Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Coosa Christian head football coach Mark O’Bryant is confident that last season’s run to the Class 1A state semifinals was no flash in the pan.
“I believe that this will be the best year we’ve ever had at Coosa. We’re strong and physical and faster than we’ve ever been. Providing we can stay healthy, it’s good for years to come. I’m happy with the success we’ve had for our coaches and players, but to be honest, I really don’t enjoy the games that much. It’s not the game that motivates me; it’s the process of bringing everything together. What drives me is the out-of-season process.”
After a 2-5 start, the 2022 Conquerors won their next six games and made it to the Final Four, where Coosa finished approximately a half-yard short of a berth in the state championship game.
“We’ve had a really good offseason, and I think the results have been pretty positive,” said O’Bryant. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and stay in the same routine and get ready to play ball in about three weeks.”
As of press deadline, Coosa had 40 players on the roster, a far cry from when the program was on life-support in the not-too-distant past due to lack of numbers.
“When we got here 36 months ago, we had 10 total players, [grades] 7 through 12,” said O’Bryant. “We were three weeks away from kicking off, and we still didn’t have enough [players] to field a football team.”
A key loss was the graduation of All-State running back Jai Mostella, who was named ASWA Class 1A first team All-State and Player of the Year for the All-Messenger team after rushing for 2,174 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Easing the sting of Mostella’s departure is the presence of junior linebacker Clete O’Bryant, who was named the All-Messenger Defensive Player of the Year and the Class 1A All-State first team by way of his 147 tackles (20 for a loss), three interceptions and three forced fumbles. He also had 18 receptions for 217 yards at running back.
Coosa has a three-year starter at quarterback in junior John David Justus, who last season threw for 1,775 yards and 13 touchdowns. Justus’ favorite targets is back in junior tight end Eli Motes, who last year had 27 catches for 488 yards. At linebacker, Motes finished with 103 tackles, inluding 12 for a loss, and three interceptions. Another veteran on the defense are sophomore defensive back D.J. Mackey, who had 60 tackles and four sacks in 2022.
Also returning are senior defensive back Grayson Malone (53 tackles), junior lineman Dalton Hyatt (33) and junior linebacker Kaeden Hill (35).
O’Bryant believes that the team’s nutrition program will give Coosa a competitive edge, particularly in the latter stages of a game.
“I really believe that’s a game-changing formula,” he said. “I don’t know what other school within an hour and a half radius of us that is doing this. The most important part of weightlifting is not lifting weights; it’s eating. The food that we’re putting into these guys is important, and our nutrition has been the biggest contributing factor to our weightlifting program.”
Legendary Alabama and Georgia high school football coach Rush Propst spent three and half months earlier this year as Coosa Christian athletic director and co-head football coach before accepting the head football position at Pell City High School in April.
O’Bryant stressed that there were no hard feelings when Propst departed.
“I’m grateful for the time Rush had with us, because I think it gave us great name recognition. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it a thousand times more that he’s the best high school coach to ever do it at the high school level.”
The Conquerors’ road to the postseason passes through Class 1A, Region 7 rivals Gaylesville, Decatur Heritage, Valley Head, Appalachian and Woodville.
“I think all the teams in this region have great effort,” said O’Bryant. “I don’t think Valley Head has any kids who will play both ways, which is huge in [Class] 1A. Cedar Bluff and Decatur Heritage are very good, and Appalachian is very talented. That’s not a knock on any of the [region] teams not listed; I just think that those are the teams that are probably going to make the most noise.
“The expectations [for the program] have not changed since Day 1 three years ago. We just didn’t have the talent that we’ve got now. If we get in there and compete and do what we need to do, I think we’re going to have a really productive season.”