Third time's the charm

Jadis Lee and the Tigers will travel to Montevallo in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs Friday.

As recently as the summer of 2017, Talladega High School’s football program wasn’t known for its rich tradition of making the postseason.

When the Tigers hit the road Friday to play Montevallo in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs, they’ll be fighting for not only the program’s first-ever postseason win, but also the possibility of hosting a playoff game for the first time in school history in the next round. 

“It’s going to take a lot because we know what’s at stake,” senior running back/linebacker D’Corian Wilson said. “We can make history. It’s a big game, so when we go down there that Friday, we’ve just got to focus up.”

Wilson joins a number of seniors and juniors who’ve been a part of the turnaround within the Talladega program as he prepares for his third straight season playing playoff football.

“We’ve been knowing that Talladega has some good athletes, and folks have just been thinking Talladega’s going to get run over, but we just wanted to change the culture around here, do something special with our season,” he said. “We wanted to do something big and not let it go to waste.”

He added the team gets plenty of aid from some of its underclassmen leaders — players like junior quarterback Nigel Scales and junior wide receivers Michael McGregor, John Ellis and De’Javion Spratling.

“They bring a lot to the table,” Wilson said. “You know, Nigel being our quarterback, he’s a big part of the team. He’s got to be a leader. 

“As seniors and being the older group, we try to bring a vocal point to these younger guys, try to lead them in the right direction and just let them help us out as we help them out because this is a team effort.”

Senior left tackle Peter Whitworth said it’s been crazy watching Talladega develop into a playoff-caliber team.

“I’ve been here for four years like C.J. (White),” he said. “I was here when we went 3-7 (in 2016), then (Coach Ted) Darby came in and changed the culture. Then (Coach Shannon) Felder came in and implemented some stuff, some discipline that really helped us.”

While playing offensive line doesn’t always come with glory and glamour, Whitworth said he has fun blocking for Talladega’s skill players.

“You get to push people out of the way, and it’s pretty fun when Nigel starts scrambling around,” he said. “You get to crack back on some people. It’s pretty fun being on the line.”

Johnathan Miller, a senior right tackle, also helps clear a path for the Tigers’ offense.

“It’s huge because I just like helping out the team and stuff, opening up holes and making them score touchdowns,” he said. “It gets stressful sometimes, but then he (Nigel) just finds the right read. We just trust him.”

Senior linebacker Ra’Derius Montgomery said he’s seen the impact Darby and Felder have made on the program since he joined the team prior to his sophomore season.

“With Coach Darby, we had our times where we bumped heads, but that’s over with,” Montgomery said. “We just move on with life. In life, you’ve got to move on without things. That’s what I’m doing, but I love that man Darby. I miss him.

“Like the team said, you have to stay focused to know what you’re doing. So with him (Felder) coming in (before fall camp), just not knowing everybody and wanting to get to know everybody, everybody had to be quiet, see what he wanted, do what we’ve got to do and (take care of) our business.”

For senior running back Jadis Lee, this will be his first playoff game. He said he was honored to be able to contribute to the team’s success.

“I didn’t play my 10th- or 11th-grade year,” Lee said. “I was not focused, getting kicked off the team and being bad in school and stuff.”

Senior guard/defensive lineman C.J. White missed his junior season due to a torn ACL and injuries to his meniscus, patella and hamstring.

“It’s a big road to come back and just really be with these boys because I love them to death,” he said. “Really, this is all we’ve got. Everybody comes out here and plays hard. We all fight together. If we lose, we all lose. If we win, we all win. These wins we’ve been getting, we aren’t going to be satisfied because we’re trying to go farther.”

He added to get the victory against Montevallo, there can be no playing around.

“It’s going to take the whole team,” White said. “Everybody’s got to come together. Everybody’s got to be focused. If everybody plays their game, we’ll come out with the ‘W.’”