NORTH JACKSON CHIEFS
Coach: Shawn Peek (32-7 here; 72-58 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 6/4/1
Remember these names: The biggest playmaker on both sides of the ball is one of the smallest players on the field as Kahne Cooper (Sr., 5-10, 175) will play receiver and quarterback and is a three-year starter in the secondary. Middle linebacker Dwight McGowan (Sr., 5-11, 190) is the leading returning tackler, while DaQuan Lawrence (6-2, 165) and Austin Blevins are expected to contribute as ball carriers and defensive backs. The offensive line should be solid with the return of Marquez Nicholson (Sr., 6-0, 225), Josh Swearingen (Sr., 6-1, 220) and Cody Gilliam (Sr., 5-11, 215).
Will be a memorable year if: Freshman quarterback Kitt Grider adapts to the speed of the varsity game. The Chiefs have playmakers on offense and a veteran line around Grider, but their chances for a deep run in the playoffs will get a boost if he can handle the quarterback duties and allow Cooper to stay at receiver.
Aug. 26 at Madison Academy
Sept. 2 Douglas*
Sept. 9 at DAR*
Sept. 16 Guntersville*
Sept. 23 at R.A. Hubbard
Sept. 30 Cherokee County*
Oct. 7 Butler*
Oct. 14 at Crossville*
Oct. 21 at Fairview*
Oct. 28 at Scottsboro
* Region 7-4A game
The only thing certain is that Kahne Cooper will rarely come off the field for North Jackson this season. What position he will be playing is not so sure.
He was the Chiefs’ second-leading receiver last season and will be expected to continue in that role. But he also may take a lot of snaps at quarterback while the Chiefs break in freshman Kitt Grider at that position, and Cooper will move back to safety on defense after playing cornerback last season.
He also will return kicks for the Chiefs, who advanced to Alabama’s Class 4A semifinals last season and are ranked No. 4 in the state’s preseason poll.
“I actually think it’s a lot of fun to move around and play a lot of positions,” said Cooper, who attended summer camps at Memphis, Georgia Tech and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “I’ve been at receiver since my freshman year, so I’m confident in what I can do there. I played quarterback in middle school, and everybody likes playing that position because you get to feel like you’re in control of things.
“Mostly I’m just trying to take some of the pressure off Kitt until he gets comfortable in the offense. I know I’ve gotten in much better shape than ever because I know I’ll be counted on to do a lot more.”
A three-year starter in the secondary, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Cooper played safety as a sophomore before moving to corner last year. He had three interceptions, seven pass breakups and a fumble recovery to go with 49 total tackles last season.
Coaches knew Cooper had the potential to become a special player when as a 124-pound freshman he led the team in receptions the last three games of that season. Last year he developed into the offensive threat they projected as he finished with 960 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s awfully good to have a guy as versatile as Kahne is,” North Jackson coach Shawn Peek said. “When he gets off the bus he won’t intimidate the other team, but by the end of the game the opposing coaches always want to talk about how tough he is to defend. He’s got great skills anywhere on the field. No matter what position he’s at, he makes plays.”
All that stood in the way between North Jackson and Alabama’s Class 4A state championship in 1993 was 312 miles (one way) and defending champ Daleville. The Chiefs made the almost-six-hour drive to near the Florida border to face the War Hawks on Daleville’s home field near an Army base, and North Jackson coach Phillip Lolley wasn’t about to take any chances. He ordered his staff to check the visitors’ locker room for bugs or recording devices, and rather than discussing the game plan aloud he used hand signals and wrote out strategy on a chalkboard.
During the pregame, Lolley stared down the Daleville coaches and began firing imaginary pistols with his fingers. As the Chiefs waited on the sideline for the War Hawks to arrive from a hill overlooking the field, Lolley felt the hosts were taking too long while taunting his team, so he walked halfway up the field, yelling and demanding they “bring their butt on down here and let’s get it on!” North Jackson, which held 12 of 15 opponents to one touchdown or less that season, won 21-14 and the colorful Lolley held up a replica of a championship boxing belt that read “4A state champs.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...