By Lee Davis
Spain Park probably learned an important lesson about how difficult life can be in Class 7A’s Region 3 last season.
“I’m not an expert on the history of high school football in Alabama,” said Shawn Raney the Jaguars’ head coach. “But I couldn’t imagine a team beating Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills in the same season and not making the playoffs. That’s exactly what happened to us last year.”
Raney’s point is well taken. The Jags earned victories over the perennially strong region foes the Spartans and Rebels, only to spend November at home in the wake of heartbreaking losses to Hewitt-Trussville and Oak Mountain. The result was a 3-4 region mark on the way to a 6-4 season.
“Last year just showed again that there is very little difference between most of the teams in our region,” Raney said. “Almost anybody can make the playoffs and almost anybody can miss out.”
Raney is optimistic about 2015. “There are some areas where we are strong and areas where we can improve,” he said. “If we can avoid injuries, we should be in the thick of everything. Our biggest issue is depth. Once we get past our starting 22 players, we are thin in some places.”
Spain Park should have an outstanding running attack. Senior Wade Streeter, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, returns as the starting tailback.
“Wade is a complete player and a great leader for us,” Raney said. Providing valuable depth is junior Larry Wooden and sophomore D’arie Johnson. “Larry is a great talent who could be a college-type running back,” he said. “And Johnson will be a good one, too.”
Joey Beatty, a senior with limited playing experience, steps in at quