ETOWAH SENIORS. Pictured above, kneeling, from left: Kyshawn Hunter, NyNy Davis, Chris Harden, Ethan Foster, Dezmin Blair. Standing, from left: Aidan Gooden, Toby Camp, Trevor Gladden, Brevin Knight, Ollie Finch, Trent Davis. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
First-year Etowah High coach Ryan Locke is looking to write a new chapter in the Blue Devils’ rich football history.
“Etowah High School has always got very high expectations, and this season is no different, regardless of classification, whether it be 5A or 4A,” said Locke. “The expectations are high in Attalla, and we certainly have a lot of work to do to make sure that we live up to those expectations.”
Locke was named interim head coach in early March following John Holladay’s resignation and was hired as the school’s 29th head football coach in early April. Locke last season served as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Blue De-vils.
Under Locke’s personal supervision as offensive coordinator, the 2019 Eto-wah offense generated 35 points a game on the way to a 9-2 record, third straight region championship and 10th straight state playoff appearance.
“I think that last year was a great foundation, and we certainly want to build upon that,” he said. “I certainly think that we have tremendous capabilities for this upcoming year. We have a very talented group of seniors that are really starting to gel. There’s a lot of expectations in our community for them, and hopefully they’ll be able to live up to that.”
Locke noted that the two-and-a-half-month layoff from midway through March to beginning of June was the most time he’d been away from a football team in his 20-year coaching career.
“Everybody has really no hook on how to handle this thing. At the end of the day, all we can do is try to make sure that we’re abiding by all the health regulations as best as possible and try to gel that with the best practice possible that we can have. At the end of the day, it’s about the players that you have, and the kids that we have. They’re eager to get out and play.”
Thirteen seniors grace the Etowah roster, along with seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense.
A wealth of senior talent returns at the skill positions, most prominently halfback Trent Davis and receivers NyNy Davis and Ollie Finch. That quartet combined for 3,888 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Trent Davis finished with 1,098 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 98 carries, along with 21 receptions for 376 receiving yards and five scores. NyNy Davis rushed for 379 yards and six touchdowns and caught 21 passes for 485 yards and five TDs.
The two Davis’ were All-Messenger first team selections, while NyNy Davis made the Class 5A All-State first team at quarterback after finishing with 71 tackles and three interceptions.
Locke is in the midst of finding a replacement at quarterback. He mentioned senior Bevon Knight, a transfer from Coosa, Ga., and sophomores Trace Thompson and Caleb Freeman as candidates.
Another key cylinder in the Blue Devil engine is ju-nior receiver Ollie Finch, who last season caught a team-high 24 passes for 647 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior Ethan Foster will see time at running back.
“We’re trying to develop a little more depth up front with our offensive and defensive line,” said Locke. “We’re trying to create some competition from that aspect of it and also provide a little bit more depth.”
The Blue Devils’ top four tacklers return in NyNy Davis, senior defensive end Toby Camp (74 tackles in 2019), senior linebacker Trevor Gladden (72 tackles, 12 for loss) and junior linebacker Josh Dobbs (69 tackles, eight for loss).
Finch joins NyNy Davis as returning starters in the secondary.
“We have a lot of speed in the secondary and we’re fortunate that we’re pretty deep in that area,” said Locke.
For the first time since 1981, Etowah will compete in Class 4A. The Blue Devils share Region 5 with Ashville, Dora, Fultondale, Good Hope, Hanceville and Oneonta.
“We certainly have a lot of respect for our region opponents, and we’re not going to overlook anybody,” said Locke. “Oneonta has a lot of history. Dora has always built pretty good football teams. Fultondale is always very athletic. You have Good Hope and Hanceville, who are very well-coached football teams. Ashville [head coach] Shea Monroe is a good friend of mine. I have a lot of respect for him, and I know he’s going to do a good job down there.”
Over the past 20 years, Etowah has finished with a losing record only four times.
“Etowah High School has always got very high expectations, and this season is no different, regardless of classification,” said Locke. “The expectations are high in Attalla, and we certainly have a lot of work to do to make sure that we live up to those expectations. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for Etowah, regardless of who we’re playing. If we take care of Etowah, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to fall.”
Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article.