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Maleek Pope set to shine as Sylacauga coach faces former team

Coach Rob Carter-bc.jpg

Sylacauga coach Rob Carter faces his former program on Friday night.

Sylacauga coach Rob Carter would love to see his passing attack fine-tune a few things during the coming games.

If only Sylacauga running back Maleek Pope would let him.

“Maleek Pope, he’s really limited us on offense because he scores," Carter said. "We’ve created holes and gaps for him to make dynamic plays, and that has really cut down on the amount of plays we have offensively. … We hand him the ball, he goes 80, and then you’re off the field. 

“Then you get a lead, and you really don’t want to run the score up to work on those things.”

It’s a real first-world problem for a Sylacauga (4-2, with one victory by forfeit) group that is looking to extend the current winning streak to four when Beauregard (2-5) visits on Friday night at 7.

Pope is a big reason Sylacauga has scored 35-plus points in the last three games as he rushed for 637 yards and 11 touchdowns. Four of those scores came on runs of at least 50 yards, and Pope’s average scoring play this season comes on a gain of more than 35 yards.

So yeah, in a perfect world, Carter would love to get a few more offensive snaps in before Pope does his thing, but that doesn’t mean the Sylacauga coach is sick of the show.

“A lot of guys run through people to make that, and he is able to slip and slide with the same speed,” Carter said. “It is just something you got to witness. We see him do it in practice every day. Naturally, we’re used to it, but it never gets old seeing him do it on Friday nights.”

As talented as the senior running back is, Carter had real concerns about the offensive line earlier in the year. All five starters are relatively inexperienced, and the right side featured two sophomores in Landon Burns and Christopher West.

Carter said the entire offensive line has grown a tremendous amount in recent weeks, but the coach can’t help but praise the efforts of Burns and West.

“We thought maybe that (right side) was going to be a weakness, and they have proven they are not,” Carter said. “We’re as equal running right to left as any team. So I really commend them for stepping their game up as young football players.”

The Aggies coach also said he’s seen a change out of his defense lately as well. Guys on that side of the ball have done a good job attacking instead of letting the plays come to them. Carter credited the linebacker corps headlined by Antoinne Borden, J-Qwon Brownfield, Hudson Hodges and Carter’s stepson Bryant Waters, with making those improvements. Of that group Carter singled out both Hudson and Brownfield for their leadership.

“Being seniors, those two guys, they have really led the push to hey we are going to improve ourselves and really stop the run and we have had some good teams to do it against,” he said.

It doesn’t get any easier on Friday night facing off with Carter’s old team, and the stakes might not get any higher in the regular season. It’s homecoming, and a victory would almost ensure Sylacauga returns to the postseason this year.

For his part, the coach said he looks forward to competing with familiar faces. He also expects one heck of a game, perhaps the best the Hornets have played this season.

“This is my family now, and that was my family for 15 years,” Carter said. “And I look forward to it. … Those young people that I have coached, I told my team here, I am always going to love you guys forever no matter where I am at, at the time. Same way here. 

“I care about them, I’m ready to compete against them and knowing I am probably going to get their best game because those kids are looking forward to competing against me. And it is homecoming. I asked our guys to compete with the same type of mentality.”

Sports Writer Tyler Waldrep: 256-299-2133. On Twitter: @tylerwaldrep