Headlined by defending state champion Handley, six teams are in the top 10 while two others fell just short, receiving votes.
Three teams from the area are ranked in Class 4A.
Handley, which went 15-0 last year on its way to a Class 3A state title, is ranked No. 2 in Class 4A behind state-finalist Oneonta despite moving up in classification.
Central of Clay County, the result of the merger of longtime rivals Clay County and Lineville, is ranked No. 8 in the Class 4A poll. Both schools reached the state semifinals a year ago and Clay County won six state championships before being shut down at the end of last school year.
Still, the ranking came as a surprise to coach Steve Giddens.
“It’s certainly an honor,” Giddens said. “People look at what the schools in Clay County (Lineville and Clay County) have done in the past. It’s our job to live up to the standard set by those schools. The kids understand that and it gives us something to shoot for.”
Giddens said after the second day of AHSAA sanctioned practices Tuesday, they have 92 players on the varsity. The Volunteers will put their product on display in the AHSAA Champions Challenge exhibition where they’ll square off against Beauregard. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. Their season-opener will be at home against Class 3A Trinity on August 31st.
Anniston, which reached the state semifinals a year ago behind the rushing attack of former running back Troymaine Pope, is ranked No. 9 to start the season. The Bulldogs begin the season on the road against Class 5A Greenville on August 31st and begin their region slate when they travel to Cleburne County in Week 2.
Piedmont is ranked No. 3 Class 3A after a 12-1 finish in 2011 which saw them reach the state semifinals. The Bulldogs are ranked behind No. 1 Leeds and Deshler which dropped from down after the most recent reclassification this past spring.
“ It’s an honor and it’s definitely something that makes our players feel good but I always tell them you can’t get wrapped up in the polls in the because they’re usually reflective of what you’ve done in the past,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “We’ve still got to go out there and play. That’s the great thing about high school football is that the people who should be at the top are determined by a playoff and not an arbitrary poll.”
Added Smith: “I think Madison Academy probably should’ve been ranked No. 1 since they were the runners-up and Handley moved up. All those schools ranked ahead of us are worthy though.”
After going 12-2 and reaching the Class 6A state semifinals, Oxford will enter the season ranked No. 7. The Yellow Jackets take on Georgia powerhouse Carrollton on the road to start the season then to hosting No. 2 Clay-Chalkville and traveling to rival Gadsden City.
Wellborn (8-4) and Woodland (8-5) both received votes in Class 2A and Ragland (13-1), which received a first-place vote is ranked No. 4 in Class 1A.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.