E.A. Sports Today

Dotting all the I’s, Crossing all the T’s

Anniston coach ‘disappointed’ about last year because of ‘distractions,’ doesn’t easily forget and has ‘some teams on our list’ this year; Oxford gets new look and other notes from County Media Day

Oxford coach Sam Adams (L) and defensive end Josiah Kimbrough talk about the Yellow Jackets’ new style of helmet at the Calhoun County Football Media Day.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Rico White wouldn’t so much call this year’s schedule a revenge tour, but he will remember the teams and programs than had it in for his Anniston football team last year.

The Bulldogs were actually on a revenge tour last year when they were looking to turn the tables on the teams that sent them to an 0-5 start the year before.

That year was more about payback. This year, it might be something closer to getting even.

“The biggest thing with the revenge thing, that got blown out of the proportion,” White said during Friday’s Calhoun County High School Football Media Day at Anniston Country Club. “Revenge belongs to the Lord. We don’t get into that. You just want to take one day at a time.

“But I’ll tell you what: There are some teams on our list, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m very disappointed about last year because of the distractions, but this year we’re really focused and our theme right now is discipline.

“People love to say ‘Anniston against everybody,’ nah it’s ‘Anniston against Anniston.’ We do things the right way, we keep discipline, we be structured, we keep the high standards, we keep the bar high, we’ll be fine. We’re not worried about the other team or no one, we’re just going to show up and do our thing.”

Distractions in the early part of the season may have been an understatement. Issues with the AHSAA’s Dragonfly reporting system led to ineligible players and the forfeiture of wins over Ohatchee and region rival Jacksonville that cost them their first region title in 10 years. The teams they played during that early stretch wouldn’t let the issue go.

As the season progressed, the Bulldogs beat Handley by a point on the road to claim the No. 1 seed in the region, but when the state dropped the hammer late in the season it gave Handley the region, placed Jacksonville No. 2 and sent Anniston on the road in the first round of the playoffs, where they lost at St. James 28-26.

“We’re disappointed getting put out the first round,” White said. “I don’t think I slept the whole year. This whole summer has been crazy. I’m looking forward to (this season). I’ve been anxious, but at the same time it take preparation. It’s a process to everything and we look forward to it.

“What can you do about last year? We’re going to handle it this year. We’re going to make sure every I’s dotted, every T’s crossed. I talked to Coach Briggs (AHSAA executive director Alvin Briggs) and asked him to come and make sure he checks all our records. We’re going to self-report ourselves; let him check everything and make sure it’s on point so this year when we get out there we’re not going to leave any doubt.”

The Bulldogs play Jacksonville at home Sept. 9 in a game that will match two of state’s best quarterbacks — Anniston’s Kam Sandlin and Jacksonville’s Jim Ogle.

Cover photo: Anniston coach Rico White (C) is flanked by quarterback Kamron Sandlin (L) and Ryqueze McElderry during the Bulldogs’ segment of the Calhoun County Football Media Day.

JACKETS NEW LOOK: Oxford football is all about tradition, but the Yellow Jackets have broken with it this year when it comes to their football headgear.

Gone is the familiar black helmet with the gold O, replaced by a custom-color gold dome embossed with a black O.

“The people who may not have liked it as much when we first came out, talking about the tradition of the black helmets,” Jackets coach Sam Adams said. “Oxford has worn black helmets for quite a while, (but) Oxford also wore gold helmets earlier in time in maybe the ‘60s, ‘70s. So, this is not the first time Oxford has worn the gold helmet. I think it looks pretty good.”

It’s amazing how much change can be generated by a post on social media. Connor Syer, one of the Jackets’ young coaches who does the team’s social media graphics, sent a Happy Thanksgiving shout-out from the team on Facebook with a gravy boat pouring gold paint over a traditional Oxford helmet. The response was massive and got the ball rolling.

There were various shades of old gold in the Riddell helmet catalogue when the Jackets went to order, but not the exact shade of Oxford gold. So, Adams sent their Riddell rep a pair of uniform pants to code the color, they made it match, and now there is a custom Oxford High School gold in the company’s color catalogue.

So now the question becomes which uniform scheme does it go with best? According to the two Adams brought with him to Media Day, it’s a mixed bag. Senior defensive end Josiah Kimbrough likes the gold helmet with the black jerseys and gold pants while senior defensive back Emari Carroll likes the gold helmets with the all whites.

The bottom line is they like them and you know they say – you look good, you play good.

“I like it; I love it,” Kimbrough said. “To me, it’s better than the black helmet, not only because it’s not as practice, but it looks good with our uniforms.”

“I love it,” Carroll said. “I really think it’s different from everybody else. I like to be different from everybody. I love the way that we’re the only team in the country that has this color.”

Senior running back Antonio Ross (R) is prepared to carry a heavy load for coach Todd Ginn and the Alexandria Valley Cubs this season.

THE THREAT OF ONE: A year ago Alexandria was a team whose offense was called a three-headed monster or four horsemen because of the multiple weapons it could throw at opponents. Javais McGhee brought the unique quality of being able to throw it, catch it and run it all in the same game, which kept opposing defenses scrambling to cover both sides of the field mostly with big-play results for the Valley Cubs.

