E.A. Sports Today

Take the next step

As Jacksonville rebuilds, goals remain the same; ‘we want to go further’ than second round of playoffs, Smith says


Coach: Clint Smith (36-19 Jacksonville, 5 years; 93-66 overall)

Aug. 25 – Trinity
Sept. 1 – at Alexandria
Sept. 8 – at Saks
Sept. 15 – Hokes Bluff
Sept. 22 – at Anniston
Sept. 29 – Loachapoka
Oct. 6 – at Ashville
Oct. 13 – Oneonta
Oct. 20 – at White Plains
Oct. 27 – Cherokee County
Nov. 3 – OPEN

By Jay Pace
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — They’ve been playing football at Jacksonville High School for a long, long time. This Friday night when Trinity comes calling at Golden Eagle Stadium in Jacksonville, it will signal the beginning of the 98th season for the program.

Clint Smith has been there for past six. He arrived in the winter of 2012 after seven successful seasons at Saks and the goal this year is much the same as it was then.

“To compete for and win a region championship,” he said. “Right now it’s too early to tell if we will but that’s our goal.”

When Smith arrived nearly six years ago, JHS had made exactly four playoff appearances in its long football history. Smith equaled that feat in five short years.

He has changed the culture at JHS and the attitude surrounding Golden Eagle football.

“When I got here I met with every single boy in the school and sat them down and explained to them what my goals were,” he said. “We talked about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go and how we were going to get there.

“We’ve been able to get the kids out (to play football) and keep them out and that’s important. They don’t just come out for the team and play for a year and then just quit. Guys are sticking with it from the ninth through the 12th grade. We’ve graduated lots of three and four-year starters every year.”

Smith credits consistency and continuity among his staff as a large reason for the success during his tenure.

The message being delivered by Smith and his staff is being heard loud and clear. Last year’s graduating class exited JHS as the winningest in program history, becoming the first class in school history to make the postseason in each of their four years.

“When kids come into our program, they know what is expected,” Smith says. “Our expectations are the same no matter what. Whether we’ve got everybody coming back or nobody. It doesn’t matter. And our kids have bought into that.”

While the long term goals – region championship, and a run deep into the postseason remain intact – the immediate goal is to erase the stain from the end of last season that tarnished an otherwise memorable 2016 campaign.

After an 8-0 start Jacksonville dropped its final two games of the year, to finish 8-2. The first, a 35-21 decision in the regular season finale against Region 5 power Cherokee County, cost the Golden Eagles their first region title since 1999. The second, a 46-23 pounding at the hands of Cordova in the first round of the Class 4A AHSAA playoffs, cost the Eagles their season.

“We were not playing well at the end of the year,” Smith said. “It was a good season, we made it to the second round of the playoffs, but we want to go further. That’s the mentality we want this team to take on – to take that next step. Get out of the first and second round and get into the semifinals and play for and win a state championship.”

Despite losing some key contributors from last year’s senior class, the mission, the message and the expectations remain the same.

The first step towards that goal is just a few days away.

“We’ll find out what we’re all about Friday night,” Smith said.

On the cover: Jacksonville coach Clint Smith instructs his team during its 7-on-7 camp appearance at Piedmont. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

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