Pictured, kneeling, from left: Rodney Johnson, Jy’Twon Vinson, Devonte Graham, Malachi Butler, Quintavious Wright, Josue Ramos, D’Javi Byers, Anthony Jones, Khamari Smith, Jadon Martin, C.J. Miller. Standing, from left: Emmanuel Lent, Christian Williams, Gabriel Mitchell, Damien Montez, Isaiah Taylor, Darious Taylor, Samuel Horton, Mason Johnson, Kelsey Smith, Nehemiah Washington, Maurice Rudolph, Aaron Richard.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
With nine returning starters, Gadsden City head football coach Ali Smith expects a number of new faces contributing this season, on both sides of the ball as well as special teams.
Smith, however, added that not none of the above veterans should feel a sense of entitlement in regard to their playing time.
“I share with our team every day that in high school ball, you can’t be a recreational coach and you can’t be a recreational player. So, nobody’s penciled in [as a starter]. Everyone is going to be challenged. We have to prepare like we’re playing at the professional level.”
That being said, the Titan roster features several players expected to lead the way in 2021.
Smith pointed to senior captains Aaron Richard (defensive end), C.J. Miller (halfback) and Khamari Smith (receiver) as key components to the success of the 2021 Titans.
Richard, a first-team All-Messenger pick last year who finished with 62 tackles, recently committed to Ivy League member Princeton.
Miller was named to the ASWA Class 7A All-State second team after rushing for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We’re excited that those three guys have been in our school system for [grades] 1 through 12, going into their senior year, so that means a lot to us moving forward. They have about 27 guys in their senior class, and a lot of them played a lot of youth football together, so we’re excited about where we’re headed. I tell people all the time [that] we want to win football games, but we also look at winning in the game of life as well.”
Also returning are senior defensive end Samuel Hor-ton (who had 64 tackles last year), senior cornerback Rodney Johnson, (who finished 2020 with 48 tackles and two interceptions) and seniors D’Javi Byers and Mason Johnson. Senior cornerback Tae Wright is a transfer from Etowah.
“We have a number of guys that are really good leaders and have done a really good job during winter, spring and summer workouts,” said Smith. “Hopefully that will carry us over into the fall.”
Sophomore Luke Waldrop will open the season at quarterback.
“Right now, Luke is going into the fall camp as our starter,” said Smith. “We really feel good with Luke. He’s a hard worker, but we also have another young man behind him that pushes him to do a good job as well.”
Smith noted that the depth of the 2021 team is the deepest he has seen in in quite some time.
“We feel good where we are, from our eighth-grade group all the way up to our senior class. It’s all about building competition, so we’ve played some of the younger guys in the spring and moved some of them up.”
Smith referred to the program’s weight room, nicknamed The Joe, as a workplace where results are expected and loafing is not tolerated.
“We don’t call it the weight room; we call it the work room. Nobody sits down in there, whether you’re a visitor or a college coach. If you come in, you’re going to stand up and you’re going to watch the workout. If you’re injured or hurt, you still dress out or you don’t come in there. That’s the mentality we talk about in competing every day. Our kids understand that and our coaches understand that.”
Smith pointed out that when Gadsden City learned that it would compete against Birmingham area powerhouses Thompson, Hoover, Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville, Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain, along with Tuscaloosa County in Class 7A, Region 6, the current upperclassmen embraced the challenge.
“We had kids and parents [who] ran from that, but the kids that are here now, they didn’t run. We tell our kids to play the players on that team, not the name of the school. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to play against the best, and that’s a challenge every Friday night in this region. We’re not going to duck competition. Our kids get up for it and get excited about it.”
Staff writer Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article.