The Austin Black Bears went into last year’s Class 6A football playoffs feeling like they had already found their honey.
This year they want something sweeter than a just a playoff appearance, and Austin coach Jeremy Perkins said the leadership of senior defensive players Jock Cohn, Lamont Crittenden and Nicholas Gladney will be the key to this success.
Austin plays at Pell City in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday night.
Perkins said Cohn, Crittenden and Gladney supply different kinds of leadership.
The outspoken Crittenden (5-foot, 10-inches, 215 pounds) is among team leaders at linebacker. He has recorded 60 tackles, included three for a loss, and 30 assisted tackles.
Cohn, a 5-10, 160-pound defensive back, prefers to lead with his actions, but said he’s willing to speak up to keep Black Bears playing up tempo. He has 22 tackles, including two for a loss, and 13 assisted tackles.
Gladney, a 5-10, 230-pound defensive end, rarely speaks. He also prefers to lead with his play. He has 21 tackles, including two for a loss and three sacks, and 18 assisted tackles.
While all are different, Perkins said the three are high character people that any coach would love to have them as team leaders.
Their teammates thought so much of the threesome that they elected them defensive captains.
The players said they feel like they’ve built great chemistry through the ups and downs of an 8-2 season.
Austin opened with seven straight wins, lost two regional games and then ended the regular season with a come-from-behind win over Hartselle. The second loss was a 17-13 thriller in which Bob Jones scored with 14.5 seconds left in the game.
“We’re so close,” Cohn said. “We take up for each other. No one places blame if there’s a mistake. We just encourage each other and keep playing.”
Crittenden said Black Bear defense makes up for their lack of size with speed and athleticism.
“Our defense has been tested the last three games,” Crittenden said. “We stopped two high-power offenses against Bob Jones and Hartselle and put ourselves in position to win the game.”
Having played in the same region the past two years, Austin and Pell City are familiar opponents. Pell City won a 42-38 thriller last year.
“We owe ‘em,” Crittenden said.
Perkins said his team faces a tough Pell City team that “has played big in the big games.”
Led by 5-9, 170-pound wide receiver Ira Burch, the Panthers are 6-4 overall but all six wins were Region 7 victories. They lost a tiebreaker with Clay-Chalkville to finish second in the region.
The Austin players said they were just happy to be in the playoffs last year. This year they have something to prove and the goal is a state title.
A 7-0 start that pushed them as high as a No. 4 state ranking gives them optimism that they can achieve this goal.
“A lot of people are saying Austin is a one-and-done team, but we want to prove them wrong and win it all,” Crittenden said.
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