By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
After producing the school’s best-ever record (9-2) and winning the first region title since 1988 while scoring the most points in school history, the Sardis High football has a new level of confidence.
“The guys are gaining more confidence and I think we can compete with any team on our schedule,” head coach Gene Hill said. “We’ve had a good year in the weight room and a really good spring and summer.”
The reward for the Lions’ great season is a move up to Class 4A – a move that Hill doesn’t necessarily relish. Sardis last competed in 4A in 1997.
“The biggest difference in 3A and 4A, I think, is that fewer teams use players both ways in 4A,” Hill said. “And we’re going to be playing a lot of teams we’ve never seen.”
Two of Sardis’ traditional rivals – Douglas and Crossville – are in Region 5, but Hill only knows what he’s heard and seen on tape of most of the other teams.
The region carries some powerhouses starting with preseason No. 1 ranked Oneonta at the top, followed by Guntersville (which won a 4A state title in 2006), and Fairview, a team that has one of the state’s top quarterbacks in Luke Bailey.
“You’ve got those three, plus a much-improved St. Clair County to deal with,” Hill said. “Then the two rivalries, which we haven’t played a lot in recent years. There’s not any one game you can point at and think it’s going to be a win if you just show up.
“We’re going to have to play as well as possible every week to earn any wins.”
Like last year, there are a lot of seniors sprinkled on the roster.
Running back Toby Pee, who rushed for 1,565 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, is the most prominent senior after being named to the Class 3A All-State first team and selected as the Messenger’s Offensive MVP. He also was the team’s leading receiver with 16 catches. Over the past two seasons, Pee has piled up 3,013 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns.
Hill, however, feels he has a lot of good senior contributors.
Playing mostly a one-back spread offense, Pee will get a lot of opportunities. When he’s resting, look for sophomore Jesse Hubbard to step in. Hubbard will also play safety.
There was a quarterback battle looming but junior Will Scott got the job by default after last season’s starter, Tyler Dixon, tore an ACL.
Scott, who Hill said “has a chance to be special,” is a transfer from Crossville.
“Losing Dixon hurt us more than just at quarterback,” Hill said. “In the spring game, we lined him up at quarterback, running back and receiver. His injury took away a lot of our skill position depth, so we’re looking for others to step up behind the starters.”
According to Hill, the starting receivers both have a chance to have great years.
Senior Kailon Robeson is tall at 6-3 and “has long arms. He can make some really good catches.”
On the other side is an inexperienced player that has a lot of potential. Senior Jared Shirley is about the same size as Robeson but hasn’t played since he was an eighth-grader.
The above duo will be the go-to guys for Scott’s passes.
Hill calls the offensive line the strength of this year’s Lions squad, with four-of-five starters returning.
Junior center Cole Wilson, a three-year starter, will be the anchor, but Etowah transfer and junior Blaine Pruitt has the potential to be a star.
Senior Andrew Hoyt is a returning starter that the coaches are really high on. Hill called him the most improved player on the team.
Senior Lucas Hext is a name that no one knows yet. He was home-schooled just about his entire life but is now a tackle for Sardis.
“When he got here, he could only bench 85 pounds,” Hill said. “Now he’s up to 245 and working hard to improve that.”
While the offensive line is stacked with returnees, the defensive line will be mostly new with only junior defensive end Colton Salers returning. The Lions did receive a West End transfer in junior Carlos Mueller.
“Colton is undersized (5-11, 200) but he’s got a lot of spunk and strength,” said Hill. “And Mueller can really run. He’ll get in on a lot of plays.”
Senior Zach Childers, who had 85 tackles last year, is the only returning linebacker and he will call the defensive plays. Hill said that linebacker is the area most likely to see two-way players, especially until some of the youth develops.
Hubbard and senior Juan Ramos will be in the defensive backfield. Hill said that both of them have a great intangible – intelligence.
“Those two are very smart kids,” Hill said. “I look for Hubbard to be the leader back there but both have the intelligence to do what is needed.”
Robeson is practicing to be the punter – a job he’s never had before. But Hill said he has a tremendously strong leg.
“He’s just got to learn the finer points. If he had been kicking his entire career, he would be an All-State punter.”
Sophomore Sawyer Cahela will kick.
Assistant coaches are Whitt Hibbs, Ty Harris, Phillip Pierce, Clay Wright, Dusty Darnell, Josh Wallace, Brock Rutledge and Brad Bruce.
Rutledge is heading up the offense.
“The offense has looked better than it ever has,” said Hill. “Brock is an outstanding offensive coach.”
Aug. 30 – @Sylvania
Sept. 7 – @Locust Fork*
Sept. 14 – Crossville*
Sept. 21 – @Douglas*
Sept. 28 – @Geraldine
Oct. 5 – Guntersville*
Oct.12 – @St. Clair Co.*
Oct. 19 – Fairview*
Oct. 26 – Oneonta*
Nov. 2 – Boaz
* Region game
Sardis 49, Brindlee Mtn. 14
Sardis 28, Madison Aca. 14
Sardis 30, Cedar Bluff 7
Sardis 48, Randolph 21
Sardis 28, New Hope 0
Sardis 38, Plainview 7
Sardis 20, Sylvania 7
Sardis 49, Pisgah 3
Sardis 35, Geraldine 21
Boaz 14, Sardis 7
Saks 34, Sardis 14