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Hartselle, Austin set to kick off season in three weeks

Last year, the Hartselle Tigers went 6-4 and fell short of making the playoffs. The Austin Black Bears were a powerhouse; they were undefeated until a heartbreaking, one-point overtime loss to Pinson Valley in the quarterfinals of the Alabama Class 6A Football Championship.

This year, the Tigers are returning 23 seniors, compared to 10 last season, while the Black Bears lost 33 seniors after the 2017 season.

The first game of the season will serve as a test for both teams: The Tigers will look to establish their place as contenders this season, while the Black Bears look to prove their young squad still has what it takes to compete at a high level.

“(Austin) lost a ton of guys, and they can say all that, but Austin’s always talented,” Hartselle head coach Bob Godsey said. “I’ve been in this area playing them for 29 years, and they are always talented.”

Hartselle will benefit from some key returning starters, such as corner back/running back Keondre Swoopes and quarterback Luke Godsey. Swoopes already has offers to play at several universities next year, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee State University, Tulane University and the University of North Alabama.

The key returning player to watch for Austin will be defensive back/running back Reddy Steward, who was a first-team 6A All-State defensive back for the 2017 season. Steward has offers from the University of Michigan, Mississippi State University and the University of South Carolina.

“One reason for playing them early is that it is preparation for Athens two weeks later and Muscle Shoals after that,” Godsey said. “We’re trying to face as many good teams as we can face before our region schedule starts.”

Kick-off time for the Hartselle Tigers and Austin Black Bears 2018 football season will be Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. at J.P. Cain Stadium in Hartselle.