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LawrenceCounty High assistant coach Craig Owen goes over a play with the RedDevils’ offense during a recent practice.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
LawrenceCounty High assistant coach Craig Owen goes over a play with the RedDevils’ offense during a recent practice.

HIGH SCHOOL COUNTDOWN
Banking on
their seniors

Red Devils put their faith in nine 12th-graders in playoff push

Eighteenth in a series

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

MOULTON — Sitting in a plastic chair in Lawrence County’s meeting room, Radney Wallace clutched a football, anxiously shifting it from one hand to the other, surely practicing for his new role on the football field.

Wallace will no longer be catching the ball. Instead, he’ll be taking handoffs or snaring option pitches that come his way.

“Running the ball is easier ... less concentration,” said Wallace, Lawrence County’s new running back and the guy coach Ernie Ferguson calls his team’s “heart line.”

Wallace is one of nine seniors Ferguson will rely upon to lead the Red Devils back to the playoffs, a place they’ve been only once in the last five years. They finished 5-5 last season, and most of those seniors have started since their sophomore year.

At least seven of the nine will start, and most will play both sides of the ball, including Wallace, who also starts as a linebacker — a position he prefers.

“I like defense better. I like to tackle,” he said, now holding the ball in a high and tight position, his hand curled around its point.

Wallace is joined in the backfield by two-year starting quarterback Matthew Pugh. The two will be the feature pieces in Ferguson’s option-style attack. Instead of passing the ball to Wallace like he has in the past, Pugh will simply pitch it.

During the offseason, Wallace’s quickness improved and his once skinny frame became more muscular, leading to his position change.

“Not Rodney ... Radney,” Ferguson said, clearing up any possible confusion about his key starter’s name.

“He’s thickened up and gotten a lot quicker. He’s one of those players that can play college football, but because of his size nobody looks at him,” the third-year head coach added about the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder.

Pugh, a tall, lanky senior, amassed about 700 rushing yards and 1,500 passing yards last season, scoring 24 touchdowns.

Ferguson’s offensive system is designed for the quarterback to be another running back, similar to West Virginia’s spread-run offense.

Lining up in the shotgun on most plays, Pugh will either run the option, hand it off to Wallace or tuck and run.

“I would probably call him a scrambler,” Ferguson said, chuckling.

There won’t be a lot of sitting in the pocket and “trying to pick you apart,” he said.

Much of that can be attributed to the team’s young receivers. Josh Gaines is the lone senior wide out. At 6-feet-3 and 180 pounds, he provides a large target, but the next three receivers are sophomores who are anything but large.

“We have a lot of kids that are stepping up at the varsity level for the first time,” Ferguson said.

Although he has seen improvement during preseason practice, Ferguson said he realizes his offensive linemen are another worry because of their small size.

But he insists they are quick, a much-needed trait in the option attack.

“We are not big. We’ve accepted that fact,” said Ferguson, who lost a 315-pounder from his line a year ago. “At first it was a concern for us, but we are probably the most athletic offensive line that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Three seniors anchor the line, but they weigh in at just more than 200 pounds. Two of the three — Brandon Owens and Chanse Parker — also start on the defensive front, and the other — Logan Oliver — plays linebacker, a position Ferguson calls his team’s strength.

Oliver and Wallace are joined on the linebacker corps by two-year starting seniors Wes Holley — who is the team’s No. 2 running back — and Carson Montgomery, the team’s tight end.

Ferguson said that this team doesn’t include the most talented individuals he’s had in the past, but the coach is confident they will play as a team, with unquestioned unity.

There is one simple goal in the Lawrence County fieldhouse: make the playoffs. Those nine seniors, he’s hoping, will lead that charge.

“How we make the playoffs, who we beat to make the playoffs doesn’t matter,” he said. “Are expectations are to make the playoffs.”

Lawrence County at a glance

  • Last year: 5-5. Did not make the state playoffs.

  • Head coach: Ernie Ferguson (11-10 entering his second year as head coach).

  • Noteworthy: The Red Devils rely on a wealth of experience at the running back, quarterback and linebacker positions. ... QB Matthew Pugh rushed for about 700 yards and passed for about 1,500 last season. ... Ferguson is trying to maintain some consistency at Lawrence County. After making the playoffs in his first season in 2005, his team missed out last year. Before his arrival the Red Devils won seven games in three seasons.

    Ross Dellenger

    Lawrence Co. High schedule, results

    2007 schedule


    8-31

    at East Lawrence

    9-7

    Rogers (R)

    9-14

    Deshler (R)

    9-21

    at Haleyville (R)

    9-28

    Hatton

    10-5

    at Wilson (R)

    10-12

    Brooks (R)

    10-19

    Central-Florence (R)

    10-26

    at Hamilton (R)

    11-2

    at West Point

    (R)-Class 4A, Region 8




    2006 results


    vs. East Lawrence

    W, 25-7

    at Rogers

    W, 36-0

    at Deshler

    L, 33-7

    vs. Haleyville

    L, 34-6

    at Hatton

    W, 49-42

    vs. Wilson

    L, 27-15

    at Brooks

    L, 42-13

    at Central-Florence

    W, 36-20

    vs. Hamilton

    L, 34-21

    vs. West Point

    W, 27-14

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