High School Football

Lancaster defense ready to say hello

Desmond Ricks only switched to linebacker last spring but he took to the position quickly and already has a scholarship offer from South Carolina State, with bigger schools queuing up.
Desmond Ricks only switched to linebacker last spring but he took to the position quickly and already has a scholarship offer from South Carolina State, with bigger schools queuing up.

Lancaster linebacker Desmond Ricks admitted last week that he enjoys belting Adele’s “Hello” from time to time, mainly when no one else is around.

His outing against Camden High School last September had the same hair-raising effect as the English songstress’ hit tune.

Ricks converted to the defensive side of the ball from receiver just four or five months earlier, but showed he still had some soft mitts by picking off a Camden pass in the third quarter of the Bruins’ 21-7 win. He then de-cleated a Bulldogs running back early in the fourth quarter, meeting the ball carrier in a gaping hole and planting him into the Memorial Stadium turf like a seed. Ricks completed an eye-grabbing night with another interception late in the game, a bobbled, one-handed grab before taking off down the sideline.

Desmond Ricks had one of his best games of the 2015 season against Camden, including a crunching hit at the 27 second mark:

Hello, for real.

“I’m excited for Desmond Ricks” Lancaster coach Bobby Collins said after the game. “I think he’s a D1 player and I’m glad the light bulb came on for him tonight.”

Almost a year later, Ricks looks even better. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior was offered a scholarship by South Carolina State in July and bigger schools are snooping around. He’s also talked extensively with Elon and Wingate.

“Coach Collins has been working me ever since football season’s been over with,” Ricks said. “Twenty-four-7. All the camps he took me to, I’ve been working hard.”

Defensive coordinator Marcus Surratt has to pinch himself sometimes to remember that Ricks is still a linebacking newborn.

“We deal with those growing pains of him learning the position,” he said. “It’s easy for coaches to fuss at kids when they’re not doing it right. But you have to remember, this guy’s only been doing this a couple of months. You could see him progress as the year went on, going into the spring this year, and you can see it now, how much faster he’s playing.”

Ricks will lead a Bruins defense that should be sneaky good; the best sign is he won’t have to make plays on his own. Surratt’s unit returns nine starters.

8 Lancaster held its first eight opponents of the 2015 season to 16 points or less. Part of that was a result of playing non-region schools in the 1A and 2A classifications, which the Bruins don’t do this season.

“The continuity of the guys playing together a second year really helps us out a lot,” said Surratt, the former West Charlotte head coach who has been at Lancaster since Collins showed up in 2014. “The terminology, they’re used to it now, they’re understanding where teams are trying to attack us.”

As good as Ricks can be, junior defensive end Markees Watts might be the best college prospect on Lancaster’s roster. He made a splash as a 10th grader, beating bigger, less mobile offensive linemen with balance-tottering hand-pops, or slipping by them with his first-step burst at the snap of the football.

Watts made All-Area after a 22-tackle-for-loss season. His speed and motor make him a force at every level of the defense, not just the line of scrimmage, and his strength is improving all the time. Collins predicted Watts will be this season’s area defensive player of the year.

“If we’re correcting him, it’s technique,” said Surratt. “We’re never correcting desire, the want-to, the effort. And that’s a great situation.”

Markees Watts demonstrates his ability to weed through traffic and hunt down ball-carriers:

And there’s depth at Lancaster this year, especially up front in a defensive line group that includes just one senior. Starters Houston Brantley, Roderick Johnson and Alex Steele return alongside Watts. The interior of the line should be bolstered by a promising-looking freshman named Emanuale Bush. Like many of the Lancaster defensive players, Bush looks the part; if he isn’t already built like a truck, he’s at least an SUV as a ninth grader.

Lancaster still has to improve in the secondary, a group led by All-Area safety C.D. Catoe, who intercepted five passes last season. But the belief is the front seven will take the pressure off the defensive backs by giving opposing QBs only seconds to think.

“I think this is the best defensive line I’ve ever coached,” said Collins. “They’re not the biggest group, but they work really hard in the weight room and they run up and down the line of scrimmage really well.”

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