While it is going about its in a different manner now, its still business as usual for North Jackson's football program. And that business is winning games, region championships and competing for another Alabama state championship.
In rolling to an 11-1 season and their 10th region title in 12 years, the Chiefs won all but two regular season games by double figures. Six turnovers and a blocked punt led to a disappointing second-round playoff loss.
Once noted for a power-running offense and a stingy 4-3 defense, the Chiefs made the switch to the spread offense three years ago and this year will scrap the 4-3 for the first time in more than 20 years. The offense will be stout again with the return of sophomore quarterback Kitt Grider, who threw for more than 2,200 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.
Only two starters are back on the offensive line and none return to the defensive front seven, which led Chiefs coach Shawn Peek to decide to go with a four linebacker look this fall.
"It just suits the type athletes we have right now but we think we'll still be pretty good even with a new system and a lot of young guys in the rotation," Peek said. "We're young in the line on both sides, but there are some guys who can play."
Senior Austin Blevins likely won't come off the field much this year. He is the team's leading returning rusher, with 483 yards last year and also led the defense with 8 interceptions. Also back is senior all-state kicker Cesar Diaz, who owns six school records, including longest field goal (50 yards) and most career field goals made (19).
Meanwhile Scottsboro missed the 5A playoffs last year but returns enough experience to expect to claim a postseason spot once again. Three offensive line starters are back as well as dual-threat quarterback Trey Lewis. Defensively, all four starters in the secondary are back, led by seniors Madison Estes at free safety and Darrell Hannigan at corner, while sophomore linebackers Donye Richardson and Jordan Whitehead have the type potential to excite coaches.
"What they lack in experience they make up for in ability and hustle," Wildcats coach Swane Morris said. "They can cover a lot of ground from sideline to sideline for us."
Expectations aren't just high for two Alabama teams in the valley, a pair of programs that play at a higher elevation also have bright futures. North Sand Mountain and Ider each qualified for the playoffs last year and both are loaded with enough returning talent to expect that same again.
This is the third year for senior quarterback Tyler Vann to start in Adam Gilbert's spread offense at North Sand Mountain. Vann, who is being recruited by UT-Chattanooga, Jacksonville State and Samford, set every school passing record last year, throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 23 TDs. Leading receiver Andrew Duncan, who averaged 16.7 yards per catch, is also back, as are the team's two leading rushers and three offensive line starters.
The Bison lost 10 starters on a defense that ranked third in the state in points allowed and total yards last year. Included among the departed are all four secondary starters from a group that set a school record with 23 interceptions.
Ider qualified for the postseason for the third straight year and has six starters back on both sides of the ball. This year's seniors have averaged 8 wins in their career and led by UTC commitment Hunter Townson, the offensive and defensive lines return intact. Townson, who is projected to play right tackle for the Mocs, was also the region defensive MVP last year. His presence will be counted on even more, especially early, with three new starting linebackers for the Hornets.
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 ...