By Chris McCarthy
After viewing the combination of graduation losses, returning veterans and promising newcomers, Etowah head football coach Drew Noles feels that his 2016 Blue Devils will hold their own.
“We lost some great players, players that you just don’t replace, like Darius Moore and Crishun Young,” said Noles. “We’ll do the best we can to find folks who’ll fill those shoes. But we’ve several guys who’ve shown leadership. Also, with a large senior class, guys have been with us for a while now and know what to expect.”
The 2015 Blue Devils went 7-4 and finished second to Guntersville in Class 5A, Region 7. Etowah lost in overtime to A.H. Parker in the first round of the playoffs.
At signal-caller is Daul-ton Hyatt, a senior transfer from Arab who is drawing interest from a number of colleges.
“We’re a run-oriented team, so that will be an adjustment for him coming from a different kind of offense,” said Noles. “But he’s fit in well and we’re excited to see what he can do.”
Senior Andy Noles, who was the starter at quarterback the past two years, will fill a variety of roles.
“Andy’s a good athlete who can do a lot of things for us, so he’ll be all over the field,” said Noles. “He’s got really good speed and we’ll try to get him the ball in a number of different ways.”
Juniors Caleb Horton, Cory Thomas and Tyrell Boley will be the primary running backs.
Along with Noles at receiver are senior Emil Smith, who last year had 26 catches for 333 yards, seniors Lee Green and Malik Wilson, DeAndre Williams and sophomore Justin Harris.
The offensive line should be strong with all five starters returning, including four-year starter and first-team All-State selection Peyton Nance at center. Senior Austin McDaniel and junior Dylan Carden are also back.
“That’s also a smart group of kids,” Noles pointed out. “They’re high-character guys both on and off the field.”
In addition, the Blue Devils are stacked at linebacker with seniors Lovell Cylar, Brailen Ball and Robert Romine, a trio that last season combined for 190 tackles and 15 sacks.
“We lost our leading tackler in Darius, but we feel that those guys are capable,” said Noles.
Up front defensively are seniors Bruce Jones and Brailen Densmore, sophomore Trey Cole and Codge Taylor. Smith, Wilson and Green are back in the secondary.
Junior Raul Hernandez will handle the kicking duties, while Hyatt and Andy Noles will share time at punter.
Sophomore A.J. Taylor is the long snapper.
Assistant coaches are Raheem Gibbs, Eric Breitweiser, Jud Proctor, Kevin Troup, Matthew Bone, Jamison Wadley, B.J. Brooks, Eddie Harris, Russ Pilkington, David Rose and B.J. Jones.
Alexandria, Arab, Boaz, Crossville, Douglas, Guntersville and Scottsboro comprise the Blue Devils’ Class 5A, Region 7 competition.
“That a very tough schedule, no doubt about it,” said Noles. “We have a big-time challenge right off the bat in Southside. But if you’re a fan, I think you’ll see some pretty good football games this year.”