Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Priceville seniors, from left, Aaron Sawyer, Brad Clark, Eli Allen, Scott Smith, Will Halbrooks, Jayson Hamilton and Chase Martin are excited about week 11.
It's week 11
Priceville prepares for playoffs for 1st time in school history
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
PRICEVILLE — Priceville High football coach Donald Weeks is usually in the school's gymnasium at basketball practice by the second week of November.
Senior Eli Allen usually already has started practicing baseball by now, and seniors Chase Martin, Brad Clark and Will Halbrooks typically spend this time of year getting ready for hunting season.
But as the sun set this week, they were on the practice field that sits in the back left of the school's campus, running sprints with their teammates. And they said this is right where they want to be the week after the end of the regular season, when only the best teams in the state are still practicing.
"The coaches stressed playoffs from the start of the season," Clark said. "Even back in the summer, it was 'week 11, week 11.' "
It's week 11 now, and for the first time since the school reopened in 2001, Priceville is still playing.
"This has been our goal for a while," Martin said.
"This is the first time in Priceville High School history that we've made the playoffs."
Priceville (6-4) will travel to play St. Clair County (8-2) in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs Friday at 7 p.m.
St. Clair County High in Odenville, 35 miles northeast of Birmingham, finished as the Region 5 champion and has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the state this year.
"We always knew this was a good group," said Weeks, who is in his fifth season at Priceville and second as the Bulldogs' head coach.
"One of the other coaches pointed out to me the other day that as ninth-graders, these guys went undefeated and now they've led us into the playoffs for the first time."
It's not been a straight shot to the top. There was a turning point in the season.
Knowing the group's potential, Weeks and his assistants were not satisfied with what they saw at the midway point and wanted more from their team.
"It was around week six that we sat them down before practice and said, 'With no intensity, no drive, and you're not going to get the job done,' " Weeks said.
"And they responded."
Following a 3-3 start to the season, Priceville won three of its last four games and grabbed the fourth and final playoff spot from 4A, Region 7.
The other playoff teams from the region include No. 1 North Jackson, ninth-ranked Madison County, and East Limestone, which was ranked as high as No. 3 this season.
Priceville finished fifth in the region last year, just one win away from making the postseason. After losing 16 seniors to graduation, the Bulldogs seemed an unlikely candidate to make the playoffs this year.
"People doubted us, but we didn't doubt ourselves," said Allen, a senior tailback/safety, who is a three-year starter.
After playing its first season in 4A last year, making the jump from 2A, Priceville players said they thought they measured up.
"We know the high scale because we've played some of the best teams in the state," tight end/linebacker Halbrooks said.
So, when last season ended, the Bulldogs said they immediately hit the weight room in preparation for a big season this year.
"We were preparing for this. I think we knew," said Clark, who is an offensive and defensive lineman. "We were really getting after it in the weight room and in the field.
"We were prepared for this to happen. We've put a lot into it over the years and gradually gotten better. It's not just been a one-year thing."
Priceville's last year as a high school was 1972. It did not return to being a high school until 2001 when the school had only freshmen.
The Bulldogs played a limited varsity schedule until 2004 when the new Priceville had its first senior class and participated in its first year of region play. Priceville went 3-7 that season and 5-5 in 2005. The school moved to 4A in last year, and the football team posted a 4-6 record.
Sixteen seniors last season and a strong group of 18 seniors this season provided a strong base and helped make the transition easier.
"I think that having that many in our upper classes helped," Weeks said. "Obviously, you've got to have some athletes, too, and we've got enough athletes to be able to put it on the line each week and compete."
Priceville returned five starters on offense and six on defense and had to replace quarterback Will Stevens, five-year starter Wesley Long, Daily all-area selection Lonny Sutton, and all-area honorable mention selections Trevor Maxwell, Rand Hutchison and Heath Parker, among others.
The new players have helped, including senior Logan Manthey at quarterback. Junior Justin Anderson and senior Lorand Dragu, who are transplants from Priceville's soccer team, are sharing kicking duties. Junior Christian Barker has provided depth at receiver this year, playing for the first time since he was an eighth-grader.
"They've had to perform to take the place of those guys that graduated," Weeks said.
Three seniors lead Priceville's defense. Halbrooks has 82 tackles and five sacks, followed by Martin with 65 and Allen with 56 and a team-high five interceptions. Junior linebacker Kyle Bunnell has 60 tackles.
Manthey has filled the void at quarterback, completing 46 of 107 passes for 680 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first season with the Bulldogs.
Senior Aaron Sawyer has 23 catches for 400 yards.
Allen and junior fullback Jeremy Hale lead Priceville in rushing. Allen has 130 carries for 800 yards, and Hale follows with 120 carries for 750 yards.
"We're executing better right now offensively," Weeks said. "I've told them in the past that we've stopped ourselves more than other teams have stopped us."
Speaking of being stopped, the Bulldogs said one small piece of history isn't enough. Though they will come into Friday as the underdog, facing a region champion team on the road, Priceville is focused on further accomplishments.
"We don't want to go to the playoffs and just stop in the first round," Halbrooks said. "We want to exceed expectations."
Priceville football at a glance
Priceville High is in the football state playoffs for the first time since the school reopened in 2001. The Bulldogs will play a first-round playoff game at St. Clair County High in Odenville, northeast of Birmingham, on Friday at 7 p.m.
2001: Priceville reopened and played a junior varsity football schedule only.
2002-2003: Played a limited varsity schedule.
2004: Had its first senior class and participated in its first year of region play, making the Bulldogs eligible for the state playoffs for the first time. Went 3-7 in Class 2A, Region 7.
2005: Went 5-5 in 2A, Region 7.
2006: Moved to Class 4A and went 6-4, finishing one win away from qualifying for the playoffs.
2007: Qualified for the playoffs for the first time, finishing as the fourth seed in 4A, Region 7 in strong company behind North Jackson, Madison County and East Limestone — all three of whom have been ranked in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll this season.
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