E.A. Sports Today

Indians encore

County football fans will get a first look at the way Ohatchee plans to follow last season’s big year in Thursday’a Spring Jamboree at JSU

At JSU Stadium

Thursday’s games
Ohatchee vs. Weaver, 4:30 p.m.
Alexandria vs. Wellborn, 7 p.m.
Friday’s games
Pleasant Valley vs. White Plains, 4:30 p.m.
Saks vs. Russellville, 7 p.m.

By Jay Pace
For East Alabama Sports Today

Coming off their best season in school history, the main question surrounding the 2017 Ohatchee Indians is what will they do for an encore?

The first part of that answer for fourth-year head coach Scott Martin is finding capable replacements at the quarterback and running back positions. For the first time in his Ohatchee tenure, Martin will enter the season with new faces at two of the most important positions on the field.

Gone is a pair of all-state performers in quarterback Taylor Eubanks and running back Austin Tucker. Collectively, they formed a vicious two-headed monster in an Ohatchee backfield that ran roughshod over the opposition, piling up nearly 43 points per game and more than 5,000 yards of offense. The departure of yet another all-state selection in lineman Caleb Montgomery won’t help the process of transitioning to life in 2017 easier, either.

And while Martin admits replacing those guys won’t be easy, the forecast for the 2017 squad isn’t nearly as bleak as one might think.

“You don’t replace them,” Martin said of Eubanks and Tucker. “But, at the same time we’ve got very capable players. I’m very confident in what the guys that we have to replace them can do.”

Martin cites the success of the JV and “B” teams that posted identical 7-1 and 6-2 records each of the last two seasons, coupled with the return of 17 seniors as the reasons for his optimism.

“You hope your young guys have followed suit and paid attention and done the things they’re supposed to do,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine.”

While Grayson Alward is firmly entrenched as the Indians’ signal caller coming out of spring practice the rest of the backfield picture is a bit murkier.

“Right now I’d say we have a running back by committee, but we do have definite starters,” Martin explained. “If I were to walk out tomorrow, Jesse Sellers is gonna play tailback, Grayson Alward is gonna play quarterback and Kevin Williamson is gonna play wingback.”

Cam McCombs and Dominique Thomas are also expected to see plenty of action in a crowded Ohatchee backfield.

If an encore-worthy performance is in the cards for 2017, it will be directly tied to the performance of this group. The ebb and flow of Ohatchee’s football fortunes lives and dies with its backfield.

While the offense received most of the acclaim, an equally impressive defense remained content out of the spotlight while it quietly suffocated its opponents, allowing just 18.8 points per game. It posted two shutouts – one in the playoffs – and held five opponents to seven points or fewer. Their only two losses came to Piedmont, in the regular season and the state semifinals.

Martin expects more of the same from that group in 2017.

“Our first inclination every time we walk out is to stack our defense,” he said. “Our D didn’t get the acclaim it deserved last year, but they were very good. They kept us in football games. We cannot win football games if we cannot stop teams offensively from scoring points.

“I’m anticipating that our defense is going to be good again.”

Everyone will get to see what the Indians have put together Thursday night when they play Class 3A Region 5 rival Weaver in the first game of the two-day Calhoun County Spring Jamboree at Jacksonville State.

Like Ohatchee, many are also wondering what the Bearcats will do for an encore. They went 9-4 last season in a campaign that ended with a 52-28 loss to Piedmont in Class 3A quarterfinals. They would have played Ohatchee had they won.

The Indians handed Weaver its first loss of the season last year 41-21. This year, they will face each other in an early-season showdown with all sorts of potential postseason ramifications in play Sept. 22 on the Creekbank.

Because of his familiarity with the opponent, Martin plans to keep things close to the vest Thursday.

“You don’t struggle to prepare for them because you play them all the time,” he said. “You know what they’re going to do. They know what we’re going to do. If there are any pros, that’s it. You don’t like playing people (in the jamboree) that you play all the time.”

With that in mind, those looking for an early peek at an encore are probably going to have to wait a bit longer before getting their answer.

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