By Chris McCarthy
After winning nine of its last 11 games last season and reaching the state semifinal round for the first time since the 2004 season, head coach Mike Robertson, is confident that his Eagles won’t rest on their laurels.
“We just try to prepare our kids each week the best we can,” said Robertson, who was named the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s 2016 Class 4A Coach of the Year. “We kept telling our players that they were a good team even though we started out 0-3, and eventually they believed us. But our schedule’s very tough early on, and we have to hit the ground running.”
Chief among the returning veterans is halfback Darrian Meads, who as a freshman earned first team All-State honors and was named The Messenger’s All-Area Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,839 yards and 18 touchdowns on 311 carries.
“It’s hard to rush a freshman onto the field sometimes, but Darrian showed he was capable early on,” said Robertson. “I thought he did a good job in handling the transition from middle school to a starter on varsity.”
Just like last year, Meads will follow the blocking of fullback Levi Taliaferro, who last season rushed for 302 yards as a junior. Taliaferro will also start at linebacker.
Robertson has a four-year starter at quarterback in Landon Collins, who last year threw for 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson will also handle the punting.
“Landon’s a good kid and he’s smart and a good team player,” said Robertson. “It all starts at the quarterback position.”
Johnson has a couple of his favorite targets back in juniors Braydon Hill and Carson Eubanks. The former caught 29 passes for 416 yards and four TDs last year. Senior Peyton Moore is back at tight end.
The offensive line will feature several new faces, as senior tackle Hunter Coffey is the only returning starter. Junior Jack Bush will also start at the other tackle position.
Senior Houston Edwards, junior Christian Sprayberry and sophomore Caleb McGinnis will see action at linebacker.
Ashton Gulledge had 73 tackles at strong safety last season. Eubanks and Hill are also back in the defensive secondary.
Assistant coaches are Jeff Noah, Brian Sexton, Jake Ball and Taylor Morgan.
The Eagles’ tough Class 4A, Region 5 schedule consists of Anniston, Ashville, Cherokee County, Jacksonville, Oneonta, Saks and White Plains.
“Someone at Saks told us that they’re going to have the best team they’ve ever had,” said Robertson. “Cherokee County got their quarterback and some unbelievable skill position guys back. Oneonta and Ashville’s got new coaches, so they’ll be revived a little bit. But you never know how it will work out in the end.”