HOKES BLUFF SENIORS. Pictured above, front row, from left: Terry Jenkins, Trent Dooley, Daylon Day, Levi Richey, Tyler Weaver, Cole Turner. Back row, from left: Nickey Jenkins, Hunter Burke, Will Clemons, Brody Lumpkin, Austin Blevins, Connor Faulkner, Dawson McDonald. (Katie Bohannon/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For the first time since the 2011 season, Hokes Bluff will compete in Class 3A.
“Going back to 3A, a lot of these teams we’ve played in the past,” said head coach Mike Robertson. “We get to go back to play Ohatchee, Piedmont and Welborn, so all these teams we’ve pretty much played in the past.”
For the first time in four years, the Eagles are without the services of halfback Darrian Meads, who finished his stellar high school career with 8,049 rushing yards and 100 touchdowns while helping the Eagles qualify for the state playoffs all four years, including one semifinal and two quarterfinal appearances. .
Meads was far from the lone major loss to graduation. Also gone is All-State quarterback/safety Ashton Gulledge, who accounted for 1,590 yards and 22 touchdowns passing and running. He was also the team’s top tackler with 74 stops.
Hokes Bluff went 7-4 in 2019 while being ranked in the state’s top 10 for most of the season.
“We’ve got a lot of people to replace, but those two players in particular will be tough to replace, especially with both of them being four-year starters,” said Robertson. “But if you have good teams, you’re always going to lose good players. That’s a sign you’ve had good senior leadership. I told the players who played behind Ashton and Darrien and the others that now it’s their time.”
Robertson is drawing on personal experience as motivation for his current players.
“My junior year, I was the quarterback on a state finalist team, and we lost 22 seniors off that team. My group of seniors [of the] Class of 1977, we got together and tried to make a point that we were going to be competitive. We didn’t go back to the state finals, but we were competitive. So I use that example to challenge our players.”
Senior Connor Faulkner will step in at signal caller.
“Connor’s been waiting his time, and we expect good things,” said Robertson. “He’s a really good thrower and a very smart kid.”
Returning to the backfield is senior and All-Messenger pick Hunter Burke, a three-year starter at fullback.
“Hunter is probably our key offensive player returning,” said Robertson. “He was our second leading receiver, and he always catches [the ball] when you throw it to him. Hunter’s a good player.”
Robertson also sees junior Tucker Griffin and sophomore Noah Sprayberry in the mix at running back.
The Eagles won’t have any concerns at middle linebacker, where four-year starter and All-Messenger selection Will Clemons (70 tackles in 2019) is back for his senior season. Robertson noted that Clemons played the latter half of the season with a case of mo-nonucleosis.
“Will is a really outstanding linebacker,” said Robertson. “He’s back at full speed, so that’s going to be a great asset for us.”
Robertson provided his take on the Eagles’ Class 3A, Region 5 competition of Glencoe, Pleasant Valley, Ohatchee, Weaver, Walter Wellborn, Saks and defending state champion Piedmont.
“We’re coming from the 4A SEC Central region to the 3A SEC Central Region. But it’s really not about what classification or region you’re in; it’s about who is in your region. If you’re not ready to play every week, you’re not going to win. It is what it is.”
Robertson, who is entering his 24th year at the helm of the Eagles, does not put too much thought into which year will be his last as a football coach.
“Every year, each group of players are different, and this group seems to be really excited. I feel like I’m a players’ coach, and I really enjoy the student athletes and I really feel like I’m making an influence on their lives. There’s something about coaching high schoolers; they’ll test you, but they also motivate you.
“I think the kids still believe in what I’m doing as a head coach. I’ve always said that when the kids quit wanting to play with me being the head coach or my health will not allow me, that’s when I will quit coaching.”
Emma Kerkimier contributed to this article.