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:
SAKS — Saks plays its games on Jack Stewart Field, and it’s time to discuss dual naming.
All current Saks coach Jonathan Miller does is win, after all.
If Miller does it this season like he’s done it all seven other seasons as a Wildcat, he’ll have earned Jack Stewart Field at Jonathan Miller Stadium.
The numbers say it plainly. Miller stands 68-17 entering his eighth season since his promotion from defensive coordinator. He’s three wins from passing Stewart, who went 70-40-4.
Stewart’s accomplishments over multiple sports, at his native Lineville and Saks, won him induction to the Alabama High School Athletic Association and Calhoun County Sports halls of fame.
Miller has put winners on the basketball court at Saks, too, but we’re talking Saks football here. Miller, more than likely, will pass 70 wins at Saks in less than eight full seasons. Stewart, the school’s all-time wins leader, won 70 in 12 seasons.
Stewart inherited a Saks program that had winning seasons in six years prior to his arrival.
Miller helped Clint Smith make a winner out of a program that suffered nine losing seasons in a row.
On Miller’s watch as head coach, Saks has never had a losing season. His team made the playoffs all seven seasons, reaching the semifinals twice. The Wildcats have won 10 games or more under Miller four times.
Miller has done plenty to earn consideration as one of the county’s top coaches, and he’s about to enter uncharted territory at Saks.
Still think he needs to do more?
There is the challenge of this season, perhaps the toughest challenge Miller has faced at Saks.
It’s similar to 2016, when Miller went with a young lineup and went 6-5. Largely the same bunch matured and won 13 games a year later, and a key injury on the offensive line hurt in the semifinal loss to Fayette County.
This season, the plus side shows Saks returning quarterback Roilan Torres, who averaged 15 yards a carry during the Wildcats’ dominant romp through last season’s first half. But for his season-ending knee injury, well, who knows?
As it was, Saks still finished 10-2, earned a share of the Class 3A, Region 6 title and made the quarterfinals.
Saks also lost a lot.
Linemen Jaylen Childs, now at Troy, Marreo Thomas, now at Alabama State, and Caleb Ogle opened a lot of holes as Saks won 23 games in 2017 and 2018.
They helped quarterback LaDerrick Bell win All-Calhoun County 4A-6A player of the year in 2017. After a bump down in classification, running back Johnathon Cobb won 1A-3A player of the year in 2018.
They’re all gone.
Also gone are Daveon Dukes and Tony Hunley, players who contributed significantly in 2018 and wound up at Anniston this season.
Miller also lost long-time offensive coordinator Michael Easley, now Munford’s head coach. Miller, who had called the defense throughout his Saks stay, will call offense this season.
Saks’ region, one of 3A’s best, didn’t get any easier. Along with Piedmont, whom Saks beat while losing Torres for the season in 2018, and Randolph County, which handed Saks both of its losses, Wellborn returns all 22 starters, and Pleasant Valley looms as a playoff contender.
Don’t forget Weaver, which lost several key producers but hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2012.
On paper, this season stacks up as quite a challenge for Miller.
Then again, Miller has battled challenges at Saks. All he does is win, and he’s about to pass an all-time great.