Tigers jump right into action
Early schedule is tough, but team's young talent excites coach
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
For head coach Bob Godsey's young Hartselle team, the start of their schedule might be a baptism by fire.
"I feel like if we can get through our first five games without being totally demoralized then we'll be fine," Godsey said. "Playing Austin, Russellville, Walker and Decatur in our first five games – those four teams are as good as anyone in the state. If we can get through that without being too beat up physically, mentally and emotionally, then I think we'll be just fine."
Godsey's team will have to absorb several key losses this season, following the graduation of starting quarterback Seth Watson and All-State running back Justin Youngblood, wide receiver/defensive back Chris Wiley and linebacker Michael Scott. The Tigers return just nine starters on both sides of the ball, but Godsey is confident that the program will rebuild just fine.
"We've got a lot of guys that can really contribute right away," he said. "As of right now (in practice), we're playing a lot of combinations and a lot of different people. I don't know if we have just one guy that I can see making a huge impact, but rather we have a whole bunch of guys who can help us do something special."
Although the Tigers will be young overall, there are several seniors who will be called upon to be team leaders and make big plays. Among those seniors is linebacker Johnny Jones, who will be a three-year starter and will be asked to take Scott's place as the anchor of the Hartselle defense.
"(Johnny) started as an offensive lineman as a sophomore and then moved to linebacker last year," Godsey said. "He is probably our most seasoned player. If I had to single out just one in particular it would be him, but (I think the real leader on the team) is our senior class overall.
"You're only as good as your senior class, so we're going to count on all of the guys to provide leadership. Johnny's kind of been thrust to the forefront a little because he has a lot of experience, but all our seniors will have to carry their weight."
The loss of Watson opened the door for junior quarterback Wes Chenault to take the reins of the starting job, but sophomore Tony Weaver has impressed Godsey and his staff and is also expected to get some snaps during the season.
"Through the competition we had in the spring, (Wes) has kind of surged to the front right now," Godsey said. "But there's going to be some situations where Tony will get action and will really be able to help our team."
The Tigers will be especially young at running back, where sophomore Montrel Murphy is the projected starter, with talented freshman Marquez Jones expected to get some carries as well. Chase Taylor and Casey Terry will more than likely split time at the fullback position.
Godsey is especially excited about the Tigers' depth at wide receiver, a group that includes seniors Hunter Corum, Justin Billings and TJ Long.
"We have a whole bunch of (talented receivers)," Godsey said. "That's one place where we have a lot of depth. There's any one of eight guys who could really contribute."
Andrew Watson, who spent the summer at boot camp for the U.S. Army National Guard, and Tyler Young are two receivers that Godsey also sees getting playing time.
At the offensive line, Godsey says most positions are still up for grabs outside of senior Bradley Eubanks and junior Dusty Schofield. Joe McClanahan, Steven Paulos and David Filiatrault are expected to see playing at the defensive line positions.
The Tigers' linebackers are an intriguing mix of senior experience and young potential.
Jones will anchor the group that will possibly include juniors Travis Clemons, Matt Zartuche and Jahmeel Moore and sophomore Michael Reed.
Casey Mims, Quinn Dunlap and Jeff Witt are expected to start in the defensive backfield. As a sophomore last season, Dunlap was the team's starting free safety.
Overall, the team's potential on defense brings a smile to their coach's face.
"I think we're a little more athletic on defense this year compared to last season," Godsey said. "I think last season we were sort of a work-in-progress at the start of the year and got better as the season went on – at the end of the year we were a pretty strong defense."
Ray Canafax, who was the team's kickoff specialist last season and took over all kicking duties following an injury to Patrick Walker, will also be asked to punt this season. Dunlap is the backup punter.
"Going in right now, Ray's going to try to do both (kicking and punting)," Godsey said. "He really blossomed last year on kickoffs and then taking over in the playoffs after Walker was injured. Our return game is really going to be about playing it by ear, I think. We lost our punt returner and kick returner from last year, but we have enough talent this year that we'll be OK."
Godsey's Tigers were 8-2 in the regular season in 2004, and won a close first-round playoff game against Etowah before falling 20-17 to Fairfield in a second-round game. Hartselle's coach hopes that his young team will use that game as a lesson going into the 2005 season.
"How it ended (was disappointing)," Godsey said. "As a coach there are always certain games that stick with you and are hard to get over.
"That one at Fairfield is always going to be one that will stick with you. When your kids play that hard you feel like you deserve a better outcome and it just didn't happen.
"They're all lessons in football and life, and that was one of them – you don't always get what you want."