ASHVILLE SENIORS. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Jaiden Colley, Curt Kirkland, Nathan Phillips, Nathan Williams, Ty Armstrong. Standing, from left: Lane Tibbs, DeAndre Woods, Cam Tillman, Derrick Walker, Jamal Nichols, Cain Palmer, Hunter Hirsh. (Photo by Nick Wilson)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The best thing said about Ashville’s 2018 season is that the Bulldogs experienced a good start and a good finish.
In between a season-opening win over Ragland and a season-ending victory over Vincent, the Bulldogs came out on the short end of the scoreboard. But second-year head coach Barry Simmons foresees a much more competitive squad in 2019, pointing to the Bulldogs’ spring scrimmage win over Southside in May as evidence.
“I felt like we gained a lot of positive momentum from that [game], and it carried into the summer. Southside is always a tough out, and for us to show up and play really well was very important for us.
“We want to approach each game with the same level of importance. I already can see a great difference between this year and last year in terms of work ethic and I think we’ve brought a lot of positive energy into fall camp.”
Simmons noted that the program’s numbers increased by almost half compared to last season.
“We have about 47 kids that made it through the summer, and we ended last year with about 27. One of the biggest things about that is it helps us organize practices in a more efficient manner in that we can split between junior high, junior varsity and varsity and get tons of reps on both sides of the ball.”
Simmons is hopeful that the increase in numbers will lead to less players performing double duty.
“I hope that’s the case, especially up front. We’d like to get to the point where those kids just spell someone on defense. We’re working to get more depth so we can have a decent rotation. We’re going to put the best 11 out there but hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to play a lot more kids.”
Sophomore quarterback Dylan Harris, who started the last three games in 2018, is one of nine returning starters on both sides of the ball.
“Dylan’s already got some games under his belt, so it’s not like he’s coming in fresh,” said Simmons. “Dylan’s got a great skill set, but I don’t want him to try to do too much. We’ve got good players around him, and his job is to get the ball to them. Dylan’s got a good arm and can stretch the field vertically and horizontally and he’s got pretty good wheels. His biggest asset is being smart with the ball and making the right reads.”
Simmons points to seniors Derrick Walker and Ty Armstrong as important parts to the receiving and running games, respectively.
“Derrick’s about 6-1 and 190 and can run, so he’s tough to defend. Ty will be a four-year starter, and he’s a lean 187 [pounds].”
Simmons is also high on senior receiver Nathan Phillips.
“Nathan is a nightmare for matchups. If you throw a ball around Nathan, he’ll get it.”
Harris will operate behind an offensive line that includes senior Cam Tillman and Cane Palmer and juniors Dylan Byess, Anthony Zito and Trent Martin.
“We’re not overly big up front, but we’re experienced and have a lot of kids we can play in different personnel packages,” said Simmons.
Martin, Tillman, Palmer and senior Lane Tibbs will see action up front defensively, while Armstrong, se-nior Hunter Hirsch and junior Clay Keller are in mix at linebacker. Phillips will play free safety.
Ashville once again will compete in Class 4A, Region 6, which includes Hokes Bluff, Anniston, Cherokee County, Cleburne County, Jacksonville, Oneonta and White Plains.
“In my opinion, it’s the toughest 4A region in the state. It’s just brutal, and you have to bring our ‘A’ game every single week if you’re going to make the playoffs. Every year, there’s good football teams in this region sitting at home (for the playoffs). So if we can get a couple of early wins under our belt, it will give us a shot in the arm for the rest of the season.”
Simmons believes the program’s compass is pointing north and that the team’s first winning season since 2005 will happen sooner than later.
“I think the kids have really bought into what we’re doing,” said Simmons. “We knew when we took this job that a foundation of mental and physical toughness had to be laid. The kids now understand that our offense and defense fits to their skill sets. Our seniors have a ton of game experience, and most of our younger guys have played a lot on varsity and know what the intensity of Friday nights are all about.”