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Joe Medley’s region projections: Reclassification changed the look, but expect familiar champions

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Oxford head coach Keith Etheredge makes a point with an official. Oxford played Spanish Fort Friday night for the 6A state football championship at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

One beauty of the latest Alabama High School Athletic Association reclassifications is that 18 of The Anniston Star’s coverage-area teams enter 2020 aligned in five regions.

Those regions encompass all 12 of Calhoun County’s football-playing schools.

Reclassification dramatically changed the look of region play as we knew it. What follows is a look at how we think regions featuring coverage-area teams will play out:

Class 6A, Region 7

Teams: Arab, Fort Payne, Oxford, Pell City, Scottsboro, Southside, Springville.

Winner: Oxford returns plenty from its Class 6A title team of 2019 and clearly outclasses the rest in a new region where four teams reclassified up from 5A and only Oxford made it more than two rounds deep in the playoffs. The Yellow Jackets’ toughest games lie in non-region play.

Other playoff teams: Arab, Fort Payne, Scottsboro.

Sleeper: It’s a stretch, trying to find another threat in this bunch, but Pell City, at least, played 6A ball the past two seasons. It also beat a 6A team and a 5A playoff team for its two wins in 2019.

Class 5A, Region 4

Teams: Beauregard, Clay Central, Elmore County, Holtville, Sylacauga, Talladega, Tallassee.

Winner: It’s tempting to default to the two-time defending 5A champion, but Clay Central didn’t win its region either year. Danny Horn’s teams major in playoff success. Then again, Elmore County, Holtville and Talladega are up from 4A. Among those three teams, only Talladega won a playoff game last season. Outside of Clay Central, the rest of Region 4 went 1-3 in the 2019 playoffs, and those six teams finished with a combined 28-34 record. Clay Central handled Sylacauga 28-0 in region play last year and should handle this region.

Other playoff teams: Sylacauga, Talladega, Tallassee.

Sleeper: Holtville made the playoffs the past two years in 4A and could at least impact the race for the 2-4 spots. 

Class 5A, Region 6

Teams: Alexandria, Center Point, Corner, Hayden, Leeds, Lincoln, Moody, St. Clair County.

Winner: Tough call between Center Point and Alexandria. Center Point was the fourth playoff qualifier out of a region that featured 5A champion Clay Central and semifinalist Mortimer Jordan, and the Eagles reached the quarterfinals. They also lost to Sylacauga, whom Alexandria beat in the playoffs. Center Point has Alexandria at home this season, but Ronnie Royal shows out in the state’s biggest market.

Other playoff teams: Center Point, Corner, Lincoln.

Sleeper: It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten this far without mentioning Leeds, but the Green Wave went 5-15 the past two years. Moody enters year three under head coach Adam Wallace and improved from 1-9 in his first year to 4-6 last season.

Class 4A, Region 4

Teams: Anniston, Cherokee County, Cleburne County, Handley, Jacksonville, Munford, White Plains.

Winner: Balanced, strong region. State runner-up Jacksonville and semifinalist Anniston lost a lot to graduation, but Jacksonville wins consistently under Clint Smith. Anniston progressed leaps and bounds both years under Rico White and has talent. A field goal of more than 50 yards kept Munford out of the 5A playoffs last year, and the Lions got four of their five victories in their final six games under first-year coach Michael Easley. Cherokee County returns 13 starters from a 6-4 team. Edge to Handley, which lost all-state running back Davontae Houston but returns eight starters on offense and defense from a 7-5 team that went two rounds into the playoffs. Handley also gets Munford, Jacksonville and Anniston at home.

Other playoff teams: Anniston, Jacksonville, Munford.

Sleepers: This is a deep region. Cherokee County returns 13 starters from a 6-4 team under a second-year coach and could bump someone out of the top four. Cleburne County and White Plains come improved under second-year coaches and could affect the race.

Class 3A, Region 5

Teams: Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Ohatchee, Piedmont, Pleasant Valley, Saks, Wellborn, Weaver.

Winner: Not much mystery here. Piedmont returns state championship game most valuable player Jack Hayes at quarterback, along with three other first-team all-state players in athlete Jakari Foster, defensive lineman Sean Smith and linebacker Landon Smart. The Bulldogs also have one of the most intriguing additions, as Weaver transfer Jadon Calhoun becomes eligible. The Bulldogs will contend for their fifth state title.

Other playoff: teams: Hokes Bluff, Ohatchee, Wellborn.

Sleepers: Pleasant Valley has knocked on the door of the playoffs with 5-5 finishes the past two years, each time missing by one game, but the Raiders lost a lot to graduation. Injuries wrecked Saks’ 2019, and a lot of young players got unexpected playing time, including promising junior quarterback Shawn Parnell.

Class 2A, Region 4

Teams: B.B. Comer, Fayetteville, Horseshoe Bend, LaFayette, Lanett, Ranburne, Randolph County, Vincent.

Winner: What a brutal region. Defending 1A champion Lanett moves up, and Alabama signee Kristian Story’s little brother projects as the starting quarterback. LaFayette has made the 2A playoffs the past five years and has athletes. Ranburne has made the 2A playoffs six of the past seven years. Randolph County and B.B. Comer made the playoffs out of 3A, Region 6 last year, and Randolph County was in the three-way tie atop that brutal region. Edge to Randolph County.

Other playoff teams: LaFayette, Lanett, Ranburne.

Sleeper: B.B Comer stunned everyone by making the playoffs in 3A, Region 6 last season, and will be a threat to surprise people in the 2A region.

Class 2A, Region 6

Teams: Cleveland, Gaston, Locust Fork, Sand Rock, Southeastern, Spring Garden, West End-Walnut Grove, Westbrook Christian.

Winner: It should come down to Spring Garden and Westbrook Christian, and Spring Garden gets that game at home this year. The Panthers’ entire backfield returns from last season’s 11-2 team, which made the 1A quarterfinals for the second year in a row. The returning backfield battery includes quarterback Ryley Kirk plus all-state backs Luke Welsh and Weston Kirk, who also plays linebacker. All-state wide receiver Cooper Austin also returns.

Other playoff teams: Cleveland, Locust Fork, Westbrook Christian.

Sleeper: Southeastern made the playoffs and finished 5-6 in 2019 and looks like the team most likely to challenge the top-four teams for a playoff spot.

Class 1A, Region 5

Teams: Donoho, Ragland, Talladega County Central, Victory Christian, Wadley, Winterboro, Woodland.

Winner: Wadley is young but brings athletes to a new region alignment. The Bulldogs no longer must spar with the likes of Lanett. It’s enough to give them the preseason edge, but this region has balance. Donoho returns quarterback Ridge Hopkins and athlete Amari Smedley. Winterboro and Victory Christian each won six games last year.

Other playoff teams: Donoho, Victory Christian, Winterboro.

Sleepers: Ragland is young but made the playoffs 19 of 21 years before missing out the past two years. TCC went winless last year but made the playoffs six straight years before that, and Woodland dropped from 2A.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.