By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Despite the graduation of most of a record-setting defense unit and the cross-county transfer of an SEC commitment, first-year Etowah head coach John Holladay likes what he has at his disposal for the upcoming season.
“We do have some guys with experience coming back but we’ve got to establish some depth on both sides of the football. We’re at the stage where we’re looking for guys to compete and letting it shake out. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re working hard.”
Holladay was hired in late January to replace Drew Noles, who is now the head football coach at Westbrook Christian. In 21 years as head football coach at Walker (now Jasper), Clay-Chalkville, Hamilton, Brilliant, Buckhorn and Tuscaloosa County, Holladay has a 140-86 record, won three region tiles and made 13 playoff appearances.
Etowah is coming off a 2018 season that included a 12-1 record, an area title, the program’s first undefeated regular season since 1999 and a second straight berth in the state quarterfinals.
However, the Blue Devils lost quite a bit of talent – including five all-state players that combined for 509 tackles and 43 sacks – from a defense that posted five shutouts and allowed an average of 8.7 points per game.
“Besides [senior end] Is-aiah [Atchison], we have very little experience on defense,” said Holladay. “[Juniors] Ollie Finch and NyNy Davis are back in the secondary, but that’s about it.”
Atchison finished the 2018 season with 64 tackles and seven sacks.
On the other hand, the offense is well-stocked with veteran talent, starting with junior quarterback Brady Troup, who last season threw for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns while subbed out in certain situations.
“Brady’s really done a good job so far of running the offense,” said Holladay. “I’ve been really pleased with his leadership and his work ethic, and he’s learning every day.”
Another strength is at running back, where dual-threat senior Trent Davis is coming off a 2018 season that included 1,080 rushing yards, 15 catches for 331 yards and 13 combined touchdowns. NyNy Davis will also see action.
“Again, we’ve got to have some more depth, because when it’s hot, those guys are going to struggle to compete at a high level,” said Holladay.
The receiving corps has experience with Finch and seniors Davion Robinson and Eric Edge, but the offensive line was also hit hard by graduation with only two starters returning.
The Blue Devils share Class 5A Region 7 with Southside, Sardis, Alexandria, Boaz, Crossville and Douglas.
“We’ve got so much work in front of us, I don’t know much about the other [region] teams,” said Holladay. “We’re trying to work hard and get better each day and not look ahead. The Gadsden City game (on Aug. 23) will be here soon enough, so we’ve just got to take it one day at a time.”