E.A. Sports Today

Talladega notes

Here are some highlights from Friday’s sixth annual Talladega County Football Media Day at Talladega Superspeedway

Munford coach Bill Smith (C) makes a point between Marshall Clark (L) and Tanner Reeves during Friday’s Talladega County Football Media Day.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Bill Smith admitted he made a mistake last year.

He was asked at the annual Talladega County Football Media Day what the team goals were for his Munford Lions after playing in the Class 4A semifinals the year before and he replied simply “win a state championship.”

The Lions went 6-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs in overtime, a game that Smith said “really ate at my gut.”

He wasn’t going to make that proclamation again, so his response was a bit more reserved when he got the question Friday.

“As a head football coach my role is to make sure that I get these guys to play to their highest potential and we reach the highest potential we can as individuals, but, really, as a team,” Smith said. “I think we’ve got a good group of older players mixed in with a lot of younger guys this year, so we feel good about this season. Our expectations are high, but our goal is to be the best Munford team we possibly can be. If we achieve that, we have a chance at an excellent season.”

The Lions have several question marks after losing their leading passer, running back, receiver and tackler. The replacements are likely to come from several tenth-graders, which gave Smith the opportunity to repeat an adage that follows for every tenth-grader you start you can expect one loss.

Quarterback Tanner Reeves and linebacker Marshall Clark weren’t looking too convinced. Clark later acknowledged the expectation at Munford is always to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“Our 10th graders are not usual 10th graders, they’re more mature,” Reeves said. “And this year we have more leadership to take them under our wing. We’ve got them and they got us. I’m not really buying into that law. We work too hard, they work too hard, to have that happen.”

“They’re just as good as I am, they just hadn’t been here longer,” Clark said. “They’ve bought through the process. I can’t see that loss to every sophomore.”

One of the Lions’ top players is expected to be one of those sophomores. Zay Britt was impressive last year as a freshman, scoring 14 touchdowns, and his star is projected to do nothing but rise. He ran a 4.41 at Alabama’s camp and a 4.4 at UAB Thursday.

“He’s had a really good summer,” Smith said. “He’s going to have an expanded role, much like Keith Mixon had a Shades Valley. We’re hoping for him to be that type of player.”

TALLADEGA: When Robert Herring stepped down as head coach at the end of last season, you knew the return game of the Tigers’ contract with Oxford wasn’t long for this world. After all, the series was made out of brother helping brother.

But that meant the Tigers had to find a replacement or they’d be playing only nine games for the third time in four years. New coach Ted Darby had plenty of takers – “it’s not hard being Talladega, everybody in the country will call you,” he said – but he wanted to make a wise choice for the development of his program.

The Tigers replaced 6A Oxford with 5A Alexandria and will open their season at Lou Scales Stadium in the Valley Aug. 25. The teams haven’t played since 1962, although the Valley Cubs did play a Talladega B team in 1976.

“I’m not scared to play anybody,” said Darby, a former Oxford quarterback, “but there’s some things you’re dumb to do and there are things smart to do.

“Alexandria, year in year out, is always a top-notch program in 5A. That’s what I tell kids; that’s where I want to be. Why would you want to play somebody in 6A or 7A? My kids are not up for hire, so I want to go and play somebody in our class, have a great opener. I wanted a challenge and I wanted somebody that’s in 5A that’s in the top of 5A where we see where we’re at.”

TCC coach Chris Mahand (C) is confident with the leadership of nose guard Mikell Armbrester (L) and running back Kylen Cross the Fighting’ Tigers can contend for their region championship.

TALLADEGA COUNTY CENTRAL: The word this year around Howell Cove is accountability.

Each of coach Chris Mahand’s three teams in his second tenure with the program have made the playoffs, but none have gotten past the first round and he’s eager to see this senior-laden team reach its full potential.

“TC’s always had talent,” Mahand said. “Before I got there, before these guys were born, TC has always been known for talent, but you’ve got to get these kids to respect the game that they’re playing and be accountable for their actions.

“If we’re going to want to be one of the better teams in this region we’re going to have to work to be that way.”

Their ultimate goal is to win their first state championship, but they’re committed to taking things a step at a time, so that places intermediate goals at making the playoff and winning the region. A top two finish in the region would set them up for their first home playoff game since 2008, the last time they won a region crown and won a playoff game.

Last year they lost in the first round to eventual state champion Maplesville, 61-6.

“Making the playoffs, we’ve done that; it’s time to go past that,” Mahand said. “We made it to the first round the last three years and that’s just not good enough. The fans expect more out of us, the kids expect more out of the coaches and we expect more out of the kids.

“We want to make it to the playoffs like everybody, definitely get out of the first round, but I expect us to compete for the region this year. That’s our main goal, to win the region.”

Getting off to a fast start would be helpful. The Fightin’ Tigers have been slow out of the gate each of the last three years – against the toughest part of their schedule – and had to put together a late-season push to make the playoffs.

They open their season this year Sept. 1 at Talladega.

Winterboro quarterback Omar Dobbins (L) and lineman R.J. Burns (R) talk about how head coach Alan Beckett (C) has made a difference in their lives.

