ELLENBORO, W.Va. — With an offense that averaged over 41 points per game, a line stacked with multi-year starters and superior skill players, Ritchie County won thirteen games in 2021 and the program’s first state championship.
“Playing with the same people since I was a little kid, like five and six years old, working my way up all the way through high school just to win that championship with those seniors, it felt amazing,” said Ritchie County senior split end/defensive end Austin Bartlett.
Ritchie’s run to the title under head coach Rick Haught was the culmination of a steady climb in their fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Now, lots of young players will climb to the top of the depth chart. Almost the entire starting lines will feature new starters.
“We’re going to be really green there,” Haught said. “Now, we’re excited about the kids we think we can plug in there, but we are going to have to try to be patient with them too. We’re going to have to try to scheme to take as much pressure off of those guys up front. It is going to be a pretty big learning curve for them.”
First team all-state captain Gus Morrison has moved on to Glenville State. He scored 35 touchdowns and was the team’s leading rusher and receiver. Entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback, fellow all-stater Ethan Haught will be asked to tote the ball much more.
“I find that more enjoyable, getting to the other side of the line of scrimmage,” Ethan Haught said. “In my early years, I was barely on the other side of the line of scrimmage. I like being over there. I do see myself running the ball a little bit more. I am excited to take on that challenge.”
“The strength is where I see the biggest difference,” Rick Haught said. “I think this is the year where I have no issues with him being the dual-threat quarterback. I read the other day that he had four-hundred yards rushing for us last year.”
Ritchie’s leading tackler returns in senior Austin Bartlett. He will also assume added responsibilities on offense.
“I can’t say enough about how much I think he has improved as an offensive threat from the end of last year,” Rick Haught said. “In 7-on-7, he was catching everything thrown at him.”
“He will tell you that defensive end is probably his better position, which he is an animal on the edge right there. But I am excited to see how big of a season he has this year,” Ethan Haught said.
Along with new players mixed in throughout the lineup, a new turf field is being installed at Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium. The Rebels’ first scheduled home game is in Week 5 against their rivals from Doddridge County.
“I feel like the community is a little bit split,” Rick Haught said. “I think there was some pride in that we could win on a muddy field. So, I think there is some nostalgia in people who will kind of miss the grass field a little bit. But a nice, new facility is always exciting too.”