2018 Meek Tigers football team and coaches (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)
ARLEY – After posting a 7-4 record and making it to the postseason in 2017, the Meek Tigers have back-to-back playoff trips on their minds this time around. Head Coach David Norwood is entering his second season with the Tigers and after a solid year one, he wants to continue building a strong foundation. Norwood is pleased with how the offseason has gone for his team and talked about one of the focuses for him and his staff: the offensive line. Four senior linemen and a senior tight end on last year’s roster graduated in May, so identifying several players for the offensive front was critical.
“I think we’ve had a very productive summer. We’ve had a couple of OTAs (organized team activities) and some seven-on-seven competitions that last week of June and some in July. Obviously one of our big goals in the spring and this offseason was to try and find three offensive linemen. This summer we’ve had some kids step up and then we’ve also had a couple of kids that haven’t played before come out that we think are really going to help us,” said Norwood. “So, mainly for us it was about the offensive line because we lost everybody but one and we have a kid that played some snaps on offense, but he wasn’t a full-time starter. So, we were looking at having to replace three or four offensive linemen and I feel good about what we got accomplished in the spring and like I said we also had a very productive summer.”
One of the most obvious absences for the Tigers this season will be John Mark Abercrombie in the backfield. Abercrombie’s stellar senior season earned him a spot on the All-State First Team and that kind of production isn’t easily replaced. Fortunately, the Tigers will see a few injured players return to the field as well as several returning starters at the skill positions this season.
“My quarterback is back this season, but we’ll have to replace three offensive linemen. Pretty much all of the receiving corps is back and there were some key spots on defense that we’ll have to replace, but one of the biggest things last year is we lost our starting running back. Right at the beginning of the season he broke his leg, and that’s Gabe Jones,” Norwood said. “So, he’ll be back this season and I think that’s really going to help us. Last year we lost two starters right before the season ever started and on the third play from scrimmage one of our better offensive linemen, Bryar Gibson, broke his leg. So, we’ll have both of those guys back for us this year and that’ll help us.”
One of the members of that receiving corps and defensive backfield for the Tigers, Caleb Aaron, and his team have been focused on strength and speed as a group, but Aaron is also working on his skills defensively.
“The biggest thing for our team has been strength and conditioning,” Aaron shared. “We’re young so we have to get stronger and faster, and just personally I’ve mainly been working on coverage on defense and getting my footwork right.”
Aaron agrees with his coach’s philosophy that you have to play one game at a time, but the big picture goal for him and the Tigers is to play a postseason game on Meek Field.
“We just have to take it game by game, but obviously making the playoffs and winning the region is a goal for us and getting to host a playoff game,” said Aaron. “We haven’t hosted one in a while so that would be cool.”
As a senior on this year’s team, Aaron understands his role as a mentor to the younger players and is optimistic that last year’s playoff game was a valuable experience for everyone this year.
“The experience for the younger guys I think helped a lot. Since none of us had been there before I think it’ll definitely help to know what we’re going into,” Aaron said. “You just have to talk to them and let them know you’re there to help them out. You can’t just get onto them, they’re young and don’t have the experience we do so you just have to help them.”
The Tigers have some tough trips on the schedule this year, including a week one trip to Cold Springs on Aug. 23, but for Norwood and his team, the focus has been on themselves.
“Honestly, we’re really been more concerned about us than the opponent,” Norwood said. “We’ll kind of start getting into that closer to the game, but we’ve just been trying to work on ourselves this summer, really concentrating on what we do and not trying to worry about what other people do.”
As Norwood enters his second season on the sideline for the Tigers, he wants to keep the message simple and consistent for his team: “Just do your job.”
Norwood is excited to see what this group can do on the field this season.
“This is a really great group of kids. It’s been one of the best summers I’ve had in coaching,” Norwood said. “Like I said, I think it’s been a very productive summer for us and really the motto we had last year is the same motto we have this year. We’re trying to get the kids to buy into: ‘Do your job, just do your job.’”
2018 Meek football schedule
Aug. 23 at Cold Springs
Aug.31 v. Winston County
Sept. 7 at South Lamar
Sept. 14 v. Hubbertville
Sept.21 at Berry
Sept.28 v. Sumiton Christian
Oct. 5 v. Brilliant
Oct. 12 at Pickens County
Oct. 19 at Marion County
Oct. 26 v. Lynn
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