By Lee Davis
Some high school football coaches have decided the way to beat the intense heat of August is to get ahead of it.
Briarwood’s Fred Yancey is one of those coaches. The Lions opened their fall two-a-days with morning practices beginning at 6 a.m.
“Normally kids don’t like to get up early, but in this case they were OK with it,” Yancey said. “We did most of our contact work in the morning, because there were days that the temperature felt like 100 degrees by eight o’clock.”
The practices may be taking place in a cooler environment, but the Lions hope to put more heat on their opponents in 2015. Last year Briarwood posted a 4-7, a sub-par season by Yancey’s lofty standards. Earning a playoff berth put a little salve on the disappointment, but the coach is looking for better things in the new season.
“It’s always a goal to make the playoffs, and we did that last year,” Yancey said. “We’ve got some good young players coming in and we’re going to be better defensively.”
Offensively, Briarwood looks improved, as well. Junior William Gray, an outstanding passer, will pilot the attack. Sophomore Carson Eddy is expected to be the mainstay of the running game. Eddy rushed for 137 yards in his first start last season before being lost to a collarbone injury. “Carson may be the best running back we’ve had in a while. He has great explosiveness and can hit the holes effectively.”
The Lions receiver corps is deep and talented. Luke Dyson is a returning starter with Luke Miskelley, Kolby Kwarcinski and David Lowrey all in the mix. “William will have some pretty good targets,” Yancey said.
Briarwood’s offensive line also should be a strong point, with several starters from 2014 returning. The center is senior Ross Thompson. Daniel Johnston – a 260-pound giant – returns as left tackle. Hunter Whatley is the left guard. On the right side, Connor Hudson returns at right guard along with senior tackle Max Michel. Michel has overcome two shoulder operations to come back to the Lions as a starter. Senior Will Halama and sophomore Garrett Bell will add valuable depth.
Perhaps the Lions’ newest offensive threat is kicker Josh Brower, who moved in from Jupiter, Florida. Brower was named Christian Schools of America’s Soccer Player of the Year last season. He will punt and place kick for Briarwood.
“Josh will bring a new dimension to our kicking game,” Yancey said.
Briarwood’s defense should be one of the best in its region. Everett Badeaux, a senior, and Champ Stewart, a junior, are manning the defensive flanks.
Carter Bankston – who earned All-Over the Mountain honors last season – is outstanding as an inside linebacker. Another potential star is outside linebacker Sam Sherrod, a two-year starter. Jonathan McGehee is solid at middle linebacker. Others who will see extensive playing time are seniors R.J. Jennings and James Holladay.
The Lions’ secondary should be outstanding. Jake Morris, a returning starter, and Bennett Miles are the cornerbacks. Sam Parker and Ethan Housel are the safeties. Carson Donnelly, the son of former University of Alabama star Chris Donnelly, is a sophomore to watch in the defensive backfield.
“I think we’ve got reasons to be excited about our season,” Yancey said.
The coach is right, but Briarwood competes in Region 5, one of the toughest circuits in Class 6A that features perennial contenders such as Homewood, Minor and Hueytown. “I’d have to rank Homewood and Minor at the top,” Yancey said. “It’s up to the rest of us to fall in line.”
Yancey said that the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s new seven-classification alignment probably was a disadvantage to his team last season. “The set-up meant we’d be playing a school larger than us almost every week,” he said.
Of even more concern to Yancey is the recent rash of negative publicity regarding football-related concussions.
“Our roster numbers are down and I think you’re seeing that at a lot of places,” he said. “Kids who are on the fence about whether or not they want to try football are choosing against it because of the concussion issues. But coaches are working hard to make the game as safe as possible and keep injuries to a minimum.”
Times change, but Yancey, who has seen a lot in his nearly three decades at Briarwood, said he’s not going anywhere.
“I’m blessed,” Yancey said. “This is a great situation. As long as I enjoy it and feel like I’m making a contribution, I’m planning on being here.”
If the Lions can avoid the injury bug, those early morning practices might pay off in the form of a championship run. ϖ