Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Senior quarterback T.J. Green and head coach Heath Grimes discuss strategy at a Speake football practice last week.
HIGH SCHOOL COUNTDOWN
Character the key word to Speake's season
Twenty-second in a series
By Mark Edwards
email@example.com · 340-2461
SPEAKE — Crammed into Speake head coach Heath Grimes' office at the community's elementary school, four of his varsity players had no trouble answering the question "How many times have you heard the word character lately?"
Seniors Zach Vick, Corey Taylor and Jesse Crowe and junior K.C. Orr smiled, looked at each other and said at about the same time, "A lot."
Grimes and his assistant coaches have stressed character this preseason, and along with the usual lessons they hope the players use in everyday life, they're hoping they'll learn this tidbit and apply it to football — it takes great character to strive for greatness.
And greatness is what's on Speake's plate this season.
Grimes wants his players to try to exceed last season's magical run.
Last year, Speake won nine games, took the Class 1A, Region 8 championship and managed the program's first state playoff victory since 1996.
The Bobcats nearly made it to the quarterfinals, falling 21-14 to Talladega County Central in the second round.
Speake led 14-13 in the fourth quarter when Talladega stripped the ball from a Bobcats ballcarrier and ran 86 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't want good to be good enough for these guys," said Grimes, who also serves as Speake's elementary school principal. "I want them to strive for excellence.
"I don't want winning five or six games to be good enough."
His players seem to have caught on to what Grimes wants. They matter-of-factly state goals that at one time in the past would've seemed almost laughable at Speake.
"Nothing less than going to Birmingham," Orr said, referring to the site of the 1A state championship game.
Added Daily all-area defensive back/receiver Zach Vick: "It's the same for me — nothing less than Birmingham."
Added Taylor: "I'd like to win the region again. And nothing less than Birmingham."
And Crowe said, "I want us to take the region again. I want us to beat our three main rivals — Hazlewood, Courtland and Danville."
And like his teammates, he added that he wants to go to Birmingham.
Speake suffered significant losses to graduation a year ago. Star defensive lineman Javaris Stover (113 tackles, 91/2 sacks) and running back Nick Borden (1,462 rushing yards, 24 touchdowns) are gone.
But Speake does return eight seniors. Also, the Bobcats have eight starters back on offense and eight on defense.
"We lost some good players," Grimes said. "But I feel confident that for most of the guys we lost, we have someone to fill their position. We're short of offensive linemen. As for depth — we don't have any.
"But the ones we've got are as good or better than last year."
Senior quarterback T.J. Green has started since his ninth-grade season. Last year, he passed for 906 yards and nine touchdowns, while scoring seven of his own.
Vick returns after making 28 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he intercepted a team-leading six passes.
He has started since ninth grade, too.
Senior running back/defensive end Zach Taylor has started since eighth grade. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Cary Logan is back after ranking second on the team with five interceptions last year.
Senior running back/linebacker Chase Atkins is a four-year starter who rushed for more than 500 yards last year.
Senior linebacker/tight end Corey Taylor has started for three years and ranked second on the team last year with 86 tackles.
Crowe, a tight end/lineman, and receiver Sean Heyden led more experience to the senior class.
In the future, four-year starters might be rare at Speake. Grimes said he no longer is in the position of having to start freshmen because there might be nobody else.
"There's more competition for positions," he said.
The players have spent the off-season competing, too. Grimes said that he set voluntary summer workouts at 6:30 a.m.
"We had 40 dates, and 13 to 14 guys made more than 30 dates," he said, adding that he couldn't expect that kind of participation when he first started at Speake in 2003.
There's a confidence at Speake, too, that previous teams might not have had.
Maybe this statement from Orr says it best, even better than he and his teammates saying they want to get to Birmingham:
"The Speake that feared Hazlewood ... you won't see them anymore."
Speake High at a glance
Last year: 9-3. Advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
Head coach: Heath Grimes (20-22 in his fifth year at Speake).
Noteworthy: Senior quarterback T.J. Green has started since his freshman season. He threw nine touchdown passes last year and ran for seven. ... Support for the Speake program has grown to the point that more than 400 people showed for the annual “Meet the Bobcats” fish fry, and about 100 people watched a Speake scrimmage — big numbers for a Class 1A school. ... Veteran coach Rory Carpenter is back to coordinate Speake’s defense. Two new assistants (Josh LouAllen from Lawrence County and Quintin Hill from J.O. Johnson) have joined the program. Brett Voss and Hunter Sparks return as volunteer assistants.
Speake High schedule, results
8-30 at Hatton
9-7 at Hazlewood (R)
9-14 Hackleburg (R)
9-21 at Hubbard (R)
9-28 Westminster Christian
10-5 Vina (R)
10-12 at Shoals Christian (R)
10-19 Phillips, Bear Creek (R)
10-26 Brilliant (R)
11-1 at Danville
(R)-Class 1A, Region 8
vs. Hatton W, 40-20
vs. Hazlewood W, 27-7
at Hackleburg W, 35-7
vs. Hubbard L, 20-0
at Westminster Chr. W, 38-13
at Vina W, 33-12
vs. Shoals Chr. W, 40-20
at Phillips, B.C. W, 53-28
at Brilliant W, 42-21
vs. Danville L, 17-14
vs. Parrish W, 34-20
vs.Talladega Co. Cen. L, 21-14
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