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MONDAY, AUGUST 27, 2007
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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL OUTLOOKS

The Daily analyzes the local Class 6A, 5A and 4A teams. The 3A and 2A squads will be featured Tuesday and the 1A teams Wednesday.

Class 6A
Austin

Head coach: David Norwood (10-20 in three seasons at Austin, 29-25 in five seasons as a head coach).

2006 record: 4-6. Did not make the state playoffs.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 5-4-3-3-4.

Whom to watch in 2007: Junior Justin Jones brings experience and poise to the quarterback position after starting several games in the second half of last season when the Black Bears got on a winning role. Senior running back Kayne Stuart and fullback Nieko Best will join Jones in the backfield.

Seniors Xalyn Peek, Jeffrey Sneed and Greg Thomas anchor a solid and experienced offensive line. On defense, Austin looks to fill a void with junior D.T. Shackelford, who moves from defensive end to linebacker this season.

What to watch: Austin gave away several games last season with fumbles and mistakes. That will be the difference in a make-or-break season for the Black Bears this year.

When to watch: Kicking off the season at Hartselle on Thursday, head coach David Norwood’s alma mater, is always crucial in setting the tone for the season. Last year, Hartselle won a three-overtime thriller and went on to the quarterfinals of the 5A state playoffs. Austin, on the losing end of that contest, didn’t make the postseason.

Following that game, the Black Bears have an important three-game region stretch, which includes road trips to Huntsville on Sept. 7 and Sparkman on Sept. 21 — both games that Austin lost last year en route to an 0-5 start. Austin meets rival Decatur in the regular-season finale Nov. 2.

Why to watch: With 21 seniors on Austin’s roster, the Black Bears have a solid group that has come up in Norwood’s system. Norwood has offered continuity in his four-year tenure, and the benefits may show this season. If Austin truly has made it past the mental mistakes of last season, the Black Bears could be playoff-bound for the first time since 2003.

Brooke Milam,
Daily Sports Writer

Class 5A
Athens

Head coach: Allen Creasy (57-30 in seven years at Athens).

2006 record: 12-3. Class 5A state champions.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 7-3-8-8-12.

Whom to watch in 2007: Senior quarterback Todd Pepper started for the Golden Eagles at linebacker last season, and his teammates feel strong about his abilities leading the offense. At his disposal will be senior receiver Justin Brown, the Golden Eagles’ top returning receiver. Senior Robert Brown returns at fullback.

Senior center Keith Hogan, senior guard Blake Davis and senior guard Justin Rogers have started for three years on an offensive line that should strong again. On defense, junior William Ming is back after starting every game last season at outside linebacker.

What to watch: Can Athens’ offense continue to soar under senior quarterback Todd Pepper, in his first year starting at the position?

Creasy and the Golden Eagles seem to think so.

When to watch: The first game of the season at East Limestone on Saturday is a big one even though it has no implications in the region standings. Athens will play four of its first five games on the road: at East Limestone, at Muscle Shoals (Sept. 7), at Decatur (Sept. 21) and at Jess Lanier (Sept. 28).

Why to watch: How will Athens live up to the expectations following a state championship season? The bar has been set high for these Golden Eagles, but they also have a strong example to follow.

Brooke Milam,
Daily Sports Writer

Brewer

Head coach: Billy Coleman (95-78 in 15 seasons as a head coach, including 53-44 at West Point, 26-10 at Dora and 6-24 in three years at Brewer)

2006 record: 2-8. Did not reach state playoffs.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 1-0-2-2-2.

Whom to watch in 2007: Junior Tony Dickerson is back after splitting time last year at quarterback. Dickerson has plenty of experience in varsity games, having thrown touchdown passes against teams such as Hartselle, J.O. Johnson and Muscle Shoals. He also completed a pass for the Patriots’ only touchdown in a win over West Point.

Senior John Tallent will help anchor the offensive line at center, and Miles Cloer, another senior, will provide support for the backfield at fullback.

What to watch: The defense should improve from a year ago when the Patriots wore down late in the season. In three of the last four games, Brewer gave up 46 points to J.O. Johnson, 48 to Athens and 56 to Decatur.

The offense might need time to find its footing, especially since graduation hit hard at receiver, running back and along the offensive line, even though talented players are ready to step forward.

When to watch: As always, the season opener against rival Priceville on Aug. 31 should be a big one. This has turned into one of the best rivalries in the area, and it spills over into every sport in which the two schools meet. Priceville won this last year 27-20.

Within Region 8, Brewer must face Russellville (Sept. 7), Hartselle (Oct. 5) and Athens (Oct. 19) on the road and J.O. Johnson (Oct. 12) and Decatur (Oct. 26) at home.

Why to watch: The Patriots have made progress and are putting a better product on the field than they did before Billy Coleman came as head coach three years ago.

