E.A. Sports Today

Media Daze

Talladega County high school football coaches and players meet the media and fill their notebooks at Talladega Superspeedway Wednesday

New Talladega High School football coach Bill Smith emphasizes a point during Wednesday’s Talladega County High School Football Media Day.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — It had been three years since Bill Smith sat at the podium of the Talladega County High School Football Media Day at Talladega Superspeedway, but he knew exactly where he was going.

He always does.

Sitting in the same seat he occupied in 2019 as the head coach at Munford, Smith addressed the assembled media Wednesday as the new coach at Talladega High School and it was clear from the start he means business.

“I want to make some big changes,” he said. “We’re going to turn this thing around. How quickly depends on (the seniors’) leadership.”

It is a tall order. The Tigers haven’t won more than six games in a season in 30 years and went 3-8 and 1-9 the last two years under Shannon Felder after their longest stretch of success (three years) in a quarter century. They only recently ended a long playoff drought and have won only one playoff game in school history.

He likens the challenge to the one he faced at Shades Valley, where football was in “bad shape” when he arrived and pep rallies were depressing, and, most recently, Huffman. 

This won’t be an easy road back, either, at least on the field, as the Tigers play in a Class 4A region akin to the SEC West of its classification. The league is top heavy with Handley, two years removed from a state championship, talent-rich Anniston and Jacksonville, which has one of the top young quarterbacks in the state.

But Smith has a reputation for putting his stamp on challenging circumstances. He already has made his mark in the community. “Here comes that crazy, bald-headed coach, leave him alone,” he said, relaying the response he’s received going into some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

“The secret to success is really no different in my opinion from Munford to Talladega, Shades Valley, Hoover, Spain Park, wherever you want to go,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be all in the boat together rowing in the same direction.”

To that end, his first day on the job he wrote letters to 350 local business to introduce himself and his wife to the community and drum up support for the program. Four already have gotten on board and he anticipates “a whole lot more.”

COMING OF AGE: In the 80s and 90s Howell Cove on a football Friday night was “where it was,” but times have changed and numbers have dwindled leaving Talladega County Central a shell of its former self. The Fighting Tigers are still fighting to get their numbers up, but the players who have remained are now coming of age and ready to turn the tables on their bigger peers who took advantage of their limitations.

“We were never really talent deficient,” first-year coach Acardia Garrett said, “we were just not big enough to be out there with the guys we were with. I hope at some point we get to the point we can compete and we can beat up on some people like they’ve been beating up on us.

“These guys are talented and they’ve won at other levels, they’ve just not been put in the proper position to win at this level now because of the gaps we’ve had in the upper classes, to be honest. They had to go through the school of hard knocks and hopefully now they’re tired of doing that and they’re ready to step up to the plate.”

Garrett is hopeful of getting 30 players for his first TCC team, but his more realistic number is 25. If they can get to 25, Garrett believes they can have “a really, really serviceable bunch that can compete and win some games.”

“You’ve got to want to do it,” he said. “I’m telling them every day, you’ve got to want to be here, you’ve got to want the weight room, you’ve got to want to get out on the field and work, you’ve just got to want to do it. And I’m just here trying to provide them with the opportunity to do that and get better.”

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Childersburg is closing in on 400 all-time wins and needs two to reach 200 at home. It could come as early as Sept. 9 against Weaver. Curiously, the Tigers’ record at home (198-169-6) is almost flipped of their record on the road (166-199-8).

“There’s nothing like looking up in the stands and seeing familiar faces from the community,” kicking specialist Daniel Warlick said. “There’s something about not just wearing the Childersburg (colors), but being in Childersburg makes you want it 10 times more. It makes you want to not win, but dominate, show them they can’t come to your stadium and boss you around.”

B.B. Comer senior lineman Brandon Blakenship (R), seated next to Tigers coach Adam Fossett, never leaves home without wearing some type of Comer clothing.

TALLADEGA LAPS: When B.B. Comer coach Adam Fossett said Brandon Blakenship probably wears more Comer gear than he does, that’s saying something. The coach wears Comer stuff “all the time” – and so does Blakenship. The Tigers’ senior lineman, who has kept every spirit pack they offered since he’s been there, literally doesn’t leave home without it.

“My mom and dad, they’ll say, ‘All you wear is your Comer clothes, why don’t you put on some other clothes,’” Blakenship said, sporting a sharp black-and-gold Comer polo that just arrived the day before. “I say, ‘That’s all I have because that’s all I want to wear.’ It makes me be proud of my team and my school, who I am. I always have to put my school out front” …

Winterboro’s players will see a familiar face across the field in its season opener. Cedar Bluff coach Alan Beckett was the Bulldogs’ head coach 2013-2019 and winningest coach in their program’s history and probably half the Winterboro roster played for him. “I think the mindset will be different with that being the opener,” Bulldogs coach and Beckett successor Skylar Mansfield said. “You want to win your opener. Coach Beckett still has a special place in some of these kids’ hearts.” … Mansfield revealed he will call his team’s offense this season, but offered no hints about what they’ll run. He was a high school quarterback who ran the wishbone … 

Sylacauga, which plays in a six-team region, has two non-region games this year against teams it has never played before – Trinity and Piedmont … ASD will play 8-man football this season to accommodate the other deaf schools on its schedule. 

 A week of regional media days comes to a close Friday with the Calhoun County Quarterback Club’s day at Anniston Country Club. Here is the schedule and speaker lineup:

10:15 a.m. – ANNISTON: Coach Rico White, QB Kamron Sandlin, OL Ryqueze McElderry.
10:35 – PLEASANT VALLEY: Coach Jonathan Nix, RB-SS Dalton Haynes, OL Austin English.
10:55 – WEAVER: Coach Gary Atchley, RB Payton Martin, DB Carson Cason.
11:15 – ALEXANDRIA: Coach Todd Ginn, OL-DL A.J. Argo, RB-SS Antonio Ross.
11:35 – WHITE PLAINS: Coach Chandler Tyree, OL-DL Dalton Faulkner, FB-LB Wade Thompson.
11:50 – Lunch break
12:15 p.m. – OXFORD: Coach Sam Adams, DB Emari Carroll, DE Josiah Kimbrough.
12:35 – WELLBORN: Coach Jeff Smith, QB Grayson Johnson, RB Xavier Parker.
12:55 – SAKS: Coach Jonathan Miller, RB-LB Owen Petty, RB-LB Keondre Johnson.
1:15 – OHATCHEE: Coach Chris Findley, LB-TE Chris Ferguson, LB-RB Devin Howell.
1:35 – JACKSONVILLE: Coach Clint Smith, WR Drew Pridgen, OL Nick Smith, QB Jim Ogle.
1:55 – DONOHO: Coach Jeremy Satcher, OL Garrett Orth, RB Lucas Elliott.
2:15 – PIEDMONT: Coach Steve Smith, WR Max Hanson, QB Jack Hayes.

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