In one moment, the fortune of one young man and one team changed.
When the news broke of the ATV accident involving Scotland star quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe, it sent shock waves not only to the county to the east of us, but the rest of the state as well.
Scotland went from the odds-on favorite to win the 4A championship and end coach Richard Bailey’s jinx of four appearances in the title game without a victory to a team with a big question mark at quarterback.
Ratliffe wasn’t just a part of the Scotland offense, he was the offense. Following in the footsteps of former Scotland standout Kwashaun Quick couldn’t have been easy. All Quick did was lead the Scots to their first state championship.
But Ratliffe jumped into the fray and quickly showed why schools like North Carolina, N.C. State and Georgia Tech wanted him. As a sophomore he ran for 15 touchdowns and passed for another 15. He was picked as the Southeastern Conference’s offensive co-Player of the Year.
This past season, he made those numbers seem like child’s play. Ratliffe accounted for 52 touchdowns, running for 36 and throwing for 16.
Recruiting websites have him ranked as high as the 11th-best recruit in the state (ESPN.com) or as low as 25th (247sports.com), but Bailey laughs those rankings off.
Bailey knows how good Ratliffe is.
Ratliffe is a special athlete who walks through a school’s door once in a blue moon. He doesn’t only shine on the gridiron, but on the basketball court and track as well.
Ratliffe drained the game-winning shot last season as Scotland knocked off Richmond in Laurinburg.
In the spring, Ratliffe competed in the high jump, 110-and 300-meter hurdles. He finished first in the conference in the high jump and third in the 110 hurdles. Ratliffe was the second-fastest qualifier in the 300 hurdles, but was disqualified in the finals.
At the 4A East Region, Ratliffe was third in both the 110 hurdles and the high jump. He qualified for the 4A state championships in the 110 hurdles, finishing 11th.
As good as Ratliffe is on the field, he is just as good off it, and that is the reason why his story is drawn the attention from not only the Scotland community, but the rest of the state and the nation as well.
Everyone wants Ratliffe to return to normalcy after the accident. They want him to succeed in life, not just as a Scotland athlete. The coaches of Georgia Tech have said they would be happy to honor their commitment to Ratliffe and give him the scholarship he so richly deserves.
It is poor etiquette for members of the media to root in the press box, but here’s hoping Ratliffe can return to school this fall and take one final snap on Senior Night against Lumberton. Even if it means Ratliffe taking a knee for a 5-yard loss, no one in the stands, press box or stands will be sitting in their seats or have a dry eye.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.