However, that all changed just hours before the North Georgia Athletic Conference championship game when Heath was told by his coaches that due to some injury situations, he would have to play a outside roving linebacker position, a position Heath hadn't even practiced at all season long.
Luckily for Rossville, Heath is a fast learner.
Clinging to an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and with Heritage just 11 yards away from potentially tying up the score, Heath stepped in front a Luke Grant pass on the Rossville goal line. The Bulldogs offense then turned the interception into a lengthy touchdown drive and went on to claim the title with a 22-8 win at Heritage Middle School on Thursday.
"Our starting safety, Samuel Oliver, has got a knee issue, and we found out this morning he wasn't going to be able to play," Rossville head coach Steve Lewis explained. "At lunch today we had to sit down with Ryan and tell him what we were going to have to do. He's never played that position before, but he came up with some big plays all game long, including that interception that really sealed the deal for us. It was just outstanding. I'm proud of him."
After stopping the Generals on downs after a lengthy opening drive, Rossville (8-1) got on the board on a 45-yard Grayson Moore touchdown run and Jalyn Shelton's two-point conversion gave the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead with 1:37 left in the opening quarter.
But Heritage would answer with a seven-minute scoring drive, converting two big fourth downs before Grant hit Daniel Jernigan on a 17-yard touchdown pass. Jernigan then ran in the conversion to tie the game with 2:38 left to play before halftime.
Rossville had a chance to regain the lead in the waning seconds of the half after Chris Henderson's bruising 34-yard run moved the ball to the Heritage nine-yard line. But the Generals held on downs to keep the game knotted up at intermission.
A perfectly executed onside kick got the ball back for the Generals to start the second half, but the Bulldogs' defense stiffened and stopped Heritage at the Rossville 24-yard line. Two plays later, Shelton had a 78-yard TD run negated by a penalty, but Shelton's number was called again three plays later and he delivered with a 34-yard TD run. Moore's subsequent conversion put Rossville back in front, 16-8, with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
Following a short kickoff, the Generals began another solid drive, converting two more time on fourth down to keep the drive alive. But on second down and 10 from the Rossville 11, Heath got his hands on Grant's pass and returned it 13 yards to get the ball back for his offense with 6:53 left in the game.
What followed next was a clock-chewing 5:34 drive covering 87 yards in 11 plays. Moore and Shelton each picked up a 20-yard gain on the march before Moore found a seam and went up the middle for a 16-yard score with 1:19 to play. The conversion attempt, however, was stopped short.
The Generals appeared to still have life after a 23-yard TD reception by Tanner Nance with 49 seconds to play. However, the score was wiped out by a penalty, and time would run out on the Generals three plays later.
"We changed nothing on offense from the last time we played them, other a little adjustment in the blocking schemes," explained Lewis, whose team lost a 22-20 home decision to the Generals in the regular season. "Defensively, we decided to put everybody up on the ball. We may have given up some passes, but we only wanted to give up one or two-yard runs and the kids really excelled."
Lewis gave credit to his entire team, especially a core group of eighth-graders, for winning the championship.
"I remember guys like Chris Henderson, Ryan Heath, Grayson Moore, Luke Edwards, and Christian Gentry. They all walked into the gym about that first week of their sixth-grade year, and I remember telling one of our coaches, this group has a chance to be special. We've added to that group since, but we've built around that core.
"It will kill us to lose them, but I'm so proud of them and the maturity they've shown over the last few years. They've made the transition to becoming young men and they've been the leaders of this team. We've just tried to stay out of their way and let them play football."
Heritage head coach Mel Edwards was also proud of the effort his team showed during the game and throughout the season.
"We've certainly had a good group of young men this year that have worked hard, practiced hard, and showed a lot of discipline," he said. "I think they gave everything they had out there tonight, but we just came up a little short. We didn't get some the breaks we needed, but they played their hearts out and didn't quit. I'm proud of them."