LYNN — The turnaround season that junior quarterback Keith Ridley and the Classical football team had last fall was one of the better stories on the gridiron in 2017.
The Rams, 3-8 in 2016, went 8-3 with Ridley as the signal-caller and emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the Northeastern Conference.
Losses to Danvers in the state tournament and crosstown rival English on Thanksgiving were tough to absorb but Ridley felt the Rams moved in the right direction last fall.
“I feel like it (2017) was a great step in turning around the program,” Ridley, entering his second season as Classical’s starting quarterback, said. “I believe we flipped around the culture a lot. I believe we’ll continue to add to that this season. I think we’re looking to take the next step this year because we came up short against Danvers and English last year. We’re trying to get those games back and do everything we can.”
Now it’s time to turn the page on the 2017 season and gear up for the fast-approaching 2018 campaign — Ridley’s senior year. The Rams started their preseason camp a week and a half ago and Ridley said things have looked solid thus far. With Classical in its second season under head coach Brian Vaughan and his staff, the Rams are already ahead of where they were at this point last year when they aimed to acclimate themselves to a new system.
“Things have looked really, really good,” Ridley said. “We’re picking things up a lot faster than last season. Last season we had to learn from a new coach and new system. This year we’re picking things up from last year. We have a lot of returners this season. Overall we’re looking really, really good thus far and I’m excited.
“We’ve been working on installing our plays, offensively and defensively,” Ridley said. “Just really getting them down and seeing what plays work for different coverages. We’re putting in a lot of plays and seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
Classical’s underclassmen and newcomers have also looked sharp and ready to contribute to another winning season.
“We have a lot of new guys coming in,” Ridley said, “a lot of underclassmen stepping up this year that’ll impact our team.”
Ridley will be a captain this season alongside fellow Rams senior Chase Buono. This marks Ridley’s second season under the leadership role as he was also a team captain in 2017. And it’s a role he considers “an honor.”
“The players trust me to lead them to battle,” Ridley said. “They trust me to lead the team along with Chase. I couldn’t ask for a more important role. It means a lot to me to be able to step up with Chase and show the rest of the guys the expectations and the hard work we need. It’s great.”
Vaughan has nothing but confidence in Ridley’s leadership abilities.
“Keith brings a strong work ethic to the table every day and the other kids feed off that,” Vaughan said. “He sets an example for the rest of the kids and they follow his lead.
“(As a quarterback) Everybody on the team’s looking for you to be in charge,” Vaughan said. “You’re a coach on the field. I tell our quarterbacks ‘you’re an extension of the coaching staff.’ We give them the tools. The position naturally, for any team, makes the quarterback a leader.”
Ridley acknowledged that he has room for improvement for his senior season. When he reflected on his junior year, Ridley didn’t think his completion percentage was where he wanted it to be. That’s one area he’ll look to take positive strides in this fall.
“Honestly, I feel I need to step up in every area of my game,” Ridley said. “Thanks to coach Vaughan and my offensive line, I had a great year last year. They deserve a lot of credit. My completion percentage is definitely an area I want to improve on. I was at 50-60 (percent) last year and I feel I should be able to get that up this year.”
While the expectations are undoubtedly high for the Rams after a stellar 2017 season, Ridley’s ready for the challenges that come with meeting lofty goals. The key to meeting those expectations, Ridley said, is adopting a day-by-day approach.
“I believe we can accomplish the goals set for us,” Ridley said. “I think our goals we set for ourselves are higher than the expectations others have for us. We take things day-by-day. If we do what we’re supposed to be doing, we should be able to accomplish our goals in the near future.”
“We talk about it every time,” Vaughan said. “We even have it on our practice shirts, ‘better every day.’ That’s our approach. We want to be better than the day before. If we take that approach I think our guys can have a big year, including Keith.”