By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
It’s been a few years since there was a lot of excitement around Etowah football.
Following last year’s team that rang up a 10-2 record and won the Class 5A, Region 7 championship, that winning feeling is back.
After the glory years of the late 1990s that saw the Blue Devils bring home two state runner-up trophies and one state title, the winning went down a little and with it, the interest from the fans and community also seemed to dwindle at least a bit.
In 1999, Etowah won the 5A state crown and a year later, the record slipped to 7-3 with a first-round playoff loss. The Blue Devils never disappeared from the state radar – they just slipped down somewhat in winning only two playoff games in 11 seasons.
Enter Sam McCorkle, a veteran coach who was an assistant at Etowah in the 1970s. In 2010, the Blue Devils went 4-6 in his first season. That mark was followed by a 6-5 record. Last year, Etowah exploded for a 10-2 record and the region title.
The Blue Devils now want to prove they were not a flash in the pan, and many people are ready to get Etowah back to the level it was used to in the ‘90s.
Blue Devils to defend – page 10
“Last year made a tremendous difference in the attitudes,” McCorkle said. “The players know now what it’s like to win. And winning is contagious. The coaches, players, fans and everyone had a lot of fun last year, especially in the second half [of the season].”
Leading the way last year was the passing combination of quarterback Dalton Wadley and receiver Darrin Peterson, who both graduated. Peterson, the region’s Offensive MVP and a first team all-state selection, caught 65 passes for 1,393 yards and 10 scores. Wadley threw for 2,173 yards and 14 touchdowns. The 2011 Blue Devil offense was good for 363 yards and 28.3 points per game.
“They were the best passing combo in the state, as far as I’m concerned,” McCorkle said. “It would be tough to replace them, and you can’t replace them. You just have to get this year’s kids out there and play to their strengths. And we’ve got a lot of talent coming back.”
Senior Tyler Bishop, who played extensively at receiver last year, will be the quarterback.
“Tyler’s a very smart kid who understands the game and has been involved a lot,” McCorkle said. “He’s not an unproven commodity.”
Instead of a receiver, the star of this year’s squad could be running back Devin Horton, who has been voted all-region two years in a row and is just a junior. Horton is coming off a 2011 season that included 1,012 rushing yards and 15 TDs. He also was a threat out of the backfield with 22 catches for a 13.6 average. For his career, Horton has rushed for 1,626 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Senior Dominick Pinson will get some play in the backfield, as will freshman Paul Ruiz, who McCorkle said is a potential star in the making.
Juniors Tevin Peterson and Dakota Parrish return at receiver. Others in the mix include seniors Xavier Caldwell and Coley McGowen and juniors Lamar Thomas and Chris Steele.
“Steele has never played but he has a ton of ability,” McCorkle said. “In practice, he just gets better and better.”
Helping to protect the quarterback are two players – seniors Zack Dean and Jared Harris – who McCorkle labels as possibly the two best linemen in Region 7. Harris will also play on the defensive line, where he had 41 tackles in 2011.
Senior Chad Holderfield, junior Kenton LaCount and freshman Austin Gibbs are other offensive linemen that McCorkle named. LaCount will also play both sides of the ball.
Senior Josh Vernon and junior Oryain Powell will line up at tight end. Yes, tight end.
“That position has almost disappeared from the landscape,” McCorkle said. “But we still use it. We’re a spread team but we’ll line up in a lot of different formations.”
The defensive line will be relatively new. Senior Cedric Childs and junior Coby Bryant are defensive ends that McCorkle said could make a difference.
Senior Dylan Tucker, who last season recorded a team-high 98 tackles, returns at linebacker. Junior Zac Gamblin and sophomores Jalen Williams, Gorgeous Hardwick and Larry Underwood should all get playing time at linebacker.
“Tucker should be a great leader out there,” McCorkle said. “He has the potential to be all-region and all-state.”
The secondary is laden with experience, as Horton, Pinson and Peterson return at safety and seniors Xavier Caldwell and Jay Duckett are back at the corners.
The region has a slightly different flavor this year, with Columbia and Brewer replacing Albertville and Madison County.
“I hate to lose Albertville, in particular,” McCorkle said. “They always gave us good games and it was one of our best gates when it was a home game. But regardless of the rest, Fort Payne is the team to beat.”
Assistant coaches are David Rose, Jam-ison Wadley, Matt Self, Larry Poole, Eric Schuman and Shane Harrell.
Aug. 30 – Alexandria
Sept. 7 – @Fort Payne*
Sept. 14 – Brewer*
Sept. 21 – @Columbia*
Sept. 28 – Lincoln
Oct. 5 – Scottsboro*
Oct, 12 – @Arab*
Oct. 19 – Southside*
Oct. 26 – @Boaz*
Nov. 2 – @Glencoe
* Region game
Etowah 27, Lincoln 21
Etowah 21, Fort Payne 14
Madison Co. 32, Etowah 28
Etowah 35, Albertville 32
J.O. Johnson 27, Etowah 22*
Etowah 22, Scottsboro 0
Etowah 21, Arab 7
Etowah 44, Southside 15
Etowah 27, Boaz 8
Etowah 28, Pell City 23
Etowah 45, Curry 22
Center Point 26, Etowah 20
*later won on forfeit