New coaches in The Star’s coverage area have been a storyline this offseason, and new coaches will take center stage in the first action of high school football season this week. Let’s get right to it:
1. New faces, part I
Friday night’s game at Oxford showcases two faces in new places.
Oxford landed four-time state champion Keith Etheredge in one of the offseason’s splash hires in Alabama. It seems the perfect match of a strong returning team with a rich history and a coach with a hall-of-fame resume.
Munford hired Michael Easley away from Saks, where he served as offensive coordinator seven seasons under Jonathan Miller. Easley’s handiwork included working with then-quarterback Tre Smith, now a Swiss Army knife with the Kansas City Chiefs, and back-to-back Calhoun County players of the year … quarterback LaDerrick Bell (2017) and running back Johnathon Cobb (2018).
Oxford won this game 28-0 at Munford a year ago, with Ryan Herring at the helm for Oxford and Bill Smith coaching Munford. Herring left to become head coach at Pierce County (Ga.), and Smith left for Fayette County.
2. New faces, part II
In another clash of new coaches, Weaver’s Justin Taylor takes over for Daryl Hamby, who stepped down after nine years as a head coach and joined Scott Peavey’s staff at Haralson County (Ga.).
Taylor, a former Cleburne County player, will coach his first game as a varsity head coach at L.E. Bell Stadium, where he played during his high school career. He was an offensive lineman on the Tigers’ state-finalist team of 2001 and semifinal team of 2002.
Cleburne County institution Michael Shortt, who coached Taylor in high school, stepped down this past spring and gave way to Joby Burns, the defensive coordinator on Clay Central’s 5A title team last season. Burns played at Randolph County, under Ron Watters, and had been an assistant at Lineville before Clay Central.
3. Tyree in charge
Another Friday regular-season game marks the opener for Chandler Tyree, less than a month after he was hired to replace Chris White at White Plains.
The former Oxford assistant and Munford defensive coordinator spent a year out of coaching, in ministry, before returning and hopes to stir an energized congregation of Wildcats fans with a victory. White Plains won this game a year ago, 49-18 at Vincent.
4. Calling plays
Miller has assumed duties calling the offense, one of many new points of interest with Saks as the Wildcats face an Alabama Christian team that finished 4-8 a year ago, losing to Hillcrest-Evergreen in the second round of the playoffs.
Saks lost Cobb, as well as linemen Marreo Thomas, Jaylen Childs and Caleb Ogle. Daveon Dukes and Tony Hunley, all-county players on a team that went 10-2 and reached the 3A quarterfinals last year, transferred to Anniston.
Back in action is quarterback Roilan Torres, who joined forces with Cobb and a powerful offensive line to help Saks roar to a dominant start before a midseason knee injury claimed the rest of his season.
In many ways, it’s a new-look Saks team.
5. Jax is back
After an historic 2018, Jacksonville begins the 2019 conversation at J.B. Pennington, which finished 6-6 in 2018, falling to Piedmont in the second round of the 3A playoffs.
Jacksonville lost most of its offensive line and two key defensive linemen, but the Golden Eagles return nearly all of the headliner players that helped them achieve their first 10-win regular season, school-record 11-win total and third region title in 4A action. Quarterback Luke Jackson and running back Rontarius Wiggins produced nearly 4,500 yards in total offense in 2018 and look to build on that this season.
6. Primed Panthers
And so it begins, as a Wellborn team with 22 returning starters beings the long-awaited campaign for a breakthrough season. A group of players that’s played together and won on the lower levels and took lumps as freshmen and sophomores on the varsity level is ready to win.
The 3A Panthers take it to the field for the first time at 4A Oak Grove, in a game the Panthers should win handily. Oak Grove went 0-10 a year ago, losing 55-13 at Wellborn.
7. Jamboree action
Week Zero also has intriguing jamborees.
Pleasant Valley, which anticipates its best team in years, were set to spar Thursday with a young-but-salty Alexandria team and Hokes Bluff, the team Jacksonville battled for a region title in 2018.
Piedmont and Ohatchee will task each other at Ohatchee, with Piedmont welcoming new starters at nine spots on offense and seven on defense. Ohatchee looks to replace quarterback Grayson Alward.