Eyes on the prize
Decatur expects to be in the hunt for a 6A title
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
The loss of seven all-star caliber players to graduation hasn't rattled the Decatur Red Raiders. They're back in the chase for a class 6A state title.
Competing for high school football's biggest prize is old hat for Coach Jere Adcock's Red Raiders. They have lost to the eventual state champion in their class seven times in the last nine years. Last year, they finished second in their region with an 8-2 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Tuscaloosa County.
"We talk to them (the players) every year about winning a state championship," Adcock said. "We remind them that in order to do that they have to make the playoffs first. We want them to win their region and get in the playoffs. They expect that."
Departing players who left big shoes to fill include Sam Burnthall, Jerraud Powers, Patrick Golden, Steven Leach, Luke Chenault, Rodney Smiley and Brandon French. Burnthall, Powers and Chenault are freshmen at Alabama, Auburn and UNA, respectively. Leach signed a baseball scholarship with Jacksonville State University. Four of the seven were three-year starters.
"It's not often that you have that many outstanding players in one class," Adcock said. "They will be hard to replace, but you can't spend a lot of time worrying about losses. You have to take the hand you're dealt and play it.
"On offense, we have an outstanding group of receivers and more depth than we had last year," Adcock stated. "We think we have the ability to be balanced and productive, and our goal at the start of the season is to be where we were when we finished last year.
"We have a group of defensive players who come to every practice with a nasty disposition," he added. "They enjoy running to the ball and hitting people. They have the potential of being a very physical defense."
The Red Raiders return 11 starters, six on offense and five on defense. They are: offense – Caleb Thomas, junior offensive lineman, William Addison, senior offensive lineman, Steve Shackelford, senior tailback, Ernest Watkins, senior wide receiver, Jesse Perrin, senior quarterback, and Joey Woller, kicker; defense – Alex Cooper, senior defensive tackle; Kenny Austin, senior linebacker, Rolando McClain, junior linebacker; Michael Irvin, junior cornerback; and Deangelo Johnson, senior safety.
Shackelford, a fourth year starter in the backfield, gives his team the threat of being able to break away and score anytime he touches the ball. Perrin was moved to quarterback in the spring after playing at tight end and serving as a backup quarterback in 2004. He also will double as the punter.
Adcock described Perrin as "a savvy player who enjoys having the bell around his neck."
"The other players have a lot of confidence in his ability. I like what I've seen in him and I expect him to do a good job for us," he said.
Newcomers listed as players who have a good chance of earning a starting position are the following: David Westbrooks, senior wide receiver, Adam Gillespie, sophomore defensive tackle, Heath Esch, senior defensive end, Wilson Key, senior defensive end, Paul Westbrook, senior defensive end; and Adam Riley, defensive secondary.
Adcock reported that the emphasis on spring training last January was to work with the older players to solidify depth and come up with a two-deep roster at all positions.
But the result of seven days of additional work this summer failed to live up to their potential.
"We participated in a three-day passing camp with Mountain Brook and we tried to get something done on three other days but I can't say that it helped all that much," Adcock said. "We'll put more time and effort in the planning for next summer."
The Red Raiders' schedule is the same as last year. They will face Shades Valley, Sparkman, Bob Jones, Austin and Hoover at home and Athens, Grissom, Hartselle, Florence and Hazel Green on the road. Their opener is against Athens.
"It's gong to be tough as always," Adcock said. "Everybody has gotten better."
Adcock is in his 10th season as Decatur's head coach and in his 23rd season as a football coach. His record is 69 wins against only 35 loses.
He said it's the chemistry of the game – the camaraderie of the coaches and players – that keeps him coming back year after year.
"You have to enjoy your headaches in this business," he said. "It's such a challenge to work with young people but such a reward to see them adapt and become an integral part of the program.
"I used to get sky high even before the season started but that has changed some with age," he said. "Now I realize how long the season is and I try to pace myself so that I have the same level of energy and enthusiasm throughout the season. I think it's important to see what's ahead of you. That's why I'm looking ahead and trying to figure out where we're going to be at the end of the season."
Working with Adcock as assistant coaches are Richard Armstrong, Kenny Morson, Lee Cagle, Steve Netherton, Jimmy Shaw, Byron Graham, Ashley McIntyre, Mike Burns, Jason Noblitt, Daniel Terry and Russell Freeman.