blount wasn’t the school to deem Ridge a rising star in the coaching ranks.

“I was actually in another interview when (Brewer called),” he said.

The difficulty in leaving Greenback was mitigated by the fact Ridge was already slated to leave the sideline. The Loudon County School System had taken notice of his organizational skills, so much so Ridge had been tabbed for a position in the central office and already spending much of his time there.

The more he thought about the more he realized that just wasn’t him, Ridge. He got into coaching because he wanted to have a positive effect on young lives on a more personal level, and he just couldn’t do that from behind a desk.

“The thing that got me into education was coaching,” the 2002 Maryville College graduate said. “Part of the reason was being around young people. (A more administrative position) got me away from the person I am.”

That approach was driven home to the Governors upon his first meeting with the team.

“The main thing when I started talking to the kids is it’s not about me,” Ridge said. “It’s not about them. It’s about us.”

Governor practices and offseason workouts won’t be structured around a suffer fest, either.

“I won’t come in and try to do some kind of boot camp on them,” Ridge said.

Neither will he gauge his first season with the Governors this fall strictly upon 2013’s finish.

“There are things that aren’t wins and losses that say more about your team,” Ridge said. “It’s about a winning attitude. If somebody beats us, they beat us. ‘Let’s deserve victory.’

“I think a big step is getting back in the playoffs. I really want people to walk away and come out of this stadium and like the way that team (the Governors) played.”

The command Ridge has of Xs and Os is beyond question, Brewer said.

“He was the type of guy when he broke the line of scrimmage, he could tell you what everybody did,” he said.

Ridge hit the ground running once named coach, Brewer said. The offseason condition program was in place within a week. Ridge began meeting with middle school and youth coaches within the William Blount feeder system right away.

“We wanted someone to sell William Blount High School, to be the face of William Blount High School,” Brewer said. “He (Ridge) says we have got to recruit our own kids. To do that is going to take a progression. I think he knows to be good here and to compete here he’s going to have to do that.”

Ridge’s credentials as a math and science teacher sealed the deal.

“We want our kids to grow as a student, as a person and as an athlete,” Brewer said. “We’re not going to measure it in wins and losses. Our goal is to get better. We realize in our district you can’t settle or get complacent. You’ve got to get better.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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