By Rubin E. Grant
Fans attending Oak Mountain football games this fall probably won’t see any stars, at least on the Eagles’ side of the ball.
That’s because the Eagles don’t have any big-time recruits lining up for them.
“We’re not as flashy as some other spots,” Oak Mountain coach Cris Bell said. “We don’t have the four- and five-star players. In fact, some of our guys can’t spell star.”
That doesn’t mean the Eagles are devoid of talent. They return five starters on offense and six on defense from a team that finished 5-5 in 2017.
“We’ve got some kids who can play,” Bell said. “We’ve got overall good team speed, a lot of guys who can run. We’re going to be bigger up front on both sides of the ball than we have been in the last years. We’ve got size and athleticism. Defensively, we have got a chance to be really good.”
Oak Mountain has two players working at quarterback, senior Luke Percer and freshman Evan Smith. Bell is leaning toward starting Smith.
“It might put us at a disadvantage in our region, throwing a freshman out there as the starter, but Luke does so many things for us that we need him on the field all the time,” Bell said.
Percer and junior Jonathan Bennett will carry the bulk of the load at running back with sophomore Judah Tait and junior Gerald Austin serving as reserves. Percer also will line up some at slot receiver.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do,” Percer said. “I’m here to help the team succeed and play to the best of my ability.”
On the offensive line, 6-foot-2-inch, 295-pound senior Clay Collins returns at right guard. Russell Autry returns at tackle, but he’s moving from the left side to the right.
Seniors Zach Brown and Tyler Martin are battling for the starting center spot with Martin also serving as the long snapper. Senior Alex Burns and sophomore Alex Mathis are competing to start at left guard, while 6-foot-7-inch, 250-pound junior Drew Padgett and senior Nathan Gordon will share time at left tackle.
“We’ve got eight guys who can play and we’re not missing anything with any of them in there,” Bell said.
At wide receiver, the Eagles will start senior Trey Allen and talented sophomore Noah Young. Senior Cole Thomas returns as a slot receiver.
Defensively, the Eagles have plenty of experience on the line with seniors Carter Owens as nose tackle, Travis Thomasson at end and Zykeius Strong, who can play nose tackle or defensive end. Juniors Jake Goldfon and Jacob Payne will provide depth.
Oak Mountain will have two experienced inside linebackers in seniors Jacob Fitzgerald and junior Will Pfaffman. Martin and senior Nik Heino will serve as backups.
Both outside linebackers, seniors Xzavier Brown and Jalen Thomas, are returning starters. Payne could also see some time there.
In the secondary, safeties Garrison Frisch and Dylan Hoye return with sophomores Jaqeh McFadden and Dean Null backing them up.
The cornerbacks will be inexperienced. Senior Christian Hood, juniors Zane Nelson and Aaron Brook, and sophomores Zach Taylor and Jimmy Harris are competing for playing time.
“It’s wide open,” Bell said. “All of them will play.”
Junior Sam Johnson will be the Eagles’ punter.
“He’s got a big-time leg,” Bell said. “He has chance to be real special as a punter.
Hood will be the place-kicker.
“He’s real steady inside the 30 on field goals and he’s gotten much stronger on kickoffs,” Bell said.
Oak Mountain will compete in rugged Class 7A, Region 3, which includes two-time defending state champion Hoover, highly ranked Thompson, Hewitt-Trussville and Spain Park as well as Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Tuscaloosa County.
Even so, Bell expects the Eagles to be competitive and contend for a playoff spot.
“There’s nothing we can’t do if we have everybody together working toward the same goal,” he said.
Oak Mountain opens the season at home against Chelsea on Aug. 24. After a week off, the Eagles play consecutive region games against Hewitt, Thompson and Hoover.
“We’ve got to come out of the gates with a sense of purpose and play with a chip on our shoulders,” Bell said. “We’re really focusing on the little things that can make a difference in close games. How we handle the close games will determine how many games we win.”