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Six storylines: COVID-19 battles big-time buzz as regular prep practices begin

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Jacksonville head coach Clint Smith with his team during a timeout. Jacksonville played UMS-Wright Friday for the 4A state football championship at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. Jacksonville lost the game 28-17. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

A week of acclimation practice in helmets and shorts has passed. For-real high school football practice for this unreal year starts Monday.

Also, the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason poll comes out Sunday night.

Last we checked, everything remains set to go, so things just got real. Here are six storylines:

1. Everybody healthy

The COVID-19 pandemic always looms over the 2020 preseason reality, so daily life around various camps involves taking temperatures and rolls as players report each day.

At the current rate of COVID-19 surge in Alabama and Calhoun County, it’s a safe bet absences and individual quarantines will be part of the daily cost of doing business. That’s most likely true once contact practices start.

NFL teams have started like “Reserve/COVID-19” and “Reserve/Opt-Out.” It’s doubtful high schools will announce such things, but expected coaches to contend with similar problems.

Assuming the scheduled Aug. 20-22 games go off as planned, bet that they won’t go off with all hands on deck. 

2. Decisions, decisions

Then come decisions that local school boards must make. Barbour County just joined the list of boards that made significant moves, canceling all sports for the 2020-21 school year.

It’s a heck of a thing, going to practice each day with back-of-mind thoughts that it could all be for nothing. Then again, it’s a heck of a thing to be practicing at all, considering the alternative.

Rule of thumb: if they haven’t padlocked the place, then game on.

3. Buzz, Oxford style

High-profile season-opening matchups add buzz to preseason practice, and Oxford’s first game has a name … the Go Cold Bowl.

The Aug. 22 game sends 6A state champion Oxford to 7A state champion Thompson. The game should draw statewide media, a la Oxford’s two games against Pinson Valley last season and the 6A final. Ditto for recruiting media, who have plenty to see just on Oxford’s sideline.

Wide receiver Roc Taylor is a Tennessee commit but starting to get in-state offers. Senior defensive back Delvon Fegans has emerged as a three-star prospect. Younger brother Trequon Fegans, a junior, checks in as a five-star prospect, and sophomore offensive linemen Bradyn Joiner has piled up offers.

Oxford-Thompson isn’t just a nice helmet game. It’s a .com game. 

4. Buzz, Piedmont style

With so much returning from a young team that, nonetheless, won a state championship, Piedmont enters this season back in the high expectations game.

A team back to its usual preseason buzz, the Bulldogs will open with a border-war game at Cherokee County. It’s one of many big non-region games for coverage-area teams this season and should add buzz to Piedmont’s preseason preparations. 

5. Buzz, Jacksonville style

Since going 5-5 with his first Jacksonville team, Clint Smith has done nothing but win with the Golden Eagles. They’ve won at least eight games in six of his eight seasons and 23 games over the last two.

He’s built a program, and he’ll count big-time on what he’s built heading into a season where he must replace 18 starters and 22 departed seniors.

The cupboard is hardly bare. Peanut Adams is one of the area’s top defenders and athletes, and he’ll likely see more time on offense this season. Freshman quarterback Jim Ogle, son of Jacksonville State’s longtime offensive coordinator, comes on line.

Smith has lots of holes to plug, though, and didn’t have the benefit of a spring practice to evaluate things. It’s a big August for the reigning 4A runners-up.

6. Buzz, Anniston-Wellborn style

The looming Anniston-Wellborn game on Aug. 21 pits Calhoun County’s other two semifinalists from last season, Anniston in 4A and Wellborn in 3A, and has both camps buzzing.

An interesting factoid: Anniston’s game at Wellborn will mark the Bulldogs’ first non-region game against another school from Calhoun County since beating Alexandria 14-13 to open the 2009 season.

Wellborn played Saks and White Plains in non-region games in 2017.

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