2021 Football Preview: Yellow Jackets counting on improved depth

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Pictured, kneeling, from left: Caleb Sims, Andrew Wright, Drew Johnston, Conner Brown, Garrett Montgomery, Austin Cochran. Standing, from left: Hunter Hanners, Kade Crowder, Kade Kueny, Tristan Bullington, Levi Long, Hayden Smith, Cameron Atchley. 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

For the first time in his three years as Glencoe head coach, Brian Alred has the numbers at his disposal that fit a competitive Class 3A football program.
“We have about 58 guys out; that’s the most that we’ve had since I’ve been here. This is also the strongest team I feel like we’ve had and the best chemistry that we’ve had since I’ve been here. These guys have really come together, especially over the last couple of months. These guys have really bought in and worked their tails off in the weight room. They’ve obviously been through some struggles the last couple years and they’re hungry to win.”
Beset by inexperience and a myriad of injuries, the 2020 Yellow Jackets’ only victories came against Weaver in Week 2 and Douglas in Week 5.
“Our biggest thing is we ended the season last year with 13 legit injuries, whether it be torn ACL, broken leg or high ankle sprain,” said Alred.
Alred sees the program’s biggest obstacle to success is more mental than physical.
“The biggest thing (is) that I feel like we have the talent to win,” he said. “We’ve talked to these guys about having to stop expecting things to go bad. It’s been so rough for them the last couple years that when things are going well, it seems as if they’re looking over their shoulder and waiting for something to go bad. That’s a mentality that we have to get out of. If we can get over that hurdle, we’ll be able to have a successful season this year.”
Returning at quarterback is Nolan Fairley, who as a sophomore last year finished with 983 combined passing and rushing yards. All-Etowah County and All-Messenger senior Levi Long (400 yards rushing, 86 tackles, five sacks) returns at running back and defensive end.
Senior RB Hunter Han-ners, who was injured for most of last season, will be at running back and strong safety. Seniors Hayden Smith and Carson Naylor are back at receiver and defensive back.
Seniors Kade Crowder, Austin Cochran and Connor Brown and juniors Taylor Wescott, Luke Lassiter and Wheeler Moss will make up the offensive line.
“I think from the outside looking in, people always look and want to talk about skill guys, and they’re a huge part,” said Alred. “But if you’re not good up front on the O-line, you’re probably going to struggle overall. I feel like that’s one area that we’ve really worked on since January.”
Crowder and Garrett Gaskin return at defensive end and linebacker, where they were All-Etowah County selections in 2020.
The Yellow Jackets’ Class 3A, Region 5 competition includes Saks, Pleasant Valley, Ohatchee, Weaver, Walter Wellborn and Piedmont.
“I absolutely feel that it’s the toughest regions in 3A football,” said Alred. “Year in and year out, you see a lot of teams matching back up in the quarterfinal round. I think just from a paper standpoint, Piedmont and Saks are probably the teams to beat, but we all know you don’t play the game on paper. Wellborn had a very good team, but a lot of those guys were seniors. But we expect them, as always, to be a good physical hardness football team. Hokes Bluff [is] always sound in what they do. So you have to be prepared week in and week out, because there are no off weeks.”
Alred noted that the key to any successful season is keeping his players dressed out on Friday nights.
“If we can stay healthy, I feel like we’ll be able to have a chance to win some ball games. Our guys just have to believe that they can win, and if they can believe a little bit, I feel like you’ll see things turn around for us.”
Staff writer Emma Kiekemier contributed to this article.

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