E.A. Sports Today

Lone Wolves

Fayetteville only Talladega County football school using AHSAA instant replay and other Talladega County Football Media Day notes

Talladega coach Ted Darby (second from left) and his players address the media during Friday’s Talladega County Football Media Day. On the cover, the Fayetteville Wolves are the only team in Talladega County using the AHSAA instant replay system this season.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – You could call the Fayetteville Wolves trailblazers if you wish. Coach John Limbaugh won’t mind.

They certainly are lone Wolves.

Of the 10 football-playing high school teams in Talladega County, only the Wolves have taken the plunge and purchased the system to participate in the AHSAA’s three-year experiment into high school instant replay that starts this season.

“It was a hallelujah moment for me when I heard they were going to do it in high school sports,” Limbaugh said during Friday’s Talladega County Football Media Day at Talladega Superspeedway. “I want that stuff to be right.

“Everybody’s human, everybody makes mistakes, I hadn’t always made the right call from the sidelines, we try to get it right all the time. But I feel like in fairness to our kids and all the kids on the field that needs to be right.

“In baseball I don’t like the instant replay; I kind of feel it takes away from that sport. But in football, it’s the hardest sport to be played, it’s the most competitive, most physical sport and the greatest sport that’s out there and you want those kids who are laying it on the line every game, you want that call to be correct.”

Alabama was one of three state associations to receive permission from the national federation to use instant replay in football and the only one for use in the regular season, but it has been slow to catch on.

In addition to the Wolves, only Oxford and Handley have been confirmed to be using it in Calhoun (12 schools), Etowah (10), Randolph (4) and Talladega (10) counties. The system will be employed if the home team has it. Three Talladega County teams play region games with Handley this season – Childersburg, Lincoln and Talladega – but all three will be played at their stadiums.

While many of the other Talladega County coaches support for the idea of instant replay in high school football, all the others declined to spend the $3,500 for the AHSAA-approved DVSport replay system, preferring instead “to spend it on these athletes.”

And actually Fayetteville wouldn’t have done it, either, if it didn’t receive sponsor support from the FarmLinks resort – and the Wolves had a play in a pivotal region game two years ago that could have been overturned and sent them to the playoffs.

Munford already has spent nearly $32,000 on weight room equipment and new jerseys for the team. TCC refurbished its field house and scoreboard. B.B. Comer has bought new helmets.

“That’s a lot of money to spend for maybe one call a game or one call every three games where in our school that’s money we could spend somewhere else,” Sylacauga coach Matt Griffith said. “Thirty-seven-fifty buys a lot of headgears, 3750 buys a lot of shoulder pads, 3750 buys a lot of kids tight fits and shorts who might not can afford it. We are here to help these kids. It’s not about how fancy we can make our technology. It’s not about can we one-up another school. We’ve got to do it for these kids. You don’t want to deny a sport and football in general just because a kid can’t afford something. I’d rather my budget go to kids instead of some technology because I get mad at an official. We will not be purchasing it right now. I would rather use that money somewhere else.”

“The Alabama High School Athletics Association is at the forefront of high school of athletics in America; I think we have one of the best associations if not the best in the country,” Childersburg coach Jonathan Beverly said. “If I’m going to be biased I’m going to say we have the best football in America. To be able to add instant replay, I think our athletic association took a lot of things into account and I think they made a good decision by being able to implement it. That being said, it is costly and every coach, every athletic department has to make decisions that’s best for their athletic department. We felt that initial cost for this year those funds could probably go somewhere else and benefit our team in other ways. On the flip side I get it that some people may put a high value on that for this year. It’s something we’ll probably do down the line, it’s just not something we’re going to do this year.”

Sylacauga coach Matt Griffith (second from left) saw the AHSAA’s instant replay system that’s in effect this season in action during last week’s North-South All-Star Game.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Talladega made the playoffs for the first time since 1995 last season under first-year coach Ted Darby, but the former Oxford and Samford quarterback says the Tigers “still have a long ways to go” to be the consistent winner he seeks “but we’re getting there step by step … and I won’t rest until we get there.”

