GADSDEN CITY SENIORS. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Stephen Powell, Khalil Hughley, Jake Malone, Barron Byers, Jacob Perry, John Paul Al Hajazin, Kanye Harvey, Andrae Fomby, K’Rysiax Yow. Standing, from left: David Fitzpatrick, Damien Carlisle, Steven Jones, Braylen Starkes, Clyde Curry, Aaron Wood, Dorian Patterson, Jackson Sparks, Elijah Taylor, Elijah Dunn, DeSean Gray, Jackson Veasy. (Not pictured: Jordan Nowell, Colton Cornelius, Jake Malone)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gadsden City’s primary goal for the 2022 season is simple – finish what you start.
The Titans stood at 5-2 heading into Week 8 before dropping their final three games, finishing two games out of the state playoffs.
Head coach Ali Smith pointed to the Titans’ failure of closing out games as the main reason for missing out on the postseason. Except for one game, Gadsden City led at halftime in each game.
“We felt that we were there last year; unfortunately, a couple of things happened that didn’t go our way,” said Smith. “We let a lot of games slip away at the end, and we felt like we easily could have been 8-2. When we started reevaluating ourselves back in December through February, as coaches, we looked at all the ways we could improve after halftime. We definitely have to get better in the third and fourth quarter.”
After eight years and a 37-49 record while competing in the state’s highest classification, Gadsden City is back in Class 6A. Last year’s 5-5 record marked the Titans’ first non-losing season since 2016, when GCHS went 7-6. Gadsden City last won a region title in 2014, the school’s first year in Class 7A.
“Our kids have worked hard on the field, in the weight room and in the film room, so we feel really good about what we have right now and the steps we’ve taken, with our younger guys as well as out older guys,” said Smith. “Our guys understand that it’s all about making sacrifices and having the best people around you.”
Back under center is junior Luke Waldrop, who in his first year as a starter threw for 1,581 yards and 11 touchdowns. Waldrop will be playing alongside several greenhorns, as leading rusher C.J. Miller, leading receiver Khamari Smith and tight end Mason Johnson graduated and are currently playing football in college. One key veteran wideout is senior Clyde Curry, who last year had 15 catches for 22 yards. Senior Jordan Nowell will also be in the mix in the passing game.
“We only lost three skill guys from last year, so we’re really excited about where we’re at offensively,” said Smith.
The Titans should be solid in the trenches, as four-fifths of the offensive line return, including All-Region senior Aaron Wood.
The defense took a big hit from graduation with eight graduated seniors currently playing college ball, but returning is senior defensive end Jackson Veasy (64 tackles in 2021), senior linebacker Malik Woods (101 tackles) and junior cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (69 tackles).
“Our defensive front is our most experienced group and should be our bright spot,” said Smith. “We have only one returning starter at linebacker, so we’ll see a lot of newcomers there. Just one guy returns in the secondary, but we really feel good with the guys we’re replacing them with.”
The Titans’ Class 6A Region 8 competition includes Buckhorn, Fort Payne, Hazel Green, Mae Jemison and Lee-Huntsville. GCHS opens the season on August 19 at home against Georgia powerhouse Carrollton.
“We’re not disrespecting anyone, but we’re also not selling ourselves short,” said Smith. “We know what we’ve been in the last two seasons. We’re preparing ourselves to make a run, so in our non-region games, we want to play teams with a lot of speed and a lot of discipline. We look at [the non-region schedule] in terms of what we could do to make ourselves better as a team. We want to see where we measure up.”