It was an offseason of big changes for two of the area's largest high football programs in northeastern Alabama. Both North Jackson and Scottsboro have new coaches, and while the changes weren't as drastic at Ider and North Sand Mountain, those programs also experienced turnover.
North Jackson had a very disruptive coaching situation when David McKinney, the replacement for longtime coach Shawn Peek, abruptly resigned just days before spring practice. The Chiefs, who finished 7-5 last season, went through the spring and early summer with a group of volunteer coaches overseeing workouts before Leeds assistant Tony Johnson was hired in June.
After gaining the trust of the team, Johnson began putting together a completely new staff and installing new offensive and defensive systems.
"It's a lot of change and the kids are having to make the adjustment in a short amount of time," Johnson said. "It's a lot on them, and you have to be patient, but you also have to find the kids who can pick things up quickly and move forward.
"It wasn't an ideal situation for anybody, but we're not in the business of making excuses. This is one of the premier high school jobs in the state, and I'm honored to be coaching here. We still have talent and we've still got the same high expectations that the program was built on."
Junior C.J. Cobb (5-foot-8, 170) is the new quarterback in an offense that will rely on his ability to throw on the rollout as well as tuck the ball and run. He's athletic but has very little varsity experience at the position. What should help his progress is the return of senior linemen Robert Pylant (6-2, 240) and Mykel Meeker (6-0, 260) and receivers Steffan Tolliver (6-2, 170) and Bret Barbee (5-8, 170).
Aside from that experience, the Chiefs will have 20 sophomores who will start or get significant playing time. They have just four starters back on each side of the ball.
Former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix will be making his head coaching debut at Scottsboro. Nix has been a career college assistant, including stints as offensive coordinator at Atlantic Coast Conference schools Miami and Georgia Tech.
The Wildcats finished 2-8 last year, the fifth straight season of two wins or fewer. The return of quarterback Trey Lewis (6-1, 200), running back Collin Warren (5-8, 170) and receiver Heath Seymour (6-0, 190), all seniors, gives Scottsboro a good nucleus of skill players to build from.
Lewis was both the leading passer and rusher for the Wildcats last season, while senior linemen Chance Ramey (6-1, 250) and Ishmael Bibbs (5-11, 240) will anchor the defense and junior Jordan Whitehead (6-0, 205) is a solid linebacker.
North Sand Mountain returns nine defensive and six offensive starters from a team that won eight games last year, so expectations remain high. The Bison averaged 34 points per game last season but will have to adjust to a new style of offense with senior Cody McBryar (5-10, 200) making the transition from being a hybrid running back/receiver to quarterback.
His job will be made easier with Dexxter Walsh (6-2, 220) back after leading the team in rushing, and receivers Ean Miles (5-8, 160) and Eric George (5-10, 170) also have big-play potential. Senior Colt Shrader (6-2, 235) is the backbone of the offensive line, and sophomore Michael Farber (5-10, 185) anchors the defensive line.
The Bison have enough depth that only three players are likely to have to start both ways.
Ider missed the playoffs last fall unexpectedly and have several inexperienced players who will need to step up if a return to the postseason is to happen. It begins with Caleb Higdon (5-9, 165), who moves from running back to quarterback, and continues with two new offensive tackles and two new safeties for the Hornets. Higdon ran for 975 yards last season, but the bulk of the carries likely now will fall to senior Matthew Collins (5-9, 175).
Senior Cody Swanson (6-2, 260) anchors both lines, and classmate Ethan Durham (5-11, 210) is a solid two-year starter at center and defensive tackle.
"We had made the playoffs three years in a row, so missing out last year was a big disappointment for everybody," Ider coach Brent Tinker said. "But I think it was motivation for all the kids to work harder and reach that goal of getting back to that level."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
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 ...