RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Hard lessons learned off the field have helped Slade Dale become one of the most productive quarterbacks in Georgia's Region 7-AAA.
The sophomore and his family lost their house in the April 27 tornado that ravaged Ringgold, so when he had a hand in seven fumbles and a game-deciding interception in an ugly early-season loss to Cartersville, Dale knew he had rebounded from tougher circumstances.
Six weeks later he's leading a suddenly powerful Ringgold offense into tonight's region playoff play-in crossover game at Cedartown, having learned from his worst day on the field to become a better quarterback.
"It was bad, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said Dale, referring to the game when he could just have easily have been discussing last April. "I personally learned a lot from that game. I think I grew up a bit after that."
Coach Robert Akins agrees. Following the Cartersville game he decided to simplify the offense and concentrate on getting the option game down pat. Since then, the Tigers have averaged better than 24 points per game and gained more than 350 yards of total offense in losses to Dalton and Ridgeland.
Dale enters tonight's game with 968 yards and six touchdowns passing to go with 701 yards and five touchdowns rushing.
"He's really grown up since that game," Akins said. "He's reading defenses better and he's learned when to throw the ball away, when to keep it and when to pitch it. Remember, he was thrown into the fire last year as a freshman and, well, you could tell he was a freshman."
Dale laughs at the memory of his first start, which came against region champion Ridgeland.
"It was hard, especially against the No. 1 team in the region," Dale said. "Then I could barely take a snap under center, but Coach Akins and Coach [Coby] Holtcamp have worked with me and I've made some improvement. The speed of the game was the hardest thing. As a quarterback, everything seemed so fast then, but I've gotten more used to it now."
The 6-3 Tigers also have 1,000-yard rusher Shaun Anderson and fellow senior Mark Fairbanks, who has 558 yards, in the backfield. It's no wonder that when defenses see the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Dale at quarterback, he's the one they want to test.
"With those guys back there, I'm hidden, kind of," Dale said with his ever-ready smile. "Everybody is watching out for them, of course. They're the leaders of the team, so people make me prove that I'm an OK quarterback."
He's also proven lately that he's better than average in the defensive backfield. A starter early in his freshman season at cornerback, Dale came on in the second half of the Ridgeland game this year and immediately made an impact with two interceptions. Even though he has a lot to handle offensively, Dale enjoys the double duty.
"Since the Ridgeland game I've played a lot back there," he said. "I started at corner last year and I love defense. It is a challenge, but Coach Akins asked me if I could do it, and of course I'm going to do it. I actually love it."
As Dale talks adjacent to the football practice field, work on the baseball field continues. New lights were installed last week and the laying of the outfield grass was completed Tuesday. When Ringgold started school in September, there was nothing but rubble on the field.
He can't help but think about the tornado's impact and how the community, the school and his family has rebounded. As usual, it brings a smile to his face.
"It's really different," he said. "We've gotten nicer things now, so there's something good that's come out of it. We got a new house now, so we're good. Everybody knows I'm always smiling and kind of laid back, so I try to enjoy everything because it only comes around once."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...