Pope makes plays

Aggies sophomore running back Maleek Pope (3) follows the block of Jordan Ridgeway (5) during practice last week. 

As Sylacauga High School’s varsity football team nears the end of the second week of fall camp, each rep serves to bring clarity to what could be in the program’s future.

Following Thursday’s practice, Aggies head coach Matt Griffith said he was pleased with his team’s progression as it prepares for its second scrimmage of camp tonight.

“We think we’re a little ahead of where we were last year, but we expected to be,” he said. “We’re an older bunch. We have a lot of kids coming back. There’s been a lot of carryover from that year to the spring to the summer.

“The biggest thing now is tomorrow we’ll see -- are we better tomorrow than we were today? That’s what we’re kind of taking it day-by-day just to see where we’re at.”

Griffith said senior quarterback J.D. DeLoach, in his first season as a starter on the varsity squad, has a great command of the offense he has run since he was in seventh grade.

“It’s been huge,” Griffith said. “The difference in his ability to get kids lined up and to understand the signals from the sidelines and things to just be so smooth, it’s been light years from where we have been in the past at this time period. 

“He’s a smart kid. He’s been in the system a long time. He’s had a tremendous spring, a tremendous summer and so far, just a great fall camp. He’s done everything he’s supposed to do to have a great senior year.”

While the Aggies boasted known commodities Maleek Pope, Jordan Ridgeway and Journey Stockdale at running back going into fall camp, there were several questions to be answered pertaining to depth at defensive back and wide receiver. 

Griffith said he knows who will be in line to start in both position groups and who may be able to contribute in some capacity with the team if there are injuries.

“Our two corners, Gabe Cox and Dontavious Ware, both are solid,” Griffith said. “Luke Vincent’s had a great camp at safety. When Cox sometimes moves to safety, Jeremy Odem, who is a 10th-grader, has really looked good.

“We’ve had some receivers who have stepped forward. Tim Stallworth and Riley Basinger have stepped forward. Ware, who will play both ways a little bit, (will line up) at Z. Colton Hardiman has had a good summer at tight end.

“We’ve had some guys emerge to step in, be able to play and spell some folks.”

Griffith said the defensive line has played well, and he’s looking forward to how the team will perform on both sides of the trenches.

“It’s been great competition because we’ve had everybody back almost on the offensive line,” he said. “What you’ve basically got when you’re going ones-on-ones, there’s a lot of kids taking a lot of pride in trying to win up front right now … We’ve always, at this school, had pretty good skill kids and we’ve always been lacking in being able to handle people up front because we usually have smaller kids (on the line).

“For the first time, we think we’ve got some front guys who can maybe match up across the state and the region. The biggest thing is you’ve just got to stay healthy as the season goes on.”

Going into the team’s scrimmage tonight, Griffith said he’s primarily looking for improvement from one exhibition to the other in order to be as smooth as possible going into the first game week.

As far as areas of improvement, he cited a few items of note, but added those areas were minor and easily corrected.

“You’ve just got to be better at what you’re doing, Griffith said. “If you want to talk about the little things, we’ve got to block in the perimeter a little bit better. We’ve got to catch the ball a little bit better. We’ve got to get off blocks and really fly to the football defensively. 

“Those are things we’re looking for, but those are all things that can be coached up. All those little things will make the kids better.” 

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