Coming off playoff appearance, Valley looks to make deeper run this season

Published 7:07 pm Thursday, July 25, 2019

OPELIKA — Five local teams participated in high school football media days on Tuesday morning in the Southern room at the Opelika campus of Southern Union Community College.

“I want to thank Fox Sports, iHeart Radio and Orthopedic Clinic for allowing us to come up here, speak about our programs, our kids and gives us a great platform to speak about football,” Valley head football coach Buster Daniel said. “Football can get a bad wrap these days in time. All of the people who have never played football have tried to drag it down, talk bad about it, our kids getting injured, this is a good time for us to speak about the game. Football’s the best team sport ever invented. You learn so much in football, not just the game, that’s what I tell the kids every single day. We’re trying to teach you how to be a young man, how to be on time, we’re trying to teach you all these things … Thank you so much for allowing us to be up here and talk about our guys.”

Valley High School followed Chambers Academy on the day, bringing seniors Jaden Hamlin and Daniel Osborne as the team’s representatives.

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The Rams are coming off of a 5-6 season, clinching the program’s first trip to the state playoffs since 2013. While Valley was excited to clinch the postseason berth, the team looks forward to making it further this season. 

“These guys have been tremendous leaders, on and off the field, in the weight room,” Daniel said. “For the last couple of years, we haven’t had our player leaders, the coaches had to do everything. They tell you that good teams, coaches lead, great teams, players lead. These seniors, including the two I have other there [Osborne and Hamlin], are doing that for us.”

The team is replacing 21 seniors from the class of 2019, losing athletes including all-area selections D.J. Dunn, Steven Coker and AHSAA all-star T.J. Winston. Daniel said the team will get creative with his personnel this season, even lining up Hamlin at tight end, a position that the senior said he has never played before.

“I feel good about it,” Hamlin said. “I feel like it’s going to be a good opportunity to open up more things … I’d be a good [receiver].”

The quarterback position is up for grabs again this season as 2018 starter Eli Culpepper decided to step away from football to focus on baseball his senior year. As of Tuesday morning, Daniel said the battle was between Gabe Harmon and Will Kennedy. He said although both players may get snaps in the season-opener against Lanett, all starting positions are up for grabs.

The Rams will also play this season without Heston Yates, the longtime stadium announcer for over 40 years. Yates died on June 22, and Valley has since decided to name the press box after him this upcoming season.

“He was great man, and his voice will be missed,” Daniel said. “It really will. He was a great man in Valley, he loved the Valley Rams. I haven’t been there that long, but it’s going to be different not hearing that voice. We have a great guy who’s going to replace him, but Mr. Heston was there for a long, long time. It even got to where it was hard for him to get up in the press box, but he was still there every night talking about these kids right here, which he loved. He’s going to be missed, and I think it’s a great idea to name the press box after him.”