Bearcats have early morning workout on first day of fall practice


CULLMAN – Twenty seven seniors are gone from a Cullman Bearcat team that has gone 26-11 in the last three years, including a rather impressive 16-4 record in regional play.


Now coach Mark Britton has to replace plenty of personnel at the skilled position with Cullman making the move to Class 6A in the reclassification by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.


Cullman will have a challenging schedule in 2014 that starts on the third Friday of August instead of the fourth weekend. The Bearcats opted for that after the AHSAA put it into writing that teams can open the regular season on the weekend of August 21 instead of playing a jamboree game.


The Bearcats opened fall workouts Monday morning for a three-hour period at Oliver Woodard Stadium. It was the first of two sessions for the 'Cats with Britton about to begin his 14th season at his alma mater.


Last season, he passed Woodard as the winningest coach in Cullman history. He has 113 victories against 45 losses and has led the 'Cats to the postseason in 12 of his 13 seasons.


"We had a good offseason program," he said. "We got great participation from the team. They did a lot of running during the summer."


Cullman divided into groups in the first practice in shorts and helmets, going through every phase of the game from offense to defense and the kicking game.

The 'Cats will be young in numerous positions. Ross Crocker is now the leader at quarterback and is only a sophomore. He replaces Tyler Glenn who graduated and is the younger brother of Zac Crocker who quarterbacked Cullman to a 10-3 record in 2012 and berth to the quarterfinal round of the 5A playoffs.


Will Crenshaw anchors the running attack while the main weapons currently at wide receiver are Maison Goodwin and Seth Donaldson. The others who will be counted on for running pass routes are sophomores.


Three seniors make up the front of the offense as Crocker, his backs and receivers will work on executing from the spread formation.


Cullman has no senior that will start in the defensive line, but do provide experience. At linebacker, they look to Connor Moon as a leader.


An addition the Bearcats welcome is Brontae Harris. Harris transferred to Cullman in the summer after having a good career as a student athlete at Hanceville High School.


Harris worked with the secondary Monday and could be counted on as a return specialist. Harris was 1st team All-State in Class 3A last year at the athlete position for Hanceville who was 9-2 and 6-1 in 3A, Region 7.


What the 'Cats are working on to improve Britton said is emphasize team speed.


Cullman renews its rivalry with Arab on Aug. 22. The Bearcats have won seven straight against the Knights. The last time they played each other was in round one of the 5A playoffs in 2012 with Cullman crushing the Knights 49-14 at Woodard Stadium.


The 'Cats lead the all-time series 39-16-2.


Then on the final Friday of August, it's a journey to Attalla for a game with Etowah. Cullman and the Blue Devils are playing for the first time since the 2006 state playoffs. Cullman has four straight wins against Etowah and is 11-5-1 in the series that began back in 1959 with a 0-0 tie.


Britton's unit will be in Region 8 of Class 6A. The opener is September 11 on a Thursday night at Woodard Stadium against Florence.


On Sept. 19, Cullman plays at Ogle Stadium in Decatur against the Austin Black Bears. They go out of regional play on Sept. 26 with a tough assignment at Fayette County.


The second half of the season has Cullman at home in a regional game with Athens October 3, a trip to Hartselle for a regional game October 10 and at home on the 17th for a regional clash vs. Decatur.


The region schedule concludes on October 24 in Muscle Shoals. The Trojans defeated the Bearcats last season to win the 5A, Region 8 title. Cullman hopes to turn it around this time in completing its first year of 6A football on the next to last Friday in October.


A week later, the regular season concludes with the Bearcats at home on Halloween facing Russellville.


Last year was the first time in the Britton era Cullman had defeated Walker, Hartselle, Athens and Russellville in the same year.


Their non-regional schedule is as tough as it can get with Fayette County a solid contender in Class 4A for the state title with Russellville no longer a regional opponent, but a solid contender in Region 7 of 5A.


Britton said he was glad that the Arab rivalry is back on schedule and hopes it serves as a purpose for the rest of the athletic program at both schools to meet one another because of the short distance of 25 miles between the pair. It is also an intense rivalry.


Cullman will try to spoil the debut of Adam Gilbert who comes to Arab after Watt Parker left to go back into his home area of Shelby County. Gilbert coached at North Sand Mountain before getting hired in the spring by the Arab City School Board.