JACKSONVILLE — Coaches tend to rely heavily on the senior class to help lay the foundation for future success. This will prove pivotal at Jacksonville High School this season.

Head coach Clint Smith and the Golden Eagles have 13 seniors coming back this year, and everyone is hopeful the youth and inexperience of the underclassmen will be a thing of the past by mid-season.

“Within our 13 returning seniors, there are a lot of good players as well as good leaders,” Smith said. “We’ve got a really big young group of freshmen and sophomores, and a lot of those guys are going to be playing on Friday nights, so we are looking to our seniors to set the bar and lead by example.

“Our seniors are a good group, so we are excited about it. They understand what it takes, after getting into the playoffs last year and winning a playoff game. They kind of have that taste in their mouths about what it’s like to get to that next level, and hopefully we can progress on that.”

The ability for this senior class to bring leadership and a winning mentality to the team echoes through starting center C.C. Ryan’s voice. Throughout spring and summer workouts, there have been two young players who have caught the eye of the senior so far.

“Taye Ackles, our running back, he’s going to be good, probably as good as Dominique (Thomas) was,” Ryan said. “Quen (Veasley) isn’t as big as Jackson (Bell) was, but he’s got an arm.”

Veasley is the son of former Anniston High letterman Delvin Hughley, who played collegiate football at Jacksonville State before a brief stint in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. He also spent time in the Arena Football League with the Colorado Crush.

Smith also has high praise for his projected starting running back (Ackles), who is only a sophomore.

“He’s going to be a real good one,” he said. “He’s a big kid for his age — probably 190 or 200 pounds — and he has good speed. He’ll have to replace Dominique, and kind of carry some of the load he’s had.”

Despite losing a large senior class last year, Sid Thurmond returns for his senior season, and he has playmaking abilities, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but defensive as well. Fellow senior Savon Parker is also back for the Golden Eagles and will be eager to prove why he’s considered one of the fiercest linebackers in the county.  

“Sid is a guy who has great instincts, and has grown up around football,” Smith said. “He can play multiple positions on both sides of the ball and not miss a beat. His knowledge of the game and his instincts, I think really show.

“The guys look up to him, not just because of the leadership he brings to the team, but he’s just a good kid.”

Even though he isn’t the tallest player on Jacksonville’s team, Smith hinted he may ask Thurmond to line up under center or take a direct-snap out of the shotgun formation a few times.

“If they tell me to go in there, I’ll go in there and try to make a play,” Thurmond said.

With the AHSAA allowing schools to begin its regular-season games a week earlier than in the past, Jacksonville is wasting no time playing its biggest rival — Alexandria — despite not being in the same class any longer. The Golden Eagles and Valley Cubs are scheduled to kickoff Friday night.

“I’m ready,” Thurmond said. “I love playing Alexandria. It’s still a rivalry.”