By Chris McCarthy
With 20 years in the books as a head football high school coach, Mike Robertson appreciates a solid mixture of experience and youth.
“We’ve got 18 seniors, and for a lot of them this will be their third year of getting on the field,” he said. “So we do have some experience, but we also have some young guys who we expect to step up on Friday nights and some newcomers who should contribute.”
Robertson pointed out that the Eagles’ 61-man roster is the most that the program has had in quite some time.
“The attitude has been really good, starting in the spring training and continuing into the simmer workouts.”
As the 20th smallest school in Class 4A, Robertson is well aware that the Eagles must avoid the injury bug at all costs. After beginning the season at 2-1; the Eagles dropped their final seven games to finish sixth in the region, with sidelined starters being a major factor in the final standings.
“You never know how many games that you’re going to win, but I do think we’ll be competitive,” he said. “We have some darn good teams on our schedule, but it is what it is.”
Returning to quarterback the Pro-I offense is junior Landon Johnson, a three-year starter who last season threw for 535 yards and two scores in limited action while battling injuries.
“We’re expecting good things from Landon,” said Robertson. “You want a difference-maker at that position and we’re hoping that he’ll be that for us.”
Johnson will also handle the punting duties. Andrew Colley will be the kicker.
Senior Fisher Simmons is making the switch from safety to linebacker. Last year he finished with 148 tackles and was an All-County selection.
Simmons also will see time at running back.
“His role will be changed a little bit, but Fisher is a very good athlete who will be kind of a utility man for us and do a little bit of everything,” said Robertson. “He knows the game of football probably as well anyone I’ve ever coached. He only played one or two games last year when he was full strength, so we need to keep him healthy.”
The offensive line has a solid foundation in senior Adam Patterson, an All-County selection in 2015 who is moving to center this season. Robertson also mentioned seniors Brett Roberts and Cody Bryant and junior Hunter Coffey as major contributors in the trenches.
“We’ve got about seven or eight first-team linemen on both sides of the ball,” said Robertson. “We need a couple of our 10th graders to pick up a little bit and give us some depth.”
Robertson views Hokes Bluff’s Region 5 competition of Anniston, Ashville, Cherokee County, Jacksonville, Oneonta, Saks and White Plains as one of the toughest in the state.
“Our schedule’s brutal with probably two of the best teams around here with Southside and Cherokee County,” he said. “But we’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to the best we can, and we hope to improve on last year.”
Three of Robertson’s assistant coaches were starters on the Eagles’ 2001 state championship team – Taylor Morgan, Jake Ball and Brian Sexton.
“With Patrick [Ball] passing away and Greg [Watkins] going into administration, these three guys have rejuvenated me a little bit,” said Robertson. “They know what it takes to win and have a lot of confidence, which carries over to the players. All three guys were great players, but all of them also had great attitudes and always gave 100 percent.”
Robert will face two of his former players this year as head coach this season – Ron Daugherty at Southside and Rusty Davis at Glencoe.
“I’ve got great respect for those two guys as players, as coaches and as people,” said Robertson. “It’s nice to coach against your former players, but I still want to beat them!”