TALLADEGA — A challenge was issued, and a statement was made.
The ball was kicked, and the players acted like they knew exactly what to do. Welcome to the new-look Talladega High boys soccer team.
They are nothing like their former self.
“Our big thing is changing this culture,” Tigers head coach Kory Burel said. “We’re getting more players involved. We’re working hard and jelling. We are ready to play anybody, anywhere.”
That was the startling theme this spring as the Talladega boys dove into their first winning soccer season in a decade of corner kicks, high fives and muddy, skin-deep tackles.
The Tigers plowed through for a 13-6 season. It was a program-changing season for Talladega, which won eight more soccer games this year than it did in 2022.
“We competed,” Burel said. “We overcame obstacles and frustration. We trusted each other. If one player messed up, there was somebody to cover for them. We worked together.”
The Tigers were not a soft touch for anyone. They played some bloodthirsty defense with seven shutouts during the 2023 season.
Talladega blanked Sylacauga, Cleburne County and Munford. The Tigers also shut out Childersburg twice, as well as Ashville twice.
“The heart of our team was defense,” Burel said. “We were a stone wall, and we played in space. We were good enough to play anybody. We have a coach-directed and a player-led team.”
The soccer-crushing Tigers also beat Lincoln, Jacksonville and Sylacauga behind a spunky defense led by sophomores Josmar Reyes and Avontae Griffin, and juniors Jackson Burel and Victor Hernandez.
Talladega’s defense also got a devouring season from sophomore goalkeeper Jesse Adams. He made stabbing stops at well over 100 saves this spring. The 5-foot-9 Adams also had a 15-save game against Jacksonville and a 25-save match against Oneonta.
“Jesse is quick, and he dives at anything,” Burel said. “He has good hands, and Jesse plays year-round.”
The Tigers were state ranked this season, too. Talladega High was ranked 13th in Class 4A at one time earlier this year.
Along with rankings, saves and pre-game sugar cookies, Talladega also got 33 goals from junior striker Arturo-Angel Villanueva this season.
“He is so quick,” Burel said. “Arturo is really fast, and he’s a team player.”
The Tigers have some more game-changing soccer skills with sophomore midfielder Angel Villanueva. He scored his share of goals this season.
The 5-foot-8 Villanueva also piled up 12 assists. He’s a soccer handyman.
“Angel knows the game, and he looks for the open guy,” Burel said.
Next season and the years after that should be even better for the Tigers, who will be looking for some fresh meat and some new soccer victims in 2024.
“We want to get to the playoffs and win,” Burel said. “We could get to the second or the third round of the playoffs. We’re hungry. My players are already asking me for our summer schedule for lifting (weight lifting), running and scrimmaging.”
And one other soccer thing, “We can be good and still be from Talladega. We’re creating some school spirit,” Burel said.
And the Talladega Tigers are winning boys soccer games, too.