Editor's note: High school football practice is under way, and Anniston Star Sports Writer Joe Medley has grabbed his pen, notebook, recorder and cell phone as he hits the road and visits every Calhoun County school’s football practice before the season begins. Check The Anniston Star each day for Joe’s reports.
Where Joe has visited so far:
Donoho enjoyed a nice ride with one of the school’s most special athletes in Hall Billings. Enter Ridge Hopkins, and so begins the … adventure?
Whether it’s with a football or a whip in his right hand, the sophomore quarterback wields it with power. He sure gives Donoho a new way to lash opponents.
The Falcons snapped back in 2018, going from 2-8 in 2017 to 8-2 in the regular season and 9-3 overall in Mark Sanders’ second year as head coach and Billings’ last as their quarterback.
Billings finished the season as a second-team All-Calhoun County pick. This in a season where the Class 1A-3A set served up lots of nice choices in quarterbacks.
Billings went on to make first-team all-county and all-state in baseball, and he’ll carry on baseball, at Huntingdon. Even as Billings did his thing for the Falcons last football season, a practice visit often led to a peek at the talent coming up behind him.
Then a freshman, Hopkins impressed with his arm, and it doesn’t seem to matter what he holds in that hand. He can throw it.
“If we’re in the gym, and I say, ‘Ridge, throw that tennis ball in the hoop over there,’ he’ll throw it 30 yards and try to ring the basket, and he’ll get right on it,” Sanders said. “He’s very good with his vision and his arm.”
In track, Hopkins finished 10th at the 1A state meet with a javelin throw of 127 feet, 10 inches. He took first at sectional with a personal-best of 139-06.
So Hopkins can throw things … and lash things. Sanders tells the story of Hopkins dressing as action-adventure movie character Indiana Jones for Halloween last fall.
“I didn’t know how far he was going to take the character,” Sanders said. “He came to school with a big, long whip, and he could crack that thing. He could split things open with it, and it was pretty scary.”
That could be useful in a huddle, if rules allowed, but one gets the idea. Hopkins has arm talent, and not just his right. Sanders said his new starting quarterback can throw with his left.
“And backward,” he said.
That leads to speculation about Donoho’s offensive look this year. That Sanders likes to use tight ends is no secret. Will Nelson caught 24 passes for 350 yards and five scores, making first-team all-county last season.
All-around athlete Amari Smedley makes an intriguing target, and 1,400-yard rusher Rod Elston is known to catch a pass or two.
Add a 60-yard thrower with what Sanders calls “probably one of the best arms I’ve seen on any quarterback, at his age,” and Donoho would seem to shape up as more of a passing team. Sanders stays cagey about such things, but the capability exists.
After three years as the junior-varsity quarterback, Hopkins comes to varsity football as ready as he can be, but with things to learn. Lesson No. 1 … defending himself.
Without a whip, that is.
“I’ve just got to teach him how to shift around and dodge people,” said Sanders, a former Alabama offensive lineman. “He likes to try to run people over. He needs to start to figure out that’s not the best idea on the varsity level.”
Soon enough, the guy who dresses like Indy will hone wits and craftiness like Indy. So begins Donoho’s new adventure at quarterback.