The record doesn’t reflect the huge strides Brewer has made, but the program is prepped for a breakthrough at some point.

Mark Edwards,
Daily sports Editor

Decatur

Head coach: Jere Adcock (83-42 in 11 seasons as head coach at Decatur).

2006 record: 4-6. Did not make the state playoffs.

Win totals for 2002-06: 8-7-9-10-4.

Whom to watch in 2007: Decatur’s offense returns top running back Chris Coffey, a junior, and top receiver Justin Bishop, a senior. Senior Riley Adcock and sophomore Ben Neill both gained experience at quarterback last season. Junior receiver Cory Dodson, junior tight end Brooks Johnson and junior fullback David Martin will play important parts in Decatur’s offensive scheme.

The Red Raiders’ defensive line has experience with returning starters Dewan Troupe and Pierre Key, both junior defensive ends, and senior defensive tackle Daniel Crampsey. Senior linebacker Tim Witherspoon and junior Levi Cook also will be important role players for Decatur’s defense, and having senior place-kicker Michael Schuster back is a definite plus.

What to watch: The six losses last season left the Red Raiders shaking their heads in disbelief. But they came by an 10.5 points, meaning the chances to win were there. If the Red Raiders can keep themselves in games, last year’s lessons should have them able to close out the win when it counts.

When to watch: Every game is important for a team that lost six games last season. The Red Raiders have rivals Hartselle (Sept. 7) and Athens (Sept. 21) at home this season, with a chance to avenge a couple of last year’s losses. Decatur will face rival Austin in the final game of the regular season Nov. 2.

Why to watch: Coach Jere Adcock compared the unity of this year’s team to that of Red Raiders’ squads from 2004 and 2005 — both teams that made the second round of the state playoffs. Decatur is hoping it has what it takes to get to the postseason after missing the playoffs in 2006.

Brooke Milam,
Daily Sports Writer

Hartselle

Head coach: Bob Godsey (32-14 in four years at Hartselle, 74-29 in nine years as a head coach).

2006 record: 11-2. Lost in the Class 5A state quarterfinals to eventual state champion Athens 23-13.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 11-6-9-6-11.

Whom to watch in 2007: Offensively, the Tigers have a strong competitor at quarterback in junior Luke Bole, who moves from free safety. Hartselle’s offensive line will be led by three returning starters — seniors Caleb Murphy and Kramer Southern and junior Russell Powell. Big play-maker Tony Weaver, a senior, returns at receiver, and leading rusher Marquez Jones is back for his junior season after gaining 1,305 yards last year.

Graduation hit the Tigers’ defense hard, but last year’s second-leading tackler, senior Michael Reed, will return at linebacker, along with senior Brad Borden and junior David Reeves. Jones is back at defensive back, along with twin brother Marquez.

What to watch: Last year’s team graduated a solid and influential senior class. Even so, the Tigers return plenty of key players. If the returning players can mature into the kind of leaders that last year’s seniors were, it’ll be another good year for the Tigers.

When to watch: Hartselle’s schedule is full of rivalry games, each important in its own right. In addition to playing at region foe Decatur (Sept. 7), the Tigers will travel to Cullman (Sept. 28). Hartselle gets another important game at home, hosting Athens (Oct. 12).

Why to watch: Hartselle is still running high on the emotion of last season’s trip to the state quarterfinals. But the Tigers said they don’t want to rest on last season’s accomplishments, and the mission this year is to prove the Hartselle tradition is still alive.

Brooke Milam,
DAILY Sports Writer

Class 4A
Ardmore

Head coach: Tracy Malone (8-3 in one season at Ardmore).

2006 record: 8-3. Lost in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs to eventual state champion Guntersville 35-0.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 2-5-7-0-8.

Whom to watch in 2007: The Tigers have a pair of experienced quarterbacks in senior E.J. Barnes and junior Clay Wales. Both played in every game last season and are back to direct an offense that also returns senior Landon Curtis, who will play running back, and senior Jordan Angus, the Tigers’ most experienced lineman.

What to watch: Despite last season’s impressive record, head coach Tracy Malone said the Tigers gave up too many big plays last season, resulting in three lopsided losses. The challenge this year will be limiting those blowouts and taking the next step to consistently being a contender.

When to watch: Ardmore opens with a rivalry game at Elkmont on Friday. The Tigers won’t have long to warm up before facing top-team North Jackson on the road (Sept. 14), the team that dealt Ardmore one of its two Region 7 losses last year. The Tigers will host East Limestone on Oct. 12, trying to avenge their only other regular season loss from last season.

