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:
ALEXANDRIA — A coach can teach. A coach can preach.
As Todd Ginn learned in year one at Alexandria, however, it sometimes takes a validating moment under the lights to notch a roster of high school kids to 100 percent belief.
That moment came well into the final game of 2018 for Alexandria. Though the Valley Cubs lost a lot from that team, a feeling carries forward.
It was that feeling the Valley Cubs got, the moment they realized the brand name across the line of scrimmage from them was no greater than their own.
Madison Academy? Yes, they look great in that iconic uniform.
Alexandria? Yes, our iconic uniform looks good, too, and we can beat these guys.
“We should’ve won that game,” Ginn said about Alexandria’s 18-15 loss in the first round of last year’s playoffs. “You felt, at any given time in that game, being a part of it, that, early on, we didn’t think we could play with those guys, because you hear how they’re huge and this, that and the other.
“Then the attitude, somewhere in there, it just changed, and we’ve built on that.”
Indeed, Alexandria, which has its own rich history in Alabama high school football, had Madison Academy on the ropes. Madison Academy, who’s rich history runs more recent, wiggled out.
Ginn said he doesn’t like to watch film of the game. It only reminds him of what nearly was.
What if Alexandria could’ve carried its solidified, light-bulb belief forward another week? It hurts too much to think about it.
Then again, there’s another season. So many players from that team graduated or, in Joe Tucker’s case, transferred to follow his dad Frank’s move to join Westbrook Christian’s staff.
Nine seniors return, however. Veterans like running back Nate McCallum, Layton Ellison and Devin Burton have a story to tell.
It’s not the story of what Alexandria was, when Ginn’s late dad Larry picked up where Lou Scales left off and built a hall-of-fame career of his own, coaching Alexandria. Current Valley Cubs were toddlers or kindergartners when Larry Ginn last coached a game.
It’s the story of what Alexandria can be today, with another Ginn drawing from his dad’s wisdom but applying his own personality and touches to today’s Valley Cubs.
Some ideals are timeless. Players who weren’t part of Alexandria’s 2015 semifinal run, which came a two-point conversion short of a finals run, just need a reminder.
“I want us to remain humble,” Ginn said.
Just not to a fault. It took the regular season and some time on the field with Madison Academy to reach a balance.
“After we came up for air, after about the first eight minutes of the game, our players decided that we can play with those guys,” Ginn said. “We really controlled the entire game, and that gave us a lot to build on.”
It drove home a point Ginn sold from the moment he took over the program in May of last year, that Alexandria won’t beat itself. A much younger team carries on.
“Everybody then started believing that, even though you hear that we’re young and we’re not going to be that good this year,” Ginn said, “our mentality and how hard these guys have worked is going to show.
“We’re going to be a good bit better than people think we’re going to be.”