The Alabama High School High School Athletic Association has given head football coaches a new option. Actually, it’s almost like a challenge.
Earlier this year, the AHSAA announced teams will have 11 weeks to play 10 games. If teams elect to do so, they will have a bye week at some point during the season. Teams choosing against the new option won’t play their season opener until next week.
A number of coaches have bitten the bullet and decided to get the season started earlier, including Oxford, which starts even a day earlier and will travel to Southside tonight.
“The kids are tired of hitting each other, and that’s usually how everyone is everywhere,” Oxford head coach Ryan Herring said. “They’re ready to play someone else.”
One of the negatives to playing a week earlier, Herring pointed out, is teams still started practice on Aug. 4 like everyone else.
“It’s not like we got to start a week sooner,” he said. “We’ve done a good job this summer getting things installed, but as far as what to do now that it’s here, you can’t really do anything different than what anyone else can do. You just try to avoid the injury bug and hope your kids are in shape.”
For Oxford’s bye week, which falls between its eighth and ninth games, Herring said that’s just how it worked out. However, for Clay Central head coach Kris Herron, there was a plan set in place to have its bye midseason.
“That was a goal we had when we were going through the schedule-making process. We’re in a seven-team region, so that left us with needing to get four non-region games. We really wanted to keep (the bye week) there, and we were able to.”
For Herron, the choice to play Munford this week was an easy one. The fifth-year coach said he’s never liked playing jamboree games and has always prefered intra-squad games instead.
“I was all for starting that first week and having an off week later in the year,” he said. “I’ve never been a part of it, but I like the idea of an off week and I think ours is at a good place and it’ll let us heal up some bumps and bruises.”
Wellborn went a more unconventional route and will play a jamboree game this week and then also have a week off. Head coach Jeff Smith, similar to Herring and Herron, said he’d like to be able to give players a week to heal from minor injuries.
At the same time, every coach is concerned with how their teams will respond to the bye week, especially considering it’s mostly a new thing to high school football.
“It’s a gamble,” Smith said. “I think if we’re having a good season then it’ll give us a chance to heal up before the playoffs. The drawback to it is I hope it doesn’t mess up our timing. We’re going to try it.”
While a number of coaches are testing new waters, Piedmont head coach Steve Smith is thinking nearly the exact opposite.
Saturday will provide Steve Smith’s first look at his team in a game since last year and even though the game against Class 4A, third-ranked Dadeville is a jamboree game, it’ll be played like a season opener.
“That’s the only way to approach things in my opinion,” the Piedmont coach said. “Other folks are going to be able to watch the game and anyone that wants to watch it is going to go to it, watch it on TV or get it on a video swap. There really isn’t a reason to try to be too secretive with your playbook because everyone that wants to see it will see it anyway.”
Often jamborees come with coaches mutually making decisions to practice what they need to work on, including commonly playing B-team players in the fourth quarter.
However, that won’t be the case for Piedmont, which is how Steve Smith prefers it. With 4A top-ranked Leeds, 4A fifth-ranked Oneonta, 3A fifth-ranked Wellborn and 3A eighth-ranked Glencoe on the Bulldogs’ schedule, it’s no secret that Smith loves high levels of competition.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, that’s for sure,” he said. “When you look at our schedule, with those non-region opponents and Glencoe and Wellborn in our region being ranked, if you’re going to try to make a run in the playoffs then you’ve got to play good competition.
“It’s great for us to play Dadeville, but I don’t know how ready we’ll be to play in a jamboree setting. I’m sure everyone is in the same boat we are and needs some kinks to be worked out.”
This week’s schedule
Regular Season Games
Oxford at Southside, 7 p.m.
Alexandria at Jacksonville, 7 p.m.
Ohatchee at Southeastern, 7 p.m.
Jacksonville Christian at Shades Mountain Christian, 7 p.m.
Clay Central at Munford, 7 p.m.
Talladega at TC Central, 7 p.m.
St. Clair County at Saks, 7 p.m.
Cherokee County Jamboree (at Spring Garden)
Spring Garden vs. North Sand Mountain, 5 p.m.
Spring Garden vs. Sand Rock, 5:35 p.m.
White Plains vs. Sand Rock, 6:45 p.m.
Weaver vs. Gaylesville, 7:20 p.m.
White Plains vs. Glencoe, 7:55 p.m.
Weaver vs. Cedar Bluff, 8:30 p.m.
Pleasant Valley at Hokes Bluff, 7 p.m.
Lincoln at Wellborn, 6:30 p.m.
Woodland at Cleburne County, 7 p.m.
Ranburne at Bremen (Ga.), 7 p.m. (Central)
Piedmont vs. Dadeville, Champions Challenge, 5 p.m.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.