ELLENBORO, W.Va – The Ritchie County Rebels etched their names into the history books in 2021 with the first state championship in program history.

While taking home the trophy may be an unforgettable experience, Rick Haught has been imploring his team to leave the highs of the previous season in the past.

“They’re not the same group and we’re not playing the same team’s that existed last year either. It’s a new year for everybody. Every team will be different,” he said, “They’ll have different strengths and weaknesses and we’ll be measured with how well we play with teams that we face this year, not anything that happened in the year past.”

The message is coming through clearly to the players in preparation for their title defense and the senior leaders on the team that were big parts of last year’s effort are helping reinforce Haught’s message.

“I think we’re doing a good job of putting that behind us. We realize we’re a different team than we were last year. We’re returning a lot of new guys,” senior quarterback Ethan Haught said, “Lost a lot of guys last year so we had some holes to fill and our guys are doing a good job competing. I like to be able to see the in-team competition there. It’s always great to have that.”

There are certainly starting jobs up for grabs for the Rebels this fall after the departures of so many important seniors including 1st team all-state captain Gus Morrison.

While there’s no good way to fill in the gaps in production Ritchie County needs to plug, that’s what this preseason practice has been all about.

“At this point, we’re just trying to figure out who our best 11 are and they’re trying to, I guess for a better way of saying it, they’ve just got to go from a guy who’s been watching games to being the guy that’s on the field making plays,” the head coach said.

One place the Rebels won’t have to worry about is the quarterback position as 2021 1st team all-stater Ethan Haught returns for his fourth season commanding the offense.

“Having a three-year starter on there is really helpful because he’s so knowledgeable. He’s making sure everybody’s lined up and helping with where to go so it’s almost having another coach on the field,” Rick Haught said.

As a soon-to-be fourth year starter, Haught has experience much of this program’s climb over the last few years and he’s embracing a bigger leadership role as a senior.

“I feel like I have the ability to be a leader on this team, especially with my four years of experience. I’ve been in the system for four years. I know what’s going on,” he said, “I know what our coaches are wanting to see. I’m able to lead these younger guys and the non-expierenced guys into what they’re supposed to do, especially on the offensive end and getting into more of the defensive side of it.”

While there may be a few growing pains along the way, Ritchie County is looking to back down from the expectations and the preseason mentality has reflected that.

” I think their mindset, their mindset of not stopping the work. They all want to keep going, keep pushing through even when its hard or hot and they’re dead. They just keep pushing through,” senior defensive end Austin Bartlett said.

Ritchie County opens the 2022 season at Tyler Consolidated on August 26 for the first of three consecutive road trips before reopening the renovated Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium on September 23 against Doddridge County.