E.A. Sports Today

Local prep notes

Cubs, Jackets play on Thursday as playoffs begin (with pairings), Ohatchee’s Martin a Jr. fan, Harrell back in the game

Ohatchee football coach Scott Martin takes direction during the filming of his segment in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. appreciation commercial that will air during Sunday’s NASCAR race on NBCSN. (Photo courtesy of Scott Martin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Alexandria and Oxford will open the AHSAA playoffs with games on Thursday night this week.

Alexandria (8-2) will travel to Wenonah (8-1) for a 5A game, while undefeated Oxford (10-0) will host Hueytown (5-5) in 6A.

Alexandria coach Frank Tucker told East Alabama Sports Today earlier this week the Thursday game made sense because both teams were idle Friday and both have the day after the game off from school, so it’s a fair exchange for everyone.

A total of 28 playoff games will be played Thursday, including almost the entire 5A bracket. Other area teams with Thursday games at Randolph County (home vs. North Sand Mountain), Etowah (home vs. Pleasant Grove), Cedar Bluff (home vs. Waterloo), Pell City (home vs. Shades Valley), St. Clair County (at Guntersville), Ranburne (at Tarrant), Westbrook Christian (at Sulligent) and Sylacauga (at Eufaula),

Undefeated Saks (vs. Westminster Christian), Jacksonville (Randolph), top-ranked Piedmont (vs. Geraldine), Ohatchee (at Sylvania) and Weaver (at Plainview) all will play Friday games. Saks and Oxford are among 18 undefeated teams in the state.

See the complete listing of playoff pairings below.

CATCH THE COACH: If you’re planning to watch the NASCAR race Sunday from Texas Motor Speedway make sure you look real close. You might see somebody who looks familiar.

Ohatchee football coach Scott Martin, an interested but not over-the-top NASCAR fan, is in a 30-second Dale Earnhardt Jr. tribute commercial scheduled to air during the race that airs on NBCSN.

He appears in the first three seconds of the spot and is among five local residents who made the cut — Oxford firefighters Curtis Cupp and Donnie Adams among them — from more than a dozen finalists.

Local connections got the ball rolling; he actually was “volunteered” for it, but said he would’ve done it anyway. A production company came in from New York, a producer came in from Nashville and they shot his segment the Friday of the Indians’ open week.

“They gave me about four or five canned lines I had to say,” Martin said. “Things like, ‘Dale, I appreciate you,’ ‘appreciated,’ ‘here’s to you Dale,’ ‘congratulations.’ Then I had to say in my own words why you like Dale and I said because he reminds me of a football coach, a fierce competitor who hates to lose.”

Martin was such a natural they needed only 45 minutes of the 90-minute window they allotted to film his “short snippet” that will appear in the commercial.

“The moment I got contracted to cast this commercial … I knew Scott Martin was a perfect fit who we had to cast,” Oxford casting director Will Estell said. “There’s a stigma involved in casting people who are friends; still, to cast Scott was worth the status quo risk.

“I knew Scott would be good, but I didn’t know Scott would be great, and he was. He is an absolute natural who I would certainly cast in or suggest others to cast anything from commercials to television. He’s a real coach and really good on camera.”

Martin certainly has become as popular as Junior in Ohatchee circles. His teams are 20-4 over the last two seasons with three of the losses coming to two-time reigning state champion Piedmont. The Indians open their own version of NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup Friday night at Sylvania.

Of course, what is only a few seconds of screen time is huge exposure for the Indians’ program. The crew filmed in and around the stadium and the new field house. There might even be a prominent shot of red and white Ohatchee jerseys hanging in individual lockers offset by a lone grey 88 jersey – Junior’s car number – at the end of the line.

“I enjoyed the heck out of it, because it was fun and something I can tell people about,” he said. “Like I told the guy anything that gives us any notoriety for my program directly or indirectly I’m all for it. They might show that shot with the jersey that has ‘Ohatchee’ on it and somebody will see it somewhere in the country and say ‘Where the heck is Ohatchee?’”

BACK IN THE GAME: Marcus Harrell is back coaching in Calhoun County.

Harrell, who brought a winning approach to the White Plains golf program but left there in a dispute over championship rings after a second straight girls state title in 2016, is coaching the Sacred Heart girls basketball team and helping Curtis Hill with the golf team.