Darby saw signs of change after the Tigers’ loss in the playoffs when the players came off the field with tears in their eyes promising not to have that feeling again.

“I don’t know if they’ve cried coming off the football field in 30 years,” he said. “Their mindset’s changed, because no one thought we should even be there the beginning of the season and these kids have learned what work is. The process started. Now, losing’s not an option. They don’t want to give that up. They hate losing.”

The Tigers open their season Aug. 23 against Alexandria with new coach Todd Ginn. Last year, Darby was the new coach in the game.

WISE WORDS: Every team goes into the season with a rallying cry (see the last note) and the teams in Talladega County are no exception.

“Losing in not an option” is always going to be a slogan at Talladega, but this year the Tigers also are playing under the 3Cs – connection, commitment, consistent.

After making the playoffs for the first time since 2014 in coach Jonathan Beverly’s second season last year, the word at Childersburg is “Keep Climbing” while trying to be “physical, fast and fun.”

BACK HOME: It might take Lincoln quarterback Zavion Surles just a little while to get back into football shape to run the Bears’ spread option offense. He just got back in the country from a basketball-playing trip to Australia.

“He’s a fantastic basketball player as well as a football player,” Bears coach Matt Zedaker said. “He had a tremendous opportunity to go to Australia. Obviously as a football coach you want all your players with you throughout the whole summer, but as a coach and as an athletic director I want these kids to experience every opportunity they can. What a fantastic opportunity to go Down Under and probably see something he’ll never see in his life. We embraced it. I talked to him yesterday a couple times, he had a lot of fun. He’s ready to come back and get started and run this offense for us.”

Did he bring some Australian Rules Football back with him?

“I wouldn’t mind him bringing the toughness of Australian Rules Football with him,” Zedaker said.

WELL-RESTED: Winterboro has one of the quirkiest schedules this season, but one that could serve the Bulldogs well late in the year.

The Bulldogs play nine straight weeks, then after their final regular-season game against Ragland Oct. 19 they have the last two weeks open, which could give them the rest they need to attack the playoffs. They’ve lost decisively in the first round of the 1A playoffs each of the last two years.

“Here in the last couple years we’ve hit a wall Week 7/8 and we really pushed them and then hit a certain time and weren’t competing,” Bulldogs coach Alan Beckett said. “I didn’t want to necessarily play nine games but the kind of people who were calling to play were 5A, 4A. It’s not that we’re ducking people, but when you’re sitting there looking at somebody and they’ve won 14 of their last 17 games and they’re in 5A, what do we get out of that? I don’t think that’s a competitive balance. We didn’t find the right fit is what it boiled down to. We are going to get a right fit.”

RESTORE THE ROAR: Adam Fossett is back coaching in Talladega County and what does he face at B.B. Comer this season? Only one of the toughest regions in the state – Class 3A Region 6 with Piedmont, Weaver, Wellborn, Randolph County and the addition of Saks.

Fossett has produced winning teams at Childersburg and Winterboro and now he’s charged with rejuvenating a Comer program that has had trouble holding onto players and wins the last couple years. One of his first messages to the team was what’s passed is past and it’s time to look forward. He intends to be there for the long haul and wants them to be as well.

“We have to make people believe,” he said. “We have to make the five teams that schedule us for Homecoming this year (not really) believe that’s not going to happen; you’d better change who you’re going to schedule for Homecoming in two years. We have to earn some respect; we’ve got to work for it.

“Comer is rich in tradition. Everybody is on hashtag now. I’m not even 40 yet and I’m not even sure I really understand the whole hashtag thing, but I came up with the hashtag ‘restore the roar.’ I’ve had people from 16 to 65 come and tell me that’s the greatest thing in the world; that’s awesome, that’s what we want.

“That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to restore what was Comer football, what was Comer athletics. Years ago it was a force to be reckoned with; you didn’t want to play Comer in anything. This process is kind of like eating a dinosaur; you’re going to have to do it one bite at a time. You can’t just take the whole thing or it will never happen. I’m not the most patient person in the world and I’ve seen huge strides in these guys in two months.”

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