Stars in the spotlight
The spotlight will be focused most on first-year head coach BobBo Culver. He’s following a legend in Bob Godsey, who set the program’s record for career wins with 141 in 16 seasons and won a state championship in 2011.
Lay of the land
The Tigers dominated Class 6A, Region 7 last year en route to an 11-1 season and the region championship. Repeating this season will be difficult, especially after losing one of the school’s largest (24) and most talented senior classes.
Muscle Shoals is probably the region favorite. Hartselle hosts Muscle Shoals on Sept. 13. The region could come down to Hartselle, Decatur, Athens and Cullman battling for the three playoff spots behind the Trojans.
The best way to replace a winner is get another winner. That’s what Hartselle has down in hiring Culver. The 34-year-old has been a head coach for nine years at Phil Campbell, Haleyville and Deshler. He’s won 50 games and coached Deshler to the Class 4A state finals last season.
The Tigers (11-1) dominated on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged scoring 27.8 points a game. Opponents scored just 133 points for an 11.1 average. Six opponents scored eight points or less, including two shutouts.
Last three seasons
The record is 26-8 over the last three seasons. Last year’s 11-1 record was the school’s best since the 15-0 state championship season in 2011.
Words to grow on
“It’s not going to do me any good to try and be the next Bob Godsey,” Culver said. “I can only be me.”
Not only does Culver have to replace Godsey as head coach, but he’s also got to replace Godsey’s son Luke at quarterback. The two-year starter was The Daily’s 5A-7A Co-Player of the Year after accounting for 21 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards rushing.
Cal George is the next man up. The junior has experience mostly from junior varsity games.
“He’s a hard worker and did a great job in the spring of getting a grasp on what we want him to be able to do,” Culver said.
Leaders on offense
Hartselle must replace running back/receiver Keondre Swoopes, who signed with UAB after accounting for 18 touchdowns last season.
Brinten Barclay should be the featured running back in the quick tempo attack out of the spread formation. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound senior does have experience.
“What we will do on offense really suits his strength,” Culver said.
The offensive line has senior Zane Stinson moving from starting center to left tackle. Will Miller, another senior, shifts from guard to center. Senior Alston Hampton will be the right tackle. Senior Bryson Holt and junior Ryan Garrison are in line to be the guards.
When George throws the ball, he will have several options. Senior Hunter Driver, who excels in track, is moving from defensive back to receiver. Senior Jacob McDonald will be a 6-foot-4 target at receiver. Senior Ian Bodine may be the most experienced receiver returning. Hunter Franks and Jayce Dubose should also see playing time.
“We have a lot of young guys on offense who have to grow up in a hurry,” Culver said.
Leaders on defense
The defense lost a ton of talent headed by All-State linebacker Stone Powell. The Tigers do have defensive coordinator Bert Newton returning. That means the Tigers will still be using the 3-3 stack that has been the team’s signature defense since before Godsey arrived. It features three defensive linemen and three linebackers. Culver has used the same alignment at his previous schools.
“I’m a fan of it because it’s difficult for the offense to get the defense out of balance,” Culver said. “It’s difficult to out-flank the defense.”
Senior linebacker Jackson Boyer (6-3, 237) has committed to play football at the Naval Academy. Senior safety Addison Parker, who will play college baseball at Tennessee-Martin, is the key player in the secondary. Junior linebacker Drew Cartee had 126 tackles last season.
Other players to watch for are sophomore defensive back Devron Turney, senior linebacker Ryan Langston, senior lineman Mark Pettus and junior lineman Seth Lockett.
Must see game
Hartselle opens on the road at 7A Austin. The next week it’s a road trip to Athens for the first region game of the season. Hartselle will be trying to extend its 13-game winning streak vs. the Golden Eagles.
“One of the reasons I came to Hartselle was because of the support this program gets from the community,” Culver said. “Knowing that when I came in, I was still amazed at how this community embraces this football program. It's something special.”
— David Elwell