He plays often in the shadows. Most anyone who carries the fullback label — or has Vonn Bell for a teammate — would.
Yet Darrell Bridges stepped from Ridgeland’s football chorus line and to the forefront on a big stage last Friday as the Panthers secured a firm grip on Georgia’s Class AAAA sub-region 7-B lead.
After running for 239 yards and four touchdowns in Ridgeland’s 35-20 victory over Northwest Whitfield, the 6-foot, 225-pound Bridges was chosen the Times Free Press player of the week.
Bell is a featured back in Ridgeland’s wing-T offense and also is a top national college recruit on both sides of the ball. He is one of the few Panthers who are first-team players on both sides of the ball.
It has to be difficult to get notoriety as a Bell teammate, but Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis doesn’t concern himself with such things.
“I’m not sure how tough it is because the kids don’t worry about it. It’s a unique group,” he said. “Vonn has gotten a lot of national attention and a lot of accolades, but we have two or three other kids on the team that would be getting a lot more attention if not for Vonn. But, really, to these kids it doesn’t matter. In years past it might have been important to some kids, but this group is different.”
He added that they were genuinely happy when anybody scored.
“Darrell and the year he’s having are great examples of that,” Mariakas said. “He’s so worried about winning and us being successful as a team that it hasn’t bothered his performance at all.”
Friday was the first game since the Panthers played Calhoun on Aug. 31 that the starters have gotten to play four quarters.
“Darrell set a goal of 2,000 yards in the preseason, and he’s probably not going to reach it, but only because of limited playing time,” Mariakis said. “The 200-yard game, though, Darrell could have had that every [Friday] night if he had played four quarters.
“If he was worried about stats, then you know the playing time would bother him. It doesn’t. He understands the number-one goal of the football team is to win and get to the state playoffs.”
Among programs thought to be recruiting Bridges are the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State and Carson-Newman.
“He’s the mystery of my 28 years [of coaching], although he doesn’t have all the offers I think he’ll eventually get,” Mariakis said. “I think most of those schools are ready to pull the trigger, and if he was a ‘burner’ Georgia Tech and folks like that would sign him in a heartbeat.
“I don’t care what the [40-yard dash] clock says — he just makes plays.”
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...