Why to watch: After last year’s breakout season, finishing 8-3 and making it to the state playoffs, the Tigers aim to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. If Ardmore can make the postseason again, they’ve truly made the turn from a winless season in 2005. Brooke Milam,
DAILY Sports Writer

East Lawrence

Head coach: Joe McDaniel (1-9 in one season at East Lawrence)

2006 record: 1-9. Did not reach state playoffs.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 3-2-0-0-1

Whom to watch in 2007: Large receivers Kenneth Bolden (6-foot-3, 200) and Roy Young (6-1, 175) will provide two sophomore quarterbacks with good, sizable targets. But the young QBs both have a lot to learn. McDaniel said he may use a two-quarterback rotation if neither shines.

What to watch: This small, inexperienced team does have some pluses. McDaniel said they are quick and talented at the skill positions, including running back, receivers, quarterback and the defensive secondary.

When to watch: Last year against its two rivals — Lawrence County and West Morgan — East Lawrence was close at halftime, but a poor second half resulted in lopsided losses. This season the Eagles will try to keep the score close and win some of the bigger games.

Why to watch: East Lawrence will attempt to build on last season’s one win, its first victory since the 2003 season. In his attempt to resurrect the program, McDaniel lost three starters during the offseason who have quit or moved to other schools. It will be interesting to see how the team responds.

Ross Dellenger,
Daily sports writer

East Limestone

Head coach: Jeff Pugh (8-5 in one season at East Limestone, 26-28 in five seasons as a head coach, which includes 18-23 at West Limestone).

2006 record: 8-5, lost in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Guntersville 37-7.

Win totals for 2002-06: 1-5-10-9-8.

Whom to watch in 2007: East Limestone will start 10 seniors on offense and six on defense. Four-year starting quarterback Chad Dewitt, senior running back Jonathon Pinque and senior receiver Marvin Baker are the cornerstones of an offense with high-powered potential.

What to watch: East Limestone’s offense has all the makings of a contender. Plenty of experience and a wealth of talent should have the Indians in good shape to score a lot of points. It’s up to the defense to keep pace for the Indians to have a dream season.

When to watch: First, East Limestone wants to avenge a 44-15 loss to 5A state champion Athens, and it will have the chance Saturday at home at Cavnar Field. After that, the Indians play a Region 7 rivalry game with North Jackson on Oct. 5 — a game they lost by a touchdown last season.

Why to watch: There is a lot riding on this season for 24 seniors, but they have the talent and experience to back it up. They are talking state championship in Capshaw, and anyone who has watched the Indians over the past three years can see why.

Brooke Milam,
DAILY Sports Writer

Lawrence County

Head coach: Ernie Ferguson (11-10 in two seasons at Lawrence County)

2006 record: 5-5. Did not make state playoffs.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 2-3-2-6-5

Whom to watch in 2007: Senior Radney Wallace has played receiver the past few years, but he makes the switch this season to running back. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Wallace is a muscular back who should be fun to watch in Ferguson’s option-style offense. Ferguson said Wallace has gotten a lot quicker in the off-season and is one of the true playmakers on the squad.

What to watch: Defensively, Lawrence must stop the big play. Ferguson said long runs and passes cost his team in close games last season. Also, Ferguson said his offense needs to “bounce back” from negative plays and not turn the ball over as much.

When to watch: Lawrence County has two big home games against region foes Deshler (Sept. 14) and Brooks (Oct. 12). Those two teams have dominated Region 8 the last four years, swapping places as champions. Ferguson said in order for his team to be region champs then “you better beat one of those two teams.”

Why to watch: With experience at nearly every position, there is no doubt that Lawrence County is a legitimate playoff team. Last year a lackluster region record — 2-5 — cost the Red Devils a spot.

Ross Dellenger,
Daily sports writer

Priceville

Head coach: Donald Weeks (6-4 in one season at Priceville)

2006 record: 6-4. Did not make state playoffs.

Win totals from 2002-2006: 3-6-3-5-6.

Whom to watch in 2007: Linebacker/tight end Will Halbrooks is the unquestioned leader on a defense that returns six starters. He totaled 89 tackles last season. Coaches say that he could play at a small college.

What to watch: This season’s team will rotate a group of five players at the fullback, running back and quarterback positions. The Bulldogs Wing-T offense will revolve around those five players, consisting of three seniors and two juniors. There are a whopping 18 seniors on the team, 10 of whom will probably start.

When to watch: A 7-6 loss at Ardmore last season cost Priceville a playoff spot. This year, it could come down to the same game. Weeks said North Jackson and East Limestone are “head and shoulders above” the other teams in the region. Priceville will battle the second-tier teams in the region for the Nos. 3 and 4 playoff spots. Those include Madison County, Columbia and Ardmore.

Why to watch: For a varsity football program that is in its sixth year, Priceville has had some impressive seasons, but it has not made the playoffs. With 18 seniors and 11 starters returning, this could be the year for the Bulldogs to break through.

Ross Dellenger,
Daily Sports Writer

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