E.A. Sports Today

Looking to rise

Herring and staff are trying to ‘make Talladega great again’ by getting the players to buy into doing the right things

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Robert Herring isn’t the type coach who believes in sugar coating any situation for his players. Times have been hard in the Talladega High School football program for a lot longer than he’s been there, but he knows it doesn’t have to be that way if they can just get the players to buy in to doing the right things.

They don’t talk to the players about winning a state championship or going undefeated; too much pie in the sky right now. Of course, they’d like for those things to happen, but the Tigers have many steps to take before that can even start showing up on that radar screen. The steps they’re talking about are the ones that change a culture, things that not only in time would make the Tigers a better football team, but their players better citizens long after their high school days fade into memory.

The goals they talk about are the things that could happen at the end of the season if they show up and work hard and have pride and commitment throughout the year. So far Herring has liked what he’s seen and, because of it, for the first time in his four seasons senses the Tigers have a real chance to finish 5-5 and maybe sneak into the playoffs as the fourth time from their very challenging Class 5A region.

To steal a phrase from a certain presidential candidate, they want to be on the front line of making Talladega great again – not just the high school and its football program, but the city.

Herring knows the football team is just a small part of it, but it can be the beacon. He remembers how it used to be when when he rode through on the Oxford team bus at a time when the Oxford-Talladega series was a war.

That seems so long ago given the hard times the Tigers have fallen upon. They haven’t won more than three games in a season in 20 years and haven’t had a winning season since 1994.

There were times when there was no telling how many – if any – players would show up from one day’s workout to the next. As it is, the Tigers have overall roster and senior numbers comparable to that of a 1A team. This summer, however, with few exceptions the same group has been there for every workout.

That can get a lot of stuff done.

“Everybody’s on the same track now,” guard/linebacker Jamonte Twymon said. “Everybody likes to do stuff together; it used not to be that way.”

While Herring spoke passionately about being an agent for change at Talladega during Friday’s Talladega County Football Coaches Preseason Media Day, the most impassioned testimonial came from his volunteer defensive line coach.

Carlos Battle was an all-state defensive lineman on Sylacauga’s 1997 state semifinals team that went 10-0 in the regular season. The key to returning the Tigers to their past glory, he said, is bringing them together, with a streamlined feeder system that’s teaching the same principles as the varsity coach.

“The main thing to get Talladega back rolling, it has to get unseparated,” Battle said. “We have to get two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, and once we get these kids growing up together and knowing each other together instead of playing at different schools and by time they get to middle school they disappear to be somebody else’s product … we will start being that powerhouse again, but right now we’re still separated.

“But we’re working on that.”

They’re encouraged by what they perceive as an upper administration more “athletic minded” than some in the past.

They’re encouraged by the work they’ve seen the players put in — not only athletically but academically. They’re starting to score higher on the ACT. They’re starting to register for the NCAA Clearinghouse. They’re starting to put goals on the board and actually checking them off as achieved.

“This football program and these kids will show you all and our fans that we’re working,” Battle said. “They have made so many sacrifices in their lives and they’ve showed us how much they’ve grown from young boys out there on the street having dreams about playing football into young men knowing what the dreams and visions are like.

“These kids are going to surprise you. These kids will show Talladega what Talladega High School is all about. I believe in these kids. I believe we will have a great season this year. I believe this will be a history-making season this year. These kids will show y’all what Talladega’s about.”

On the cover: (From left) Jae-lyn Ross, head coach Robert Herring, Jamonte Twymon and defensive line coach Carlos Battle talk about the upcoming Talladega football season.

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