L-R: Hanceville OL Colin Long, Good Hope RB Matt Dixon, Vinemont WR Hudson Wood, Addison LB Gage Gilliland, Cullman OL Jordan Ray, Cold Springs TE Francisco Ayala, Meek WR Caleb Aaron, West Point QB Rylan Jones, Fairview QB Dayne Black. Not Pictured: Holly Pond LB/OL Jacob Ring. (Sam Roberts for The Cullman Tribune)
CULLMAN – High school football season is in sight, and the 10 Cullman-area teams are gearing up for a big year. Some, like Holly Pond, Addison, Cullman, Meek and West Point will be trying to make their way back to the postseason, while Vinemont, Cold Springs, Good Hope, Hanceville and Fairview will try to build off last season to put together a postseason run in 2018.
There will be some new faces on the sidelines in Cullman and Hanceville. Head coaches Matt Plunkett and Cody McCain are embarking on their first seasons with the Bearcats and Bulldogs, respectively.
The 2017 season was a long one for the Bulldogs as they finished the year 1-9, but McCain has seen his team take big steps this offseason and is excited to see what his players can do in 2018.
“I had about a month with the guys before we started spring training, so I came in and tried to get my feet wet as quickly as possible, but I think spring went a long way with us. We had nine good practices and a successful spring game, so I think the kids saw a little bit of the results of what we’re trying do and we saw some positive things come out of that,” McCain said. “As far as what I’m looking forward to this season, last season was 1-9 for the guys and I think they feel like they’re a lot better team than that, and I think we’re a lot better team than that. They’ve shown a real strong desire and a lot of hunger to work hard and I think we’ll have a team that really plays hard on the field and also has some talent.”
Just 10 miles up the road, the Cullman Bearcats are also getting ready for a new season with a new coach. The Bearcats were put out in the first round of the playoffs last season, and even though some people see 2018 as a rebuilding year, Plunkett and the Bearcats are ready to win now.
“I believe that we’ve really developed a competitive football team. I believe we’ll have a chance to win every game in the regular season. I think that we’ll go out there and play really hard and in the fourth quarter it’ll come down to two or three plays, whether the game busts open for us or it slips away from us,” Plunkett said. “My goal for this first season is for us to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter of every game. I believe our strength, numbers and the work we’ve done this offseason will give us the ability to do that.”
The Addison Bulldogs will also be defending a playoff spot this season. Head Coach David Smothers is entering his seventh season with the Bulldogs and after posting a 10-3 record last season and making it to round three of the state playoffs, Addison will look to make waves again in 2018. All-State performers Hayden Ray, Matthew Harris and Zayne Guthrie will be back on the field for the Bulldogs this year and will look to anchor a roster that lost just eight seniors from last year’s team.
The Cold Springs Eagles are another team that will have most of last year’s roster intact this fall. Just nine seniors graduated from the 2017 team, and as a result, the Eagles will see a lot of familiar faces return in 2018, particularly in the backfield. Jordan Lacey, Caleb Roden, Calvin McNabb and Ayden Alexander all picked up valuable experience on the field last season and are set up to have big years for the Eagles’ offense. Rod Elliott is entering his 11th season as head coach at Cold Springs, and after finishing last season 1-9, he and his team will be anxious to exceed expectations in 2018.
Another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 season is the Fairview Aggies. The Aggies finished 2-7 last season and are replacing a lot of seniors on the offensive side of the ball, particularly skill positions, but they do have a lot of experience returning in the front lines on both sides. Quarterback Dayne Black is also back for Head Coach George Redding this season, and after the invaluable experience he got last year, they’ll look to him as a leader on offense in 2018.
Alan Scott will be entering his fourth year as the head man for the Good Hope Raiders and after coming up just short of a playoff spot last season, he and his team know that they have a chance to take a big step forward this season.
