Photo courtesy of Bentley Gray Photography
By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
Sardis head football coach Gene Hill (pictured above) recently said that his team would begin installing plays, running pass routes and conditioning following its current weight room sessions.
Teams can start preseason practice July 27, instead of the traditional first Monday in August.
“I have no doubt we’ll have plenty of time to get everything in that we need in, especially with that extra week, and then head toward the jamboree game,” he said.
The Lions host Glencoe in a fall jamboree on August 21. Their season opener is August 28 at Sylvania.
Sardis posted a 5-6 record in 2019, including its first win over Southside in 44 years. The Lions also earned their first state playoff berth as a Class 5A program.
“We’ve got a lot to replace,” Hill said. “We had a big senior group. I’m not a great fan of spring [football practice], but I think you need a few days to see the new guys and kind of see what they can do. You can kind of get those plans in your head with regard to who’s going to be where and where you need to work them during the summer.
“The other thing is it kind of leaves the door open for guys who want to play. Usually, spring training is kind of your tryout in football, so right now we’ve still got the door open for guys that want to play.”
Junior Brody Samples is the favorite to take over at quarterback for two-year starter Jay Owens. Samples quarterbacked the Lion junior varsity in 2019 while playing in several varsity games.
“I feel comfortable with [Samples],” said Hill. “I know what he’s capable of. He throws the ball fairly well and is really competitive. He can run the ball pretty good, so that will give us another dimension.”
Seniors Peyton Wehrwein and Torin Bright return in the receiving corps.
“Torin played a pretty good bit (in 2019), and we’re looking for him to have a breakout year because he has so much ability,” Hill said. “Peyton was probably the biggest surprise on our team (in 2019). He did a lot better job than I ever thought he could do [at safety]. He also played receiver, and I think you’ll see him on the field on both sides of the ball a good bit.”
On the offensive line, senior Jackson Burns returns after starting at tackle a year ago. Senior Garrett Howington earned some starts at guard in 2019.
Jose Ponce and Blake Butts are two freshmen linemen who practiced with the varsity late in the 2019 season.
“Both of those kids have an opportunity to play as true freshmen,” Hill said. “They’re pretty strong kids and big kids. This freshman group of 30 kids we’ve got hasn’t missed a workout, and they’re so impressive.”
Hill expects Logan Edwards, Jacob Smith and Sean Wright to be impact players at the linebacker position.
The Lions will compete in Class 5A, Region 7 against Boaz, Crossville, Douglas, Guntersville, Fairview and West Point. Boaz, Crossville and Douglas are returning region opponents, while Guntersville, Fairview and West Point are new.
Sardis retained its non-region games against Sylvania, Geraldine, Southside and Hokes Bluff from its 2019 schedule.
“We’ve played Fairview before,” Hill said. “Of course, we’ve played Guntersville when we were 4A. I’ve never been to West Point. That’s going to be our longest trip. Boaz, Crossville, Douglas and Guntersville should be big games for all of us. As far as the region goes, we’ve got some good gates.”
Hill said financial reasons are not the only factor in sche-duling but must be considered, citing as an example the small visiting crowds the Lions saw when they competed in a 4A region that included Madison Academy, Westminster Christian and Randolph in 2016 and 2017.
“That’s part of the reason we keep playing Geraldine,” he said. “They’re a good football team year in and year out. It’s probably their biggest gate when we play them, and it’s one of our bigger gates when they come here. Being able to [play] Southside, a county school, should be a big money game for both of us. It was last year. Hokes Bluff [is] county school that’s a big money game for us.”
Hill confirmed that Clay Wright, Ty Harris, Cory Franklin, Derik Snell and Troy Elliott would be his varsity assistants this season. Matt Lofthus returns as head coach of the middle school team with assistants Dylan Bolding, Zach Gilliland and Jay Boatwright.
“The thing I like about all these guys is they all relate well to kids,” said Hill. “It doesn’t seem like they dread going to practice or dread being at workouts. They’re real high-energy people, and I think that rubs off on your kids. We’re really fortunate to have all those guys.”