Local teams take the stage at the 6th high school football media days in Opelika

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

High School Football Media Days kicked off on Tuesday with four local schools speaking in Opelika. 

This is the sixth time that the media days have been held at the Bottling Plant Event Center in Opelika. 

AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs opened up the event with his thoughts on the state of athletics in Alabama. 

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Briggs spoke about several new sports that have been added over the past several years. Some of these sports include girls flag football, bowling, Esports and girls wrestling. 

“They’ve all went off like wildfire,” Briggs said. “So, we’re excited about having those. We’re just excited about the new year.”

Girls flag football has seen growth across the United States. Many colleges and universities have begun to add flag football. 

Briggs spoke about the annual board meeting that will take place Wednesday. At the meeting, the board will be discussing revenue sharing and the appropriation of over $2 million to high schools in Alabama.

Valley High School

Valley was the first school to take the stand on day one. Head Coach Adam Hunter took seniors Jay Harper, Ian Crim-Davis, Brandon Thomas and Cam Dooley with him to Opelika on Tuesday. 

Each of the players that Hunter took with him played an integral role in Valley winning the 5A state championship in basketball last season. 

“We want that tradition and that winning, last year going 33-0, we want it to carry over and these guys do an excellent job of that,” Hunter said. “They push our young guys. They try to show our young guys what it takes to win a championship because they’ve been there.” 

Hunter also talked about how close he felt Valley’s football team was to being a good team last season. Valley lost three games by a single possession last season. Two of those games were region losses, and had they won those games Valley could have possibly made the playoffs. 

“Last year going through the season, we felt like we were right there at the cusp of being a pretty good football team,” Hunter said. “We just didn’t finish. That’s one of the things we’ve really preached.” 

Hunter and his team had to play with some uncertainty last season due to possible consolidation with LaFayette High School. Hunter had to answer more questions about consolidation on Tuesday. 

The team has more certainty this year after the judge’s ruling, and the two schools should be separate for the next couple of years. 

“It’s like DMark (Mitchell) said, these guys didn’t have to worry about it as much as us coaches,” Hunter said. “We kind of talked about it as a staff, we can only take care of what we can take care of.” 

Brandon Thomas was one of the leaders for Valley’s basketball team, but he did not play football last season. Thomas will be a wide receiver for the Rams this season. 

“I didn’t really like this sport, but he made me come out here,” Thomas said. “He made me feel at home.” 

Valley has two Power Five commits in their secondary in Jay Harper and Cam Dooley. Ian Crim-Davis also has an offer from UAB. 

With those guys, Zan Woody and Galvin Goss the coaches and the secondary expect the secondary to be dynamic this season. 

“As far as for the secondary, you know, I feel like we got the best secondary in Alabama,” Harper said.

LaFayette High School 

LaFayette was the third team to take the stand on day one. Head Coach Juan Williams took Tazarius Towels, Keylun Powell and Malik Burton with him to media days. 

LaFayette is coming off of a season where the team finished with only two wins. Over the summer, the team has been working to improve upon that finish. 

“Our outlook this year is to be better than we were last year,” Williams said. “Coming off of a hard 2-7 season with a region that’s really full of football. Our guys have responded to the challenge this year.” 

Williams also had to answer questions about consolidation with Valley High School. Williams talked about the certainty that the team had this season. 

“The message has been, we know what’s what now,” Williams said. “It’s no what if’s, this is what it is. We can only control the things that we can control, and that’s what our kids understand.” 

The plan for LaFayette is to have both AJ Patrick and Zae Towles rotate in at quarterback this season. 

“Each quarterback brings something different to the table,” Williams said. “You might see a third one get some work in this year also because both of these guys we have this year are seniors.” 

Williams and Towles both spoke about the quarterback situation. Even though more than one quarterback will play, it will be more of a bond than a competition. 

“We make each other better in practice,” Towles said. “It’s really not a who’s gonna start, it’s really a bond thing.” 

Malik Burton brings probably the most size on LaFayette’s roster. He hopes to make an impact on both sides of the ball. 

“I think I can contribute to both sides of the line very well,” Burton said.

Springwood School 

Head Coach Joey Burch and his team took the stand for the first time in his tenure. Burch was unable to attend last year’s event. Burch took Eli Johnson, Gregory Johnson and Dylan Reeves with him. 

Springwood played in 8-man football for the first time last season. Springwood competed in the state championship last season and finished the year with a 7-4 record. 

Some have a negative perception of 8-man football, but Burch took time on Tuesday to champion it. 

“If you don’t know anything about it, it’s real football,” Burch said. 

As opposed to schools losing their football program, Burch talked about 8-man football giving schools an option to keep the program alive. 

After a successful year last season, Burch and his team have set their sights on an even higher goal this season. 

“Our goal this year is to win the state championship in 8-man football, and expand on out from there,” Burch said. 

One player that Springwood will have to replace this season is Cayden Cook. Cook is continuing his playing career at Huntingdon College. 

“Well, Cayden was real valuable,” Burch said. “Greg’s going to fill some of those roles. Not one person’s going to do it, but we have more players this year to be able to fill those positions.” 

Greg and CJ Johnson both transferred from Opelika High School. 

They will both play basketball and football. 

“Coming from a big school like Opelika, I feel like it’s like a big change knowing that 11 to 8-man is kind of different for me,” Greg Johnson said.

Beulah High School

Head Coach Matthew Johnson took L.J. Fitzpatrick, Ethyn Prestridge and Bronson Dubose with him to represent Beulah on Tuesday. 

Johnson has talked about how different this offseason has felt from all of his other seasons at Beulah. A lot of that has to do with leadership. 

“We are senior heavy for the first time in five years for me,” Johnson said. “I was telling someone earlier, I have more seniors this year on the team than the previous three years combined.” 

Beulah only had two seniors on last year’s team. This season, the Bobcats are going in with 14 seniors on the team. Beulah leadership has not just been shown in terms of football, the team also has several players that are currently spreading the gospel in Germany right now. 

“We’re blessed to have guys on our team that are not scared to show their faith,” Johnson said.

One of the biggest advantages for Beulah should be on the outside.

 Johnson has often talked about Prestridge as an elite route runner at wideout. L.J. Fitzpatrick placed in the state for high jump, and he should have a skillset to create mismatches. 

“I feel like my jumping ability, it will help me way more to jump balls,” Fitzpatrick said. “Because my legs are so strong, I feel like I got a lot more speed to beat a defender.” 

Bronson Dubose led the team in tackles last season, and he should be one of the leaders for Beulah’s defense. 

Dubose did not want to talk about himself though, he is more focused on accomplishing their goals as a team. 

“I really feel like just leading the team, just trying to get them all together instead of just being an individual sport,” Dubose said. “You know, it’s a team sport. You want to just try to keep the team together. Just one thing at a time.” 

Beulah was the last area team to speak on Tuesday. 

Both Chambers Academy and Lanett High School will speak on Wednesday.