He was going to help with golf and the three-time state champion boys basketball program, but the girls basketball job opened recently when Marquita McMurray accepted a position at RMC. McMurray also was coaching the Cardinals’ cross country team that is sending several runners to the state meet this weekend; Harrell’s brother Brock is coaching them.

“I’m just really excited to be back into it,” Marcus said. “When I went on my interview as I was leaving I knew that was the right place for me. The atmosphere is just amazing. The new principal there is super, super nice. And, too, they’re just excited to build some things there and I love that kind of stuff.”

Harrell said it wasn’t difficult to return to coaching after the ring controversy because he still has “a desire to help kids” and still gets excited when he sees his former players. His coaching approach with his new teams will be the same as it was when he was at White Plains. That means a premium on accountability and work ethic.

“The process is the same no matter where I’m coaching,” he said. “My whole thing is first of all we’re going to be the best people we can be, make sure they can develop into the best man or woman they can possibly be, and also we’re going to be the best at whatever sport we’re playing. We’re going to outwork everybody we play against, so the process always remains the same.

“It’s all about the process. Everybody gets too focused on results. Sometimes people are in too much of a hurry to see the results, but as long as you stick to focusing on the process everything will fall into place.”

Harrell built the White Plains girls golf program into a state power with that approach and he sees the challenge to build Sacred Heart’s program being “very similar” to when he got there. He made no prediction when the Cardinals would gain county contender status.

“The only thing I’m focused on and I know Mr. Hill is focused on is just making sure everybody’s got the right grip,” he said. It’s all about the process. We’ll worry about the first practice and after the first one we’ll go to the second one.”

Marcus Harrell, walking with Layne Dyar during the 2016 Calhoun County Girls Golf Championship, is bringing his expertise and coaching style to the golf and basketball programs at Sacred Heart. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

AHSAA 2017 Football Playoffs
First-round Pairings
(All games Friday unless noted)

Millry (5-5) at Isabella (9-1)
Pleasant Home (5-5) at Wadley (9-0)
Highland Home (7-3) at Marengo (7-3), Dixons Mills, Thursday
Winterboro (5-5) at Georgiana (10-0)
Houston County (8-2) at Talladega County Central (6-3)
Linden (7-3) at Maplesville (9-0)
Ragland (5-5) at Brantley (7-3)
Notasulga (5-5) at Sweet Water 8-1)
Hubbertville (3-6) at Addison (8-2), Thursday
Woodville (5-5) at Hackleburg (9-1), Thursday
Decatur Heritage (8-2) at South Lamar (7-3), Millport
Waterloo (4-5) at Cedar Bluff (6-3), Thursday
Coosa Christian (4-6) at Cherokee (7-3), Thursday
Holy Spirit Catholic (4-6) at Lynn (10-0)
Phillips (6-4) at Spring Garden (6-3)
Meek (7-3) at Pickens County (8-2), Reform

J.U. Blacksher (6-4) at Luverne (9-2)
Samson (4-6) at Aliceville (6-4)
Elba (8-2) at Leroy (8-2)
R.C. Hatch (4-6) at Ariton (9-1)
Geneva County (6-4) at Thorsby (7-2)
Southern Choctaw (4-5) at Goshen (9-1)
Keith (6-4) at Abbeville (8-2)
New Brockton (5-5) at St. Luke’s Episcopal (8-1), Mobile, Baker High School
Reeltown (6-4) at Falkville (7-3)
Westbrook Christian (5-5) at Sulligent (9-1), Thursday
Cleveland (7-3) at LaFayette (8-2)
Sheffield (4-6) at Fyffe (10-0), Thursday
Ider (6-4) at Lamar County (6-4), Vernon
Ranburne (4-6) at Tarrant (7-2), Center Point High School, Thursday
Mars Hill Bible (7-3) at Sand Rock (8-2)
Tanner (3-7) at Lanett (10-0)

Mobile Christian (7-3) at Pike County (8-2), Brundidge
Providence Christian (6-4) at Gordo (9-1)
Southside-Selma (7-3) at Clarke County (8-2), Grove Hill
Midfield (4-5) at Wicksburg (9-1)
Slocomb (5-5) at American Christian (7-3), Tuscaloosa
Bayside Academy (5-5) at Montgomery Academy (8-2)
Oakman (7-3) at Daleville (6-4), Thursday
Prattville Christian (3-7) at Hillcrest-Evergreen (9-1)
Ohatchee (8-02) at Sylvania (9-1)
Holly Pond (7-3) at West Morgan (9-1), Trinity, Thursday
North Sand Mountain (8-2) at Randolph County (9-1), Wedowee, Thursday
Colbert County (6-4) at Fultondale (10-0)
Locust Fork (4-6) at Colbert Heights (9-1), Thursday
Weaver (6-4) at Plainview (9-1), Rainsville
Lauderdale County (6-4) at J.B. Pennington (8-2), Blountsville, Thursday
Geraldine (4-6) at Piedmont (9-1)

