Editor's note: Each August, Anniston Star Sports Writer Joe Medley visits every Calhoun County school’s football practice before the season starts. It’s November 2019, and a record five of 12 football-playing schools in the county have made the semifinals. Game for another round of Travelin’? Check The Anniston Star and annistonstar.com each day for Joe’s reports leading to Friday’s semifinal games.
PIEDMONT — Maybe Piedmont’s part in making Calhoun County high school football history comes as the least surprising element.
A record five teams from the county make the state semifinals, and it just seems right that Piedmont would be one. When the Bulldogs play host to Wellborn tonight, they’ll play for their fourth state-finals appearance in five years.
Piedmont folks call that Thanksgiving week, at least in Steve Smith’s 14-year run as head coach. On average, his teams have made it this far every other year.
It never seems surprising, but even Piedmont deserves credit for a surprise now and then. If ever there was a case, it was this season.
A quick review of August Piedmont topics: 48-player roster with 35 freshmen and sophomores; new starters at 16 positions; and a freshman starting quarterback.
It’s as if the high-school football gods decided to test Smith-era Piedmont, just to see if things that knock most programs down a couple of perches affect the Bulldogs the same.
“This team has jelled really well,” Smith said. “It’s a fun bunch to be around. I really enjoy having this group.”
Clearly, Smith and his most recent team, the 12th Piedmont team in 13 years to reach double-digit wins, like a challenge.
The fact that Smith’s teams so often overcome these challenges has a lot to do with the program he and others have built down the ranks. It’s hard to imagine a more on-page pipeline, where players come more physically trained and versed in football schemes.
That has something to do with Jack Hayes playing like a far more advanced quarterback as a freshman, throwing 37 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions. He looked more like a freshman when he saw extended action as an eighth-grader, but a darned promising freshman.
Yes, transfers help. Player movement is part of life in high school sports, and winning programs attract movers. Safety Trey McFarland (Randolph County) helped, and Jadon Calhoun (Weaver) has made a nice scout-team quarterback while sitting out his junior year.
Wide receiver/running back Ethan Swinford (Munford) was a key player early, as Piedmont’s offense found its way with just two returning starters. Then again, Swinford missed five games and much of two others with a fractured fibula. The Bulldogs averaged 39.8 points in games he missed.
He’s expected to be full go tonight.
We could talk about players who have transferred out, and some have had productive years elsewhere, but it’s not just Jimmys and Joes. Seasons like this one saw Piedmont able to lean heavily on the structural program Smith and his underlings have built.
That’s why a program with back-to-back, single-digit senior classes maintained, winning its fifth consecutive region title in one of the state’s most highly regarded 3A regions.
That’s why the Bulldogs are 12-1 after playing nine games against teams that made the playoffs this season, from 2A-4A.
The easy narrative says the beat goes on, and the program does. Then again, it wasn’t the Bulldogs’ easiest plug-and-develop year.
Piedmont deserves credit for a mild surprise, even if the surprise was merely how seamless it’s seemed. Somehow, county history just feels right with Piedmont in it.