New Sardis coach sees bright future for Lions

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SARDIS SENIORS. Pictured, from left: Lincoln Young, Dustin Hayes, Jamie Rakestraw, Garrett Burns, Lawson Bailey, Colt Huff, Hunter Henderson, Lyndon Young. (Courtesy of Bentley Gray Photography) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

If first-year head coach Chris Stephenson has anything to do with it, Sardis will wind up on the winning end of the scoreboard more often than not this fall.
“I’ve never had a losing season, and I don’t want it to start here, for any reason” he said. “For one thing, it’s not going to be 56-6 anymore. If I have to slow the game down to a crawl, that’s what we’ll do.”
Stephenson certainly has his work cut out for him, as the Lions are 1-19 over the past two seasons. Sardis’ last winning season was in 2017, which is also the last time the Lions won a region title.
“I like what I’ve seen so far,” said Stephenson. “The discipline before was a little bit lacking, and that will be corrected. The biggest thing with these guys is being competitive and finishing. When you get tackled, you get up and you run five more yards. When you run your route, you run it five more yards.
A trio of veteran returnees on offense are junior tight end Eli Morton, senior receiver Garrett Burns and junior tackle Jose Ponce. Morton last season caught 30 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, while Ponce graded 85 or better each game and had seven pancake blocks.
Junior Blaze Gerhart takes over at quarterback.
“These guys have caught onto the offense quicker than anybody, and that’s saying something with the complex offense we run,” said Stephenson. “They’ve responded to everything I’ve thrown at them so far.
“The defense is already ahead of the offense, and that’s to be expected. These young men have responded to everything I’ve put in front of them, but the challenges are coming.”
Speaking of challenges, the Lions’ 5A Region 7 competition includes Arab, Crossville, Douglas, Scottsboro, Boaz and Guntersville.
“Sardis is going to be relevant again, and it’s not going to be because of me; it’s going to be because of these young men,” said Stephenson. “It’s an honor for me to say that I’m part of their lives with coaching them in football.”
Stephenson praised former longtime Sardis head football coach Gene Hill, who went 51-64 from 2011 to 2021.
Hill guided the Lions to the state playoffs five times and won two region titles. Sardis’ last winning season came in 2017 at 7-4.
“[Hill] was here 11 years. If I’m here 11 years, I’ll be 70 years old, and I hope I’m here that long. [Hill] is a good person who did some very good things. If I can do that, then that’s half the battle right there. We’ve just got to pick it up to the next level.”

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