“We’ve had really good attendance; the kids are working hard, and they’ve got a good attitude so we’re really feeling positive so far,” Scott said. “This year is a little bit unique. We have 25 seniors on the roster; we only graduated four from last year, so we don’t have to replace hardly anyone. Our defensive backfield was hurt through graduation and we had an offensive lineman, Tucker Putman, that was very good, but those are really the only roles that we’ve had to shore up. It’s a pretty long list of guys this year because we do have so much depth and experience.”
For the Holly Pond Broncos, the running game is the top priority on offense, and the Broncos will have two big-time ball carriers returning to the field this fall. 2017 All-State Honorable Mention selection Kyler Chaney will be back under center for his junior season at Holly Pond, and behind him, Jeremiah Holmes will return at running back. Head Coach Mike Bates and his staff will have to find some new faces on the offensive and defensive lines this season, but Holmes and Chaney will certainly make that a little easier. The Broncos finished the regular season 7-3 before falling in round one of the state playoffs last year and will be hungry to get back to the postseason in 2018.
Speaking of the running game, Head Coach David Norwood and the Meek Tigers might have the biggest hurdle of anyone in the area this season when it comes to replacing production. The Tigers will have to put together another strong ground game without star running back John Mark Abercrombie. Abercrombie led Class 1A in rushing last season and was selected to the All-State First Team. That powerful running game led Meek to a 7-4 record and postseason appearance in Norwood’s first season, but the Tigers are ready to keep moving forward.
Norwood believes that the summer has been very productive for his team and one of his goals was to identify some offensive linemen who can take on a bigger role this fall. The Tigers will be replacing all but one of last year’s front five, but with the results he’s seen over the offseason along with a couple injured players returning from last year, Norwood thinks Meek will be back in the thick of the playoff hunt in 2018.
After a 2-8 finish to last season, the Vinemont Eagles and Head Coach Stephen Robinson are anxious to get back on the field. Robinson is entering his second season as head coach and he has liked what he’s seen during the offseason.
“I feel like the summer has gone excellent for us. We’ve had great attendance all summer, 40-plus at every workout,” Robinson said. “We’ve been to quite a few competitions, seven-on-sevens, and been competitive in all those so it’s been a good summer as far as numbers and the kids getting some experience.”
Robinson feels good about his team going into the season and is excited to see them compete this fall.
“Coming from where we were last year and where we were years before that going into my second year, our goal is to be the most physical team on the field and to be competitive in every game,” Robinson said. “We feel like we have a good chance to surprise some people this year, but I think every coach probably feels that way this time of year. For us coaches, we just expect our kids to play harder than the other team and to be more physical, that’s what we want.”
Last but not least, the West Point Warriors are yet another local team that will be fighting to get back to the state playoffs after a solid 2017 campaign. The Warriors posted a 6-5 record last fall after coming up short in the first round of state playoffs. Head Coach Don Farley likes the way his roster is shaping up and looks forward to seeing how the Warriors play together on Friday nights.
“We’ve got 16 seniors and 13 juniors, and we’ve got 60 on the roster right now so we’re split about evenly as far as upperclassmen and underclassmen. We’ve had a great summer; the kids have worked really hard and I’m excited to see what happens,” Farley said. “We’ve made the playoffs four straight years, so we’ll see what this bunch can do and how they can put their mark on the program.”
Eighteen seniors are gone from last year’s team including First Team All-State offensive lineman Deakon Hembree. Farley and his staff have had their work cut out for them replacing production on the offensive and defensive lines, but the Warriors still have a lot coming back to be excited about.
“Both sides on the line of scrimmage are where we’re really looking for guys to step up. There’s opportunities for guys to step up and we’re looking for some depth,” Farley said. “Of course, we have Hunter Persall coming back. Hunter was a 2,100-yard rusher last year, led 5A in rushing, All-State player. He’s back and we’ll look to make sure he gets his touches.”
With so many good players returning to field across this fall, the stage is set for the 2018 football season to be a memorable one in the Cullman area.
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