August 23, 2013

Looking for some answers

Cats’ backfield still a mystery with Ringgold coming

Devin Golden

— Will Kelvis Rhodes play?

Even those within Dalton High School’s football program don’t know the status of the Catamounts’ junior running back.

At least that’s what they’re saying.

Rhodes rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 2012, but he didn’t dress out for Dalton’s scrimmage Aug. 15 against Adairsville and he’s been limited in practice this week, apparently because of lingering injuries from the preseason.

What does that mean for tonight’s season opener against Ringgold?

Most everyone will find out together at 7:30 p.m. at Harmon Field.

“He’s a game-time decision,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “I’ll even say this. He could end up being an in-game decision. ... He will be available. That’s our expectation.”

That seems to indicate Rhodes, who rushed for 1,529 yards and 18 touchdowns on 229 carries, will dress like a football player. Whether he’ll actually be a football player is uncertain.

Land, who did not make Rhodes available for comment, said he has a number of “bumps and bruises,” notably a shoulder injury. However, Land said there wasn’t a dislocation or tear, just that Rhodes isn’t 100 percent.

He hasn’t been practicing in pads during the past week, Land said, and didn’t participate in on-field activities during the portion of Thursday’s walk-through at which a Daily Citizen sports writer was present.

Ringgold coach Robert Akins, who said he believes Rhodes will play, has prepared as if he will have to worry about the talented running back tonight.

The Dalton standout gave Akins’ Tigers plenty to worry about a year ago.

In the 2012 season opener at Ringgold, a 21-19 Dalton win, Rhodes had a 56-yard touchdown run just 41 seconds into the game. He scored once more and finished with 170 yards on 22 carries. The win was Dalton’s 27th straight against Ringgold and the 43rd in 44 meetings, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

“I don’t know the extent of the injuries,” Akins said. “There’s so many rumors going around. I told our guys to expect him to play.”

If he doesn’t, expect to hear sophomore Tyler Noland’s name called quite a bit. Senior offensive lineman Jake Roberts said Noland had been getting most of the first-team reps in practice.

“We’ve been impressed by him,” Roberts said.

The rest of Dalton’s lineup appears healthy despite numerous expected starters not dressing out for the Adairsville scrimmage. Offensive lineman Juan Pacheco, safety Eder Mora and defensive linemen Jordan Keener and Chase Todd didn’t play last week, but all four practiced in pads this week and should help Dalton — which went 8-4 and reached the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs in 2012 — overcome a sloppy performance against Adairsville.

“Obviously, we’re tackling better,” Land said of his team since the scrimmage. “We did a few extra tackling drills this week. Second, we’re healthier. There was a lot of experience on the sidelines in the scrimmage and we’re happy to have them back.”

Ringgold, however, doesn’t have any lingering injuries, Akins said. That’s good for the Tigers, who finished 6-5 and reached the Class 3A state playoffs last season. Even better for them is the experience they bring back — 10 starters on offense and eight on defense.

“We’ve got all those kids back, so we have a good nucleus,” Akins said.

That includes three-year starter Slade Dale at quarterback, and juniors Kile Sholl and D.L. Goins, who both line up at running back and safety. The latter spent half of last season at Dalton before transferring to Ringgold and scoring twice in his first game wearing blue and white.

Still, Dale is priority No. 1 for Dalton’s defense. The multi-sport athlete threw for 1,268 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also led the Tigers in rushing with 1,187 yards and 12 scores. He is committed to play baseball at the University of Georgia.

“For someone who is as great a quarterback as he is, I don’t think you can stop him,” Land said. “I think you try to minimize the damage they can do. Obviously, you try to contain him because he can hurt you in multiple ways, but he also is a world-class baseball player and has a great arm and can hurt you through the air.”

Dalton’s defense, which returns nine players with varsity experience, knows Dale as well as the Tigers know Rhodes. In last year’s game, Dale had 184 all-purpose yards and two touchdown throws.

What’s the plan for the Cats?

“Just play Dalton defense,” said Todd, a senior. “Make him guess what we’re going to do.”

Last year’s game also had special meaning for Ringgold. It was the first game played at Ringgold’s rebuilt Don Patterson Stadium since a deadly tornado wrecked the town in April 2011.

“We didn’t know last year how it’d affect them,” Land said. “Would they play 70 percent better or 20 percent better? Either way, we knew they’d be better than anything we’ve seen on film. So we’re going with the same approach this time.”

Dale will be Ringgold’s quarterback. But who will start under center for Dalton?

Land didn’t say whether it would be junior Payton Veraldi or sophomore Jase Chastain — who also has been getting reps at running back — but during the preseason he has indicated he’s not in a hurry to name a permanent starter.

As he’s also said before, Land reiterated that the Cats would do what was “most productive” for the team.