WINTERBORO: The Bulldogs aren’t shy about their expectations for the 2017 season – get back to the playoffs and beat the four teams that beat them last season.

With that in mind, they took a more relaxed approach to their early summer workouts – after their best winter workouts ever – with an eye to being fresher mentally and physically for the most demanding part of their schedule than they were last year. They started the season 5-1, but lost four of their last five games, including a second one-sided loss to Isabella in the opening round of the playoffs.

The first part of the workouts was voluntary, which allowed the players to recharge and work at their own pace. When they came back for a more structured schedule, they came back sharp and motivated to get after it.

“I feel like we have something to prove,” quarterback Omar Dobbins said. “We’re a very overlooked football team by our talent. Everyone who beat us last year I want to go back and beat them again. I just want the chance to win and have a good year.”

Earlier this month, Bulldogs head coach Alan Beckett was one of seven recipients of the AHSAA Making A Difference Award for going beyond the normal duties of a coach/administrator to make a positive impact on their communities. Ohatchee athletics director Bobby Tittle was the Class 3A winner.

Dobbins and lineman R.J. Burns both gave examples of the way Beckett has had a positive impact on their lives on and off the field.

“That’s a lot of what it’s about,” Beckett said, “to help kids have a better life and to see them through their ups and downs during their teenage years and beyond. I tell kids coming into the program it’s not a four-year season; we’re going to check on them the rest of their lives. You want to do the best and be the best, but at the same time you want to make it a good experience for the kids and have an impact on their lives. That’s what that award signifies.”

The Bulldogs open their season Aug. 25 against Keith.

FRIENDLY RIVALS: If there’s one game Sylacauga coach Matt Griffith really isn’t looking forward to playing this year it’s the Aggies’ Sept. 8 region opener at Lincoln.

That’s because when he looks across the field, the head coach staring back will be his good friend and longtime defensive coordinator 12 years, Matt Zedaker.

“As soon as this season is over reclassification hits and we’re really hoping we’re not in the same region together,” Griffith said. “We’re not going to schedule each other because we like to compare notes all the time.”

Zedaker, who replaced Brad Wallace as the Golden Bears’ head coach, has lifelong connections to Sylacauga, which is what will make the Sept. 8 game so uncomfortable. He played there, then came back and coached there.

“I want him to do well because he is us, born and raised there,” Griffith said. “We think we have a good, solid program that has been winning and long time and we think that will help Lincoln. He’ll put his own touches on it, he’s an up-and-coming guy, it’s going to be really good.

“That was a great hire for Lincoln High School, but it’s going to be different. He knows my calls, I know his calls, so there might be some feeling out when we first start playing each other.”

Here are the new look helmets for Lincoln (L) and Talladega.

NEW COACHES, NEW STUFF: Lincoln and Talladega both have new head coaches this year and one of the first things each did when they came in was change the look of their brands.

Both teams have new uniforms and will be wearing headgear with matte finishes. At Talladega, new coach Ted Darby’s team will wear red home jerseys with Tigers on the front above the number and replaced the tradition T decal with a Talladega Tigers shield on the helmet. New Lincoln coach Matt Zedaker has affixed a bear claw on his team’s headgear.

“The first time I met with the seniors the first question was ‘Are we going to get new uniforms?’” Zedaker said. “We wanted to brand ourselves a little different. We’re using the bear claw on our attire and helmet. The kids like it; they’re excited about it. I heard Coach Darby say earlier in the day if you look good, you play good. I believe kids like looking good and like being in new uniforms and new things. Hopefully that translates into some wins.”

Paul Kulick is the third new head coach in Talladega County this season, but he isn’t really new, simply returning to ASD after a two-year break to coach girls basketball. His first run was from 2005 to 2014 and his teams went 47-46. The door opened for his return when former coach Herminio Gonzalez left for a job in California.

“I’m excited to be back as the head coach,” Kulick said. “I’m here to change the program. I’m back home. We’re going to make it champions again.

“Herminio did an awesome job with our football program since I’ve been gone. Now that he’s left and I’m back it’s going to make everything easier for me just to pick up where he left off. We’re in top shape right now and I’m looking forward to working with these boys. I think we have a wonderful group of guys this year, really awesome. I think we’ll have a good year this year. These boys are taking the initiative this year. ASD is not going to be at the bottom. We’re going to move up to the top this year.”

EXTRA POINTS: Lincoln has a four-man battle going at quarterback. New coach Matt Zedaker figures within the second week of camp the Bears will determine their starter. The good thing is each of the others are “good other position players” … While most teams spent their summer playing 7-on-7 games, B.B. Comer was going at it 11-on-11 to see an entire team in action. The Tigers are looking to bounce back from a 1-9 season in which they won the season finale to avoid their second winless season in three years … ASD coach Paul Kulick said the Silent Warriors are not playing 8-man football teams this year, but don’t look at that as a prelude to seeking status in an AHSAA region. The Silent Warriors enjoy playing the out-of-state deaf schools that dominate their schedule.

This story will be updated.

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