FLORENCE — No paths have been cleared for running backs. No blocks have been made downfield, no rushing yards have been earned, and no tackles have been made.
High school football season is still two months away in Alabama and Tennessee, so the standouts for each local team have been the young men who have worked the hardest, had the best attitudes in practice and been the best leaders.
A few of those players were at UNA’s Flowers Hall on Monday for the first part of the two-day TimesDaily high school football media day event.
Coaches and select players from local high school teams discussed schematic and personnel changes, offseason tasks and their goals for the 2019 season.
Players and coaches from Brooks, Central, Colbert County, Collinwood, Deshler, Hackleburg, Lexington, Loretto, Phil Campbell, R.A. Hubbard, Red Bay, Russellville, Waterloo and Wilson spoke with reporters Monday. Representatives from several other schools will talk with reporters today.
At some schools, changes are extensive. One example is Deshler, which is now led by former Rogers head coach (and former Deshler assistant) Randall Martin. Martin was an assistant at Arab for one year before returning to the Shoals.
Martin is bringing with him the Wing-T offense, which is not new to Martin or Deshler High but represents a big change from what the Tigers ran under Bo Culver, who is now at Hartselle. Deshler has steadily improved over the last couple years, and Martin wants the Tigers to sustain and continue that growth.
“We just want to have the mindset that everything that we do matters,” Martin said. “Everything we do, we want to try to do it the right way. We want to do it with great effort, discipline and enthusiasm.”
While Deshler had its best postseason in several years, falling in the 4A championship game, other schools look to make amends for disappointment.
Brooks had a strong 2018 regular season but was upset in the first round of the playoffs by Oneonta. The Lions will need greater contributions from young players than they did last year, given the number of graduations by leading players, but coach Brad Black believes many of those young guys are physically and emotionally ready to play well on the varsity.
“All we hear is rebuild,” Logan Turbyfill, a rising senior at Brooks who plays wide receiver and safety, said. “But we’re reloading instead of rebuilding.”
Phil Campbell, meanwhile, has been stuck in a funk. Its last winning season was 2001 and it has made only four additional playoff appearances — all first-round losses — since then.
But Kevin Barnwell is in his second year trying to build a stronger program and — despite a small roster even by Class 3A standards — the Bobcats believe they are better-positioned for quality football this fall.
“You’ve got to overcome the mindset. We’ve really been having to change the mindset,” Ben Williams, a Phil Campbell cornerback/wide receiver who will be a senior, said. “There wasn’t really a winning attitude, and it’s been hard to overcome that, but I think we’re getting there.”