The Cubs may have that threat again this year, but until it develops and they develop as the season goes along to be a tough out at the end, they’ll rely heavily on the power and speed of Antonio Ross, the holdover from that multi-faceted attack that carried them to their first undefeated regular season since 2006. Maybe to the tune of 30 carries a game, where last year that many carries may have been spread around the entire backfield.

“Antonio knows and everybody in this room knows that he’s going to be the focus point,” Cubs coach Todd Ginn said, “but he’s also the focal point of every defense we’re going to face as well. He plays on both sides of the ball.

“That’s the good part about Antonio. The fact he’s the guy everybody’s focusing on on offense, he gets to unleash on the other side of the ball on them as well. A lot of guys get frustrated when they only play on one side of the ball, especially at his position where you’re constantly getting hit, hit, hit, because you’re going to get the bulk of the carries, but he’s lucky enough to play on both sides and gets to put that punishment on their offense as well.”

Ross appears ready to accept that role. While the opponents are focusing on him, he’s focusing on the players around him.

“This year I can’t really focus on myself,” he said. “I’ve got to focus on my teammates and helping them progress each day at every position.”

HEROES WEAR ZERO: Continuing with the uniform theme, starting this season players will be allowed to wear 0 as a jersey number as the range of acceptable numbers was expanded through 99. Any number preceded by a 0, however, will be deemed illegal. After all, they’re football players, not race cars.

Two Calhoun County teams have assigned 0 to their players, but not the teams you might expect.

Alexandria and Anniston both have players listed on their rosters with 0. For Alexandria, it’s DE DaMarkus Williams after a jersey swap with senior DB Israel Hawkins. Anniston lists JayDee Kirksey, a senior DL, as 0.

“To be honest, when you start looking at jerseys and ordering that a kind of stuff, you really start looking at numbers,” Alexandria coach Todd Ginn said. “I never thought we’d order more than 70 jerseys, but when you start looking at your skill guys versus your linemen, you only have so many numbers to pick from before you start making duplicates.

“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to 0, 1, 2, whatever, we just order what we need and go with it.”

Oxford and Ohatchee – the two teams that would seem a natural for the 0 given the O in their names – do not have a 0. But it’s not for a lack of trying.

“We actually tried to order one of those a little late in the game, but kind of like with everything else Nike had already shut down new uniform production at that time,” Oxford coach Sam Adams said. “Those are actually new jerseys, but we didn’t get the zero ordered with it. We will next year, though; we will, for sure. I think that’ll be one a lot of kids will kind of fight for.

“We need as many jersey numbers as we can possible get, because of the three that are retired that are all in the teens. That makes it tough when you’re talking about quarterback numbers or receiver numbers and all that. That’s a hurdle we’ve got to get over every year. For a lot of years there would be a quarterback, a young one, wearing like 35, and that’s the reason why. You just run out.”

Jacksonville has a 0 jersey, but has not assigned it yet.

“We’ve got it in our arsenal,” Golden Eagles coach Clint Smith said.

TIL WE MEET AGAIN: The Oct. 14 game will be an interesting one for the Ohatchee Indians. That’s the night they face former coach Scott Martin at Glencoe in a game that could carry postseason implications. Martin coached the Indians from 2014 to the fourth game last season and became the winningest coach in school history. He meant a lot to successor Chris Findley and the players, so it’ll be an emotional reunion before they get down to business.

“If we’re running the same offense then it’s going to be a pretty quick game at least; we’re going to be out of there by about 8:30,” Findley said. “I really appreciate Coach Martin. I coached under him for eight years and can’t tell you how much I learned from him. He was always great about letting his assistant coaches coach. He didn’t stay on top of you, he didn’t micromanage anything. He let us coach and therefore let us learn through mistakes and success. It could be a meaningful game for our region and for playoff standings and that kind of stuff. It’ll be fun and it’ll be fun coach against him as well.”

“He coached us since we were in seventh grade and we learned a lot from him,” senior RB-LB Devin Howell said. “It’s going to be a meaningful game, but at the end of the day it’s a game and we’re just going to win.”

Wellborn coach Jeff Smith (L) and quarterback Grayson Johnson talk hair, football.


HAIRING IT OUT: What is it with quarterbacks and the long hair? Last year, Ohatchee’s Eli Ennis won the Troy Polamalu Award for the county’s best hair. Ennis would pull his helmet off on Friday nights, loosen the man bun underneath and the hair just came cascading out. Oscar Gamble had nothing on this guy.

This year’s leader in the hair clubhouse for men, at least among those who attended Media Day, is Wellborn quarterback Grayson Johnson. The senior signal callers’ curly locks draped over his shoulders as he sat at the podium.

“During the game I let it flow; I don’t think Coach likes it though,” Johnson said. “I just started growing it out and I guess it just stuck with me since eighth grade, I guess. I’ve gotten it cut, but I haven’t cut it all off.”

So what does Panthers’ old-school coach Jeff Smith think about the long locks?

“No comment,” he said.



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