Ready to compete

Matt Griffith enters his 14th season as Sylacauga's head football coach.

Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

SYLACAUGA -- The Sylacauga High School football team will travel to Briarwood for a spring jamboree tonight at 6.  

The Aggies will have several underclassmen stepping into different roles this spring. Sylacauga head coach Matt Griffith said he wants to see how this group handles game situations against a traditional powerhouse like Briarwood.

“I want to see them compete,” Griffith said. “The biggest thing is to go to Briarwood and just compete. Realize that you are playing one of the better programs in the state.

“We have played them the last three years and we have always come out of spring knowing that if we hold our own -- there are a couple of years (where) we thought that we were a little better -- if you do that you have the potential to be a really good football team in (Class) 5A because you are going against such a good program.”

Sylacauga has to replace 18 seniors from last season’s team that finished 8-3 and fell in the first round of the playoffs to Eufaula, 48-31.

The Aggies will have to fill vacancies created by the departure of nine starters on offense, including quarterback Keaton Wilson, who both rushed and threw for more than 1,000 yards last fall.

Griffith has been pleased with what he has seen from several individuals vying for playing time at key positions.

“We lost everything offensively, we lost eight or nine starters, but we have a really good class coming back,” Griffith said. “We have moved Dylan Keith, our Z-receiver, back to quarterback, and he has had a good spring.

“JD DeLoach has really come on this spring as our backup quarterback. There are some things that he brings to the table.

“We are a lot bigger upfront than we have been in the past. We had a really good offseason, so we are a bigger and stronger football team. We are junior heavy in some key spots. The biggest thing is, can the guys step in in the secondary, (can) they step in at some skill positions to make a run at it?

“I am pleased, we are much better at practice eight than we were in practice one. We have come a long way in the spring, we are still not where we want to be, but they have gotten better as the spring has gone on.”

The Aggies will also have to replace their three leading rushers from 2017 in Tashun Looney, Decarius Mickey and Wilson. Over the past decade, the Aggies have produced several talented backs, and Griffith doesn’t expect anything different with this group.

“Jordan Ridgeway will be our A-back,” Griffith said.  “He was our A-back last year, but he got hurt. Decarius Mickey stepped in and did such a great job that Jordan ended up being a part-time player and a full-time player some on defense. He has had a great spring.

“Journey Stockdale and Calvin Holtzclaw have done a really good job at B-back. (Center) Luke Hunnicutt and (lineman) Austin Allen are the only returning starters on offense. They have done a good job.”

The Aggies’ defense may be their strength heading into the season. Sylacauga has several key players back from 2017.

“I can’t say enough about our defensive front between Taylor Strickland, Darrian McElrath, Jordan Pierson, Zan Smith,” Griffith said. “Our front is better than it has been in the past. Chase Ivey, our MIKE linebacker, has had a tremendous spring. Demarco Campbell is back at safety. We have moved Rusty Craft to a strong safety. He has had a great spring.

“It is exciting. Everyone is undefeated, and we feel really good going into the summer. The key for this group is are they willing to pay the price like all the groups before them in the summer and sacrifice to work so we can be as good as we can be?”

Griffith believes tonight’s game will answer some of the questions he has about this group.

“The biggest thing with this group, since they don’t have a lot of experience, is can they handle a lot of adversity?” Griffith said. “Can you handle when bad things happen in a game and you still have that deep belief that it will all work out? Our groups in the past never got down, and they battled all the way to the fourth quarter. The key to this group is will they battle all four quarters and will they handle the ups and downs of a football game?”