E.A. Sports Today


Just what drew successful former American Christian coach to a team coming off of a winless season? News and notes from Talladega County Media Day

Cover photo: Sylacauga coach Chris Smelley participates in Wednesday’s Talladega County Media Day with players (from left) Myles McCollough, Bryce Oden and Connor Twymon at Talladega Superspeedway..(Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Of all intrigue around recent high school coaching moves, most curious are high-profile coaches biting on cellar-dwelling programs.

Two such curiosities occurred nearby, with Rush Propst’s coaching return at Pell City garnering the biggest headline.

Perhaps next highest on the curiosity scale  was Chris Smelley’s move to Sylacauga. Just what was it about a team coming off a winless season that drew Smelley away from American Christian?

That was among questions asked at Wednesday’s Talladega County Coaches Association High School Football Media Day,

Coaches and players from Alabama School for the Deaf, B.B. Comer, Childersburg, Fayetteville, Lincoln, Munford, Sylacauga, Talladega, Talladega County Central and Winterboro gave their takes on everything from next man up to nicknames.

B.B. Comer coach Adam Fossett and his three players, including three-star running back prospect Kamore Harris, walked in carrying the county’s biggest expectations. The Tigers return a lot from a team that finished as Class 2A runner up in 2022.

The biggest buzz surrounded Smelley, the former South Carolina quarterback who won 65 games in seven seasons at ACA, 36 in his last three seasons there.

He resigned for personal reasons in August of 2021. Just what about the challenge of taking over a team that went 0-10 a year ago drew Smelley back into the head-coaching realm?

It’s always interesting to hear coaches talk through those dynamics. It started with answering the question, where?

“Honestly, I’d never even been to Sylacauga before I took this job,” he said. “I had never even driven through Sylacauga.”

Smelley comes to a county that could use football buzz. The 10 programs represented at Wednesday’s media day won a combined 35 games last season, and B.B. Comer accounted for 12. Three teams went winless, and Childersburg won one game.

So, what would make Smelley want to set up shop in Sylacauga’s patch of U.S. 21, a place where one of those winless teams resides?

Smelley said he drove down to check out facilities a couple of days before he interviewed for the job. A couple of days later, he met a lot of people. All at once.

“There was a big interview panel of about 10 people,” he said. “I really just saw a sense of pride in the community and people that were from Sylacauga that had a lot of pride in being from Sylacauga, and so there’s a lot of football pride, as well.”

Sylacauga had football life before 0-10. That awful finish under Rob Carter in 2022 marked the Aggies’ first losing season since 2007. They made the playoffs 10 years in a row before that.

Then again, Sylacauga has just one playoff victory since reaching the 1998 quarterfinals. The Aggies register somewhere on the scale north of hopeless, with plenty of room to accomplish something they haven’t seen this century.

“I just felt like there was a lot of potential here and a lot of people that were going to be ready to support and go all in and do what it takes to try to get this program turned around,” Smelley said. “The biggest thing at the end of the year is the players and how they respond.”

B.B. Comer coach Adam Fossett and players (from left) Alex Cunningham, Kamore Harris and Raelon Sims participate on Wednesday’s Talladega County Media Day at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Media Day moments

BIG STAGE: B.B. Comer’s six-year climb to relevance took the Tigers to the state’s biggest stage last season. Once they got to the Super 7, they met a lot of people telling them what they’d won.

Fossett won an intensive itinerary that kept him busy before the first snap in B.B. Comer’s 40-28 loss to Fyffe in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“I’ve been asked a 10 million things,” Fossett said. “Were the kids overwhelmed? Was the stage too big? Was it this? Was it that? I think it was a mixture of a lot of things. When you step out on a high school field on Friday night for 14 weeks, and then you step out at Jordan-Hare Stadium, man, it’s different, and it’s different across the board.

“I thought, as a coach, we had everything handled before the game … and then I walk out on the field when we start doing our warmups, and somebody grabs me and says, all right, you look at the clock. At 45 minutes, you have to meet with this person. When it’s at 40 minutes, you have to go take a picture with with Coach (Paul) Bennefield and (AHSAA executive director) Alvin Briggs. At 32 minutes, you’ve got to meet with the medical staff, so even as a coach, it was all stuff that I didn’t even know we were going to have to do.”

Fossett also serves as Comer’s offensive line coach, and pregame obligations kept him from going through his normal position-group pregame routine.

“I’m a little superstitious, so to me, that bothered me a little bit,” he said.

Earning a chance to feel comfortable amid the Super 7 craziness in 2023 is no given, Fossett said, and he made the point with a nod to Media Day’s host facility and the movie it inspired.

“We’re at Talladega, and I told the coaches I was going to get a ‘Talladega Nights’ reference in,” Fossett said. “I wish I could tell you guys that we wake up, and we pee excellence at B.B. Comer, but that’s not the case.”

Talladega’s Jayden Dates talks during Wednesday’s Talladega County Media Day. (Photo by Joe Medley)

COMEBACK KID: Knee injuries come with football, but Talladega’s Jayden Dates will make his return this season after dislocating not one, but both kneecaps in 2022.

The injuries occurred the Wednesday prior to Talladega’s season-opener against Lincoln. The lineman and long snapper missed the entire season.

“I’m glad he’s able to sit up here today,” second-year Talladega coach Bill Smith said. “Jayden is going to be playing multiple positions for us, but just to have a young man with his character back with us, with the team, be never left the team. He was in a wheelchair at least the first half of the season, and we would pass him and high-five him when we were coming onto the field.”

Dates said missing last season was “very tough,” but he was determined to get back in the game for his senior year.

“I had long thought about times,” he said. “I’ve had moments. I’ve had talks with these two other here, my family, my brothers. I’ve talked to Coach Smith and all of my other coaches. They told me that it’s my choice. They would understand, if I didn’t play again.

“I was like, I love this sport. I had to finish. I’ve done did it for, like, all of my life. I’ve got finish at least this one.”

CANDID COACH: Talladega County Central faced bigger challenges on the way to its third winless season in four years than losing a starting quarterback for the season three games into 2022.

On Wednesday, the three TCC players who attended Media Day fielded a question about whether they preferred offense or defense. They expressed a lean toward offense, and TCC coach Acardia Garrett said their lead should be obvious.

“If you looked at our defensive stats, you’d probably know that,” the second-year coach said to laughs in the room. “We don’t have anybody that likes defense. … We ain’t tackled nobody in four years.”

BEING SLY? The county’s biggest graduation loss from 2022 was Munford quarterback/safety Sylvester Smith, who signed with Auburn. Who steps in to replace Smith’s production?

“Well, nobody,” fifth-year Lions coach Michael Easley said. “We asked him to do a lot last year. It’s an on-going battle at the quarterback position. We’ve got three different guys that you’ll probably see at some point in there. We’ll work that over the next four weeks in fall camp.

“On the defensive side of the ball, A.J. Denson, he’s going to be a junior. He’s going to step in at safety for us. He’s played DB for us the last couple of years. He’s played some corner and some safety, but he’s had a really good offseason.”

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