Each year, players across the area step into the spotlight and have big seasons. It can be the upperclassmen who had a promising year the season before, or a young guy who was waiting to get his chance.
It seems like each area team has at least one star that they can always count on. Austin and Decatur’s two stars both come on the defensive side of the ball. Red Raiders senior Cole Cagle is almost a member of Decatur’s coaching staff on defense.
It’s no surprise, given his background. Cagle is the son of longtime Decatur defensive coordinator Lee Cagle.
“Cole is like having another coach on the field,” Adcock said. “He has a high football IQ and makes all the calls on defense. It’s his job to get everybody where they are supposed to be to make plays.”
Austin has a similar player in senior linebacker Charles Baker. Baker is charged with the task of leading a young defense that lost three All-State members. The young group will rely on Baker to make sure they have all of their assignments covered.
“He’s definitely a leader that our whole team looks up to,” Austin coach Jeremy Perkins said.
One of the scariest defenses in the area will be R.A. Hubbard. Senior All-State selection Ca’ni McCoy is 6-foot, 270 pounds. He’s joined inside by fellow senior Chase Porter (5-11, 285) and sophomore Montavius Orr (5-10, 285). R.A. Hubbard will be one of the toughest teams to block this season. Last season, McCoy had 27 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
The guys that have to block those big defensive linemen deserve attention, too. Priceville’s Michael McNutt, Hatton’s Gage Saint and Brewer’s Thomas Graves are standout players for their respective teams. All three are attracting Division I coaches to their teams’ practices this fall.
“He leads by example physically,” Hatton coach Denton Bowling said of Saint. “He has to continue to grow but he has done a good job. He’s an exceptional kid without a lot of talent and size.”
A former Austin player is bound to make plays for Athens next season. Keenan Hambrick, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, is committed to play football for Les Miles at Kansas.
Hambrick and Athens face region rival Hartselle in its second game of the season. The person to watch out for the Tigers is not a player but rather first-year head coach Bo Culver.
Culver comes from Deshler where he led the Tigers to the state championship game last season. Culver has big shoes to fill. Coach Bob Godsey won 141 games in 16 seasons, including a state championship in 2011.
Culver has the luxury of a returning starter in running back Brinten Barclay. Barclay is just one of the area running backs to keep an eye on.
Decatur Heritage’s Colton Keith is another. He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards for two straight seasons. Last season he had 1,316 yards and 10 touchdowns. Clements senior Jairrice Pryor also broke 1,000 yards rushing last season.
Perhaps no one loves to run the football more than East Limestone’ head coach Jeff Pugh.
His go-to guy at running back, senior DJ Davis, is a rare blend of power and home-run speed.
“You hardly ever see him get run down,” Pugh said. “He scored three long touchdowns for us last year in big games. He isn’t scared one bit. Pound for pound, he’s probably our most explosive guy.”
One guy is making the switch to running back after his team lost their main rusher from last seasons. Falkville’s Christian Angulo is a two-time All-State receiver, but he is taking his talents to the backfield.
Several teams will have new quarterbacks this season. One team with experience at that position is West Morgan with Glavine Segars. Danville, however, will have a new quarterback in Luke Nail, who transferred from Madison Academy. Nail threw for 2,001 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Mustangs last season.
Also in Class 4A, another skill player to watch is West Limestone’s Tyree Hiliare. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver played his first season of football last year.
“He has a skill set. He’s tall,” West Limestone coach Shelby Davis said. “He can run and has good hands. Last year was his first year playing football so now he has his feet under him and has a little confidence.”
A trio of linebackers will lead their team’s defenses as they try to chase down skill players like Hiliare. Ardmore’s Luke Hogan will start in the middle of the Tigers’ defense. He will also get reps at running back. Elkmont’s Luke Claunch will be the leader for the Red Devils. Lawrence County’s Colton Johnson is a three-year starter and usually leads the team in tackles.
“He makes our defense go,” Lawrence County head coach Rich Dutton said.
Also in Lawrence County, East Lawrence’s Isaiah Parham will be an experienced member of the secondary. Parham also played on offense last season at receiver. He could make plays on both sides for the Eagles.
For others, it could be the whole team you need to watch out for. Tanner fits that mold. The Rattlers are coming of their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1999. Second-year coach Oscar Bonds is confident his program is headed in the right direction.
These players— and one coach— could be the difference between a win and a loss on any given Friday night. Football is indeed a team sport, but individual performances can swing a game for a team. Seeing who will step up and grab the spotlight is part of the beauty of the high school football season.