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ENTRENCHED: Ohatchee football no longer the new kid in the winners' circle

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Ohatchee head coach Scott Martin chats with the officials during pre-game. The Ohatchee Indians, ranked 3rd in the state in class 2A, played host to Westbrook Christian Friday night in high school football action. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

OHATCHEE — Scott Martin has managed to do at Ohatchee what so many before him could not.

He’s turned the football program into a winner.

In the 10 years before Martin’s arrival on the Creekbank in 2014, the Indians went a combined 24-76, never making the playoffs under four different head coaches.

Martin went 5-15 in his first two seasons, but in 2016, Ohatchee broke through in a big way.

Behind quarterback Taylor Eubanks and running back Austin Tucker, the Indians went 12-2 and advanced to the Class 3A semifinals, their only losses coming against a Taylor Hayes-led Piedmont squad that finished 15-0 and won a state title.

Eubanks and Tucker combined to rush for 3,770 yards and 54 touchdowns on a team that finished the season with 589 points scored. But both were seniors, leaving many to question whether the 2016 version of the Indians was just a one-hit wonder.

The answer: Absolutely not, something Martin has proven over the last three seasons.

From 2016-19, Martin’s teams have a combined 41-7 record, something he credits to consistency within the program, rather than individual players.

“You can have one great player or two great players, and if it happens to be a running back or a quarterback that can throw the heck out of the ball, you can go out there and have some success,” Martin said during Ohatchee’s first week of summer workouts earlier this month. “But to maintain it year after year after year, that means you are doing some things within your program. And that’s what I’m most proud of.”

The 2017 and 2018 seasons saw the rise of Grayson Alward at quarterback and Dominique Thomas at running back. The results: Ohatchee finished the 2017 regular season 8-2, with its only losses coming against 3A North’s two state semifinalists, Randolph County and Piedmont. In 2018, after dropping down to 2A, the Indians finished the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record, winning the school’s first region championship since 2002. They advanced to the quarterfinals before losing 21-13 to eventual state champion Fyffe, which finished the season a perfect 15-0.

Ohatchee entered 2019 with another question that needed an answer: who would take over for Alward at quarterback? Enter Eli Ennis, who along with wingback Ryker Lambright, complemented Thomas in what turned out to be another strong year. The Indians once again finished the regular season undefeated and claimed another region title before falling to Collinsville in the second round of the playoffs.

Ohatchee’s biggest question entering the 2020-21 school year, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, may be whether football will be played at all this fall. But, if there is a season, Martin will have yet another question to answer: how to replace the production of Thomas and Lambright?

Thomas finished his Ohatchee career with 5,134 rushing yards and 74 rushing touchdowns and was named a finalist for 2A back of the year after the 2019 season. Lambright, who Martin referred to last season as “the fastest guy on the field for us,” was a big-play threat every time he touched the ball.

Martin has had to come up with answers to these types of questions before, and recent history shows he’ll likely have one come August, if he doesn’t have one already.

“Eli is back at quarterback, but what are we going to do at tailback? Well, it’s going to work out, because Noah Fuller is going to do a great job at tailback,” he said. “We lose Ryker at wingback. What are we going to do at wingback? Well, I think Devin Howell is going to do a great job at wingback.”

Ohatchee’s road to another strong season won’t come easy in 2020.

Judging by the Indians’ non-region schedule, folks in Ohatchee aren’t the only ones who have noticed Martin’s success on the Creekbank.

“We’ve got probably the toughest non-region schedule that we’ve ever had in the history of this school,” Martin said. “The down part of when you have success is it’s hard to find people to play you.”

That non-region schedule consists of games against three 4A schools: Cleburne County, Munford and Anniston. Add in the fact that after spending two years in 2A, the Indians are bumping back up to 3A, into a region that includes Piedmont, Wellborn, Saks, Pleasant Valley, Weaver, Hokes Bluff and Glencoe, and things don’t look any easier.

However, success breeds confidence, and Martin is ready for the challenge.

“The competitive person in me is excited about this year,” he said.

Sports Copy Chief Jared Gravette: 256-235-3572. On Twitter: @Jared_Gravette.