VINEMONT – It has been a learning process for Matt Norris during his time with the Vinemont Eagles. In 2014, Norris was the defensive coordinator and the Eagles made a late season surge that got them a berth in the AHSAA playoffs.
Last season, Norris was elevated to the head position after Alan Scott stepped down to take a similar spot at Good Hope High School. The Eagles battled, but came up short and only produced one victory in 10 opportunities.
Now Vinemont looks for success to return in 2016 with positives in experience in the line of scrimmage, plus at arguably the most valuable position on the field, quarterback.
Garrett Boland is back for his senior season. Boland is a dual threat in running and throwing the football.
Boland had a memorable performance with three touchdowns in the season opener of a 42-33 loss to the Addison Bulldogs.
Back in May, Boland was again showing what he possesses when the ball is in his hands. In the jamboree game with West Point, Boland factored in with 118 yards of total offense in the second quarter, including a 70-yard drive that took 11 snaps and three-and-a-half minutes of time to put the Eagles ahead of the Warriors at the half, 8-7.
Running out of the spread formation can keep defenses off balance, not sure when Boland will run it, hand it off or put the ball into the air.
Cody Stewart will get plenty of touches in the backfield while the Eagles will look to go deep to Seth Campbell. A healthy Colby Nicholas is a plus. Nicholas was out in the spring due to an ankle injury and adds to the depth as a wideout.
What will be a key for the Eagles comes up front. They need consistent play from the likes of Levi Maddox, Lane Smith, Jaythan Blanton, Daymon Gustafson, Gage Bailey, Derrick Ransom, Jake Borden and Braxton McDuffee.
Going into the fall, Norris pointed out the Eagles need to be consistent in the scrimmage and to succeed in the passing game when defenses begin to stack the line and try to slow down the pace created by Boland.
A healthy Boland is also a must for this team to move forward after one win in 2015. The Eagles see half of their schedule in region play remaining the same as it was last season. But they have plenty of newcomers to join them in Region 6 of Class 3A.
Vinemont has a different approach to the season than the majority of the county schools. They will play on the weekend of Aug. 18 with a jamboree game, but the season doesn't get started until the 25th when the Eagles resume their rivalry with the Good Hope Raiders at James Shabel Stadium.
To open the schedule in the region, Vinemont has Locust Fork visiting Mark Smothers Stadium Sept. 2.
Then it's a county and regional showdown on the 9th when the Eagles go to Ray Talley Stadium and play the Hanceville Bulldogs.
The Hanceville game is the first of three straight trips on the road for Norris and his squad. They journey into Jefferson County on the 16th for a regional game with Fultondale then go to Addison on the 23rd for a non-regional assignment vs. the Bulldogs.
Priceville completes the first half of the schedule with the pair meeting in Vinemont Sept. 30. Neither have faced each other on the gridiron. Priceville, who started football back in 2002, will now have played each of the schools in the Cullman County system when they meet Vinemont on the final Friday night of the ninth month of the year.
Consecutive home games in the region with schools from Blount County is what Vinemont will have in October. The J.B. Pennington Tigers come from Blountsville to Smothers Stadium Oct. 7 and the Susan Moore Bulldogs are in town for a battle on Oct. 14.
Then, back on the road with a game at Holly Pond Oct. 21 to end the region schedule. The Eagles scored in the final minute of last season's contest to pull out a hard fought 29-25 victory.
A rival that is 10 miles from the Vinemont campus is back on the schedule. The Falkville Blue Devils will come calling on Oct. 28. The two haven't played since 2009 with this to be the 40th meeting between the rivals.
Vinemont leads the all-time series 23 wins to 16 for the Blue Devils.
During the offseason, Mark Smothers Stadium has seen some changes. A track was created with a fence between the sidelines and the stands. The facility was completed prior to the start of fall practice.