Pictured, kneeling, from left: Tyler Dobbs, Christopher Stevens, Michael Bostic, Jarvis Hardwick, Ashton King, Jacob Robertson. Standing, from left: Bennett Nance, Jacob Stanford, Travis Dunwood, head coach Ryan Locke, Perry Byers, Jaylon Billingsley, Christian Foreman.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Etowah head football coach Ryan Locke is well aware that part of the price of riding a 25-game winning streak in the region is wearing a bullseye on your back week in and week out. Etowah has not lost a region game since Week 10 of the 2016 season.
“When you’re at Etowah, you get everybody’s best shot, just because everybody wants to take that opportunity to try and knock you off,” he said. “So it’s a challenge every week to try to get up and be ready for that. We can’t afford to take a week off.”
The 2020 Blue Devils finished with a 9-4 record, a fourth straight region title, a berth in the state playoffs for the 10th straight season and the program’s first state semifinals appearance in 21 years.
Despite heavy offensive graduation losses that included the team’s top halfback, top two receivers and top linebacker, all of whom signed Division I scholarships, Locke does not anticipate a steep drop off in production.
Returning at quarterback is Trace Thompson, who as a sophomore last season threw for 2,011 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thompson’s top targets will include senior Michael Bostic along with senior Jarvis Hardwick and juniors Omareon Finch, Andrew Pierce and Stephen Jones.
“Michael has really come on and is going to be a great position receiver for us,” said Locke.
All-Region seniors Bennett Nance and Jaylon Billingsley fortify the offensive line.
The defense weathered the graduation toll somewhat better, as all three units are veteran-heavy.
“We have a lot of players who have played a lot of meaningful snaps for us,” said Locke. “Everybody but Toby Camp comes back up front. Everybody but Trevor Gladden is back at linebacker.”
Returning at linebacker are All-Region seniors Perry Byers and Tyler Dobbs, along with senior Caleb Freeman. A three-year starter, Dobbs ended last season with 89 tackles (including 19 for a loss) and seven sacks. All-Region senior Jacob Stanford returns at defensive end. Billingsley and Nance will see action on the defensive line. Hardwick is back in the secondary.
Etowah shares Class 4A Region 6 with Ashville, Oneonta, Fultondale, Dora, Good Hope and Hanceville.
“We’re a very competitive region and we’re going to play some really good teams,” said Locke. “Coach (Phil) Phillips does a tremendous job at Oneonta, and you know their kids are going to be well-coached. Kendrick Cook, who was with us on staff the last couple years, is now the head coach at Fultondale. So they’re going to be prepared to come and play us. We’re going to get their best shot. Ashville might be one of the best-coached teams in our region. I have all the respect in the world for Coach (Shea) Monroe and his staff. They do a tremendous job in what all they’re able to get out of their kids.
“As close as we are geographically with Ashville, that’s going to be a tough game. I think that will draw a lot of emotions out of both sides. Good Hope is a very well-coached and hard-nosed football team. Coach Scott does a great job. Hanceville has a new head coach, and I know they’ll be much improved from what they were a year ago. The one region opponent that we didn’t play last year was Dora. I know they’ve got some pretty good-looking players, at least they did last year on the field.”
Locke is high on his 12-member senior class.
“As good as this group is on the football field, they’re quality young men off of it and in the classroom. They’ve been a part of a lot since they’ve been here. We have a lot of guys who’ve a lot of football at a high level. They’ve been a part of three straight region championships and never lost a region game. I’m proud of them and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do [during] their senior year.”
Staff writer Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article.