GCHS SENIORS. Pictured above, kneeling, from right: Da’Quandaio Daniel, Sebastian Messer, Ra’Tavious Hicks, Caleb Parmer, Tristan Scripps, Orrin Brock, Rashad Johnson, Alija Bell, Caleb Harris, J’Monte Lee, Jayden Lawson, Calvin Wilson, JaQuan Woods. Standing, from left: Zykerrius Marshall, Kohiton Sandridge, Jahemn Norris, Brady Troup, Zion Kirby, Wesley Stone, Rod Orr, Cameron Moore, Jermaine Edwards, Elijah Barker, Reyquan Jelks, DeMarcus Macon, Jamari Boston. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
A second straight season-opening loss to Etowah set the state for a rough 2019 season in which the Titans’ first and only win of the year did not come until Week 9 against Grissom.
When asked about silver linings to last season, head coach Ali Smith pointed to a number of greenhorns who learned on the job.
“We played a lot of young guys last year, and they [gained] a lot of experience, so we’re ready to build on that. We got better at the end of last year in a lot of areas. There were only two games we were out of at the half. Other than that, we were in the fourth quarter every game. Every game we played besides two, we were winning at the half.”
Toward that end, Smith wants his 2020 squad to finish what it starts week in and week out.
“We ended practice this summer with drills to finish. Our kids know that we can all start out the game and be the best player there is, but we need you to be the best player the last two minutes of the game. We didn’t achieve what we wanted to last year, but people know we have players. We just have to make sure we don’t screw it up. It’s up to the adults to make sure we get our kids in the right position and make sure they’re ready.”
Despite several veterans coming back, Smith informed his players that there are no returning starters from 2019.
“We’ll all compete, because we played some freshman last year on that varsity team and we’ll play some again this year. Jobs are open, but we do have guys who we are looking at to step up.
“We have some seniors who are coming back that we look to for a lot of leadership. Our guys know every day that you have to come in ready to work.”
The GCHS offense will feature many new faces, as senior quarterback and three-year starter DeMarcus Mason is one of just two returning starters at the skill positions. Last season, Mason threw for 1,301 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior Jayden Lawson is back at receiver.
Joining Mason at the quarterback position is senior transfer Brady Troup, who as a junior at Etowah last season threw for 1,694 yards and 22 touchdowns with a 72 percent completion percentage.
Smith would not commit to either player opening the season as the starter.
“At Gadsden City, we don’t have a quarterback competition; we just have players and we’re just getting ready to play football.”
Although they did not start last year at running back, senior Orin Brock and juniors C.J. Miller and D’Javi Byers saw extensive action.
Three-fifths of the offensive line returns, including 6-7, 285-pound tackle Rod Orr, a four-star recruit who has received offers from Te-nnessee-Martin, Arkansas State, Missouri, Minnesota, Oregon, Mississippi State, Florida State, Ole Miss, Arizona State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Syracuse, Tennessee, Troy and Kansas. Also back in the trenches are seniors Tristan Scripps and Ivyon Westbrooks.
Returning at linebacker are seniors Calvin Wilson and Jamari Boston, who combined for 98 tackles last season.
Boston is a three-year starter. Seniors and Rashad Johnson and Ja’Monte Lee are also back.
A pair of solid veterans return to the secondary in seniors Rodney Johnson and Zion Kirby, who registered 40 and 28 tackles, respectively, in 2019. Both had three interceptions.
For the first time in school history, the Titans will compete in the Birmingham-area Class 7A, Region 3, which includes defending state champion Hoover, Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville, Vestavia Hills, Oak Mountain, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County.
“We’re very excited about competing,” said Smith. “Our kids look forward to it, our coaching staff looks forward to it and hopefully our community looks for-ward to it. This is a fine group to coach. We have not achieved on the field in the winning column like we have, but we still feel like we’re winning in the game of life in a lot of areas and providing them the opportunity to go off and do some better things.”
Katie Bohannon contributed to this article.