What to watch in 2007
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
There's always something particularly enjoyable about the beginning of a new football season. Every team believes this is their year; every team is undefeated and every page of the year's story is blank.
At the same time, there is the anticipation of seeing what will transpire on the field and whether those events will be similar to what everyone is expecting. Just last year, most experts were picking Decatur to be one of the top teams in the state after moving down from Class 6A to 5A. The Red Raiders were perennial playoff contenders in the larger classification, but amazingly failed to make the playoffs in their first year in Class 5A.
That is just one example of how the season hardly ever exactly follows the script. No matter what you expect to happen on the field, it's just as likely that things will be completely different. Even with that caveat in mind, here's a look at some of the storylines I'm going to be watching during the 2007 high school football season.
How strong can Hartselle's rushing game be? – The Tigers have always prided themselves on a potent running game, but this year's offensive attack could be their best one yet. Hartselle features not just one, but two running backs who broke 1,000 yards rushing…as sophomores.
Marquez Jones returns as a junior this season after collecting 1,305 rushing yards last year, and he is joined in the backfield by senior Montrell Murphy, who had 1,629 yards as a sophomore in 2005.
It will be very exciting to see the creative ways that Hartselle coach Bob Godsey uses his talented backs in the Tigers' offense this season. Along with an offensive line that returns three starters from last season's 11-2 team, Hartselle should be able to unleash a ground attack that will be very hard for opposing defenses to stop.
Will Falkville take the next step? – The turnaround at Falkville High School has been nothing short of amazing. Just two seasons ago, the team was coming off an 0-10 record and was under the direction of a rookie head coach who was just trying to get the Blue Devils back to being competitive.
Not only was Falkville competitive, but the Blue Devils actually made the playoffs in that 2005 season. Last year, they took their second straight trip to the postseason under coach Neil Estes, but for the second-straight time they were also one-and-done.
The expectations have changed at Falkville. Now the Blue Devils not only want to make the playoffs, but they'd like to stick around for a while after getting there.
Can the Bulldogs break through? – Last season, the Priceville Bulldogs literally came one point away from making the playoffs for the first time in the school's history. In its eighth game, Priceville fell to Ardmore 7-6 in a hard-fought battle. Although the Bulldogs won their next two games against East Lawrence and Falkville, Priceville finished 3-4 in region play and missed its chance at the Class 4A playoffs.
It was the second straight year a local high school team has finished 6-4 overall yet failed to make the postseason (Hartselle did it in 2005).
This year, the Bulldogs have a veteran defense and their sights set on making the playoffs. The region is top-loaded with perennial powers North Jackson and East Limestone, but Priceville should be able to be competitive with the rest of its opponents and should be in the running for one of the last playoff spots.
Can the Hawks start out strong? – I honestly feel that we never quite knew just how good Danville could be last year.
At the start of the 2006 season, I had the Hawks slated to make the playoffs, but the team opened with three straight one-point losses. I don't care how strong a team is emotionally, it's got to be hard to bounce back from that kind of adversity.
I can only imagine the frustration the players could have been feeling after those defeats, two of which came in region play and put the Hawks in a hole that was all but impossible to dig out of. Danville lost its next five games as well, but bounced back with two wins to close out the season, including an impressive 17-14 win over an 8-1 and playoff-bound Speake team.
You just know that coach Joey Burch is hammering away at his kids about those three one-point losses. One less fumble, one less dropped pass, one less missed extra point, and things could have been much different for the Hawks in 2006.
Though they can't do anything about last year, the Hawks can try to bounce back with a strong performance this season, including a fast start out of the gates.