ASHVILLE SENIORS. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Hunter Brown, Bryan Hampton, Hunter Pyle, Brennan Bullock, Brian Brown, Daniel Sumner, Ethan Richardson, Greyson Simpson. Standing, from left: Gabby Hinton, Gavin “Bruiser” Hare (mascot), Noah England, Mason Wilson, Travis Smith, Eli Reeves, Jeremiah Monroe, Ashton Mostella, Jalen Williams, Kain Head, Layden Olson, Dylan Horsley, Blake Jones, Trevor Horsley, Kaydence Humphrey. (Courtesy of Becky Staples Photography)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Two years ago, Ashville posted its first non-losing season in 15 years.
Last season, the Bulldogs had their first winning season in 16 years.
The program’s goal for Year 3 of Shea Monroe’s tenure is obvious, but he has no intention of putting the cart before the horse.
“I know that it’s been a long time since Ashville has made the playoffs, but I think we just need to focus on one game at a time. I see a group of young men that have worked really hard and paid their dues, but just because you’ve done that doesn’t mean that you’ll make the playoffs. The ball’s got to bounce your way and there has got to be some luck involved.”
Following a 1-3 start, the 2021 Bulldogs won four of their last five games. Unfortunately, their Week 8 loss to Dora eventually knocked them out of the postseason picture.
“A program turns a corner when [it] win a game [it’s] not supposed to win,” said Monroe. “The last couple of seasons were good years for us, but both times it came down to one game in which we didn’t make enough plays (to win and secure a playoff berth). So for this year’s team, we’ve got to be ready to capture that moment. The biggest thing is being consistent.”
Ashville returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, many either three or four-year starters.
Among the 20-member senior class are starting safety/kicker Grayson Simpson, running back/linebackers Jalen Williams and Travis Smith, linebacker/fullback Lane Knowlson, lineman Ashton Mostella, defensive back Hunter Pyle and wingback/outside linebacker Eli Reeves.
Simpson is a three-year starter at placekicker and two-year starter at defensive back. Williams led the team in rushing with 608 yards and seven touchdowns, while Smith finished with 239 yards and three scores. Smith and Williams recorded 47 and 37 tackles, respectively, in 2021. Mostella last year contributed 32 tackles, including nine for a loss, at defensive end.
Williams, Mostella and Smith were second-team All-Region selections.
“I’ve been with this group of seniors since they were eighth graders when I an assistant coach, and they’re fantastic young men,” said Monroe. “These kids know what to expect from us coaches; there’s no guessing game.”
Junior Ryan Harris gets the nod at signal caller.
Monroe admitted that it’s no secret as to what the Bulldogs’ offensive philosophy is predicated on this season.
“We’ve got a really big offensive line and a 240-pound running back, so we’re going to try to run the football and control the clock. Basically, we’re going to play to the strengths of our football team, which will be the offensive and defensive lines.”
Monroe pointed out that the defense must shoulder much of the load, especially early in the season.
“First and foremost, we want to stop the run and then be good enough in the secondary to hold our own,” he said. “If you can make a team one-dimensional, you’re going to have a pretty good chance to be successful.
“People can call our style outdated, but it’s what works for us. I don’t have to sell our kids on [the importance] of running the ball and playing good defense; they believe in that.”
The Bulldogs’ 4A Region 6 rivals are Etowah, Good Hope, Oneonta, Fultondale, Hanceville and Cherokee County.
“These young men have been working hard all summer, and I’m really excited to see what the season holds,” said Monroe. “The Ashville community is first-class and they’re going to support these kids, whether they like me or not.”