Thomasville (7-3) at Tallassee (9-1)
Dale County (7-3) at Bibb County (9-1), Centreville
Leeds (7-3) at UMS-Wright (8-2), Mobile
Sipsey Valley (4-6) at Montgomery Catholic (9-1)
Alabama Christian (8-2) at Northside (9-1), Samantha
W.S. Neal (5-5) at Munford (9-1)
West Blocton (6-4) at Saint James (7-3), Montgomery
Childersburg (5-5) at Andalusia (9-1)
Hokes Bluff (8-2) at Madison Academy (7-3)
Haleyville (4-6) at Rogers (10-0)
Randolph (6-4) at Jacksonville (7-3)
West Limestone (4-6) at Fayette County (8-2), Fayette
Cordova (4-6) at Wilson (9-1)
Cherokee County (4-6) at Sardis (7-3)
Deshler (7-3) at Dora (8-2)
Westminster Christian (6-4) at Saks (10-0), Anniston

Jackson (5-4) at Calera (6-4)
Greenville (5-4) at Beauregard (8-1)
Marbury (5-5) at St. Paul’s Episcopal (9-1), Mobile
Talladega (6-4) at Carroll (10-0), Ozark
Charles Henderson (6-4) at Central-Clay County (7-3)
Williamson (7-3) at Demopolis (8-2), Thursday
Sylacauga (8-2) at Eufaula (8-2), Thursday
Jemison (5-5) at Vigor (7-3), Prichard Memorial Stadium, Thursday
St. Clair County (7-3) at Guntersville (9-1), Thursday
Corner (5-5) at Mae Jemison (9-1), Huntsville, Milton Frank Stadium, Thursday
Alexandria (8-2) at Wenonah (8-1), Birmingham, Thursday
Lawrence County (5-5) at Mortimer Jordan (8-2), Kimberly, Thursday
West Point (6-4) at Brooks (7-2), Killen, Thursday
Pleasant Grove (5-5) at Etowah (9-1), Attalla, Thursday
Lee-Huntsville (7-3) at Hayden (5-5), Thursday
Crossville (4-6) at Briarwood Christian (10-0), Thursday

Saraland (7-3) at Benjamin Russell (7-3), Alexander City
Stanhope Elmore (5-5) at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (7-3)
Opelika (7-3) at Daphne (8-2)
Bessemer City (4-6) at Park Crossing (9-1), Montgomery, Cramton Bowl
Carver-Montgomery (4-6) at McAdory (6-4), McCalla
Blount (6-4) at Wetumpka (9-1)
Paul Bryant (6-4) at Sidney Lanier (9-1), Montgomery, Cramton Bowl, Thursday
Pelham (5-5) at Spanish Fort (9-1)
Shades Valley (7-3) at Pell City (6-4), Thursday
Carver-Birmingham (7-3) at Austin (10-0), Decatur, Shorty Ogle Stadium
Cullman (7-3) at Ramsay (6-4), Birmingham, Huffman Stadium
Florence (4-6) at Pinson Valley (10-0)
Gardendale (6-4) at Muscle Shoals (8-2)
Hueytown (5-5) at Oxford (10-0), Thursday
Athens (5-5) at Clay-Chalkville (8-2)
Fort Payne (6-4) at Homewood (9-1)

Davidson (7-3) at Auburn (9-1)
Jeff Davis (5-5) at McGill-Toolen Catholic (10-0), Mobile, Libscomb Complex
Lee-Montgomery (6-3) at Fairhope (8-2)
Theodore (6-4) at Central-Phenix City (9-0)
Mountain Brook (7-3) at Bob Jones (7-3), Madison City Stadium
Huntsville (6-4) at Thompson (10-0), Alabaster
Sparkman (7-3) at Hoover (7-3), Hoover Met Stadium
Spain Park (6-4) at Hewitt-Trussville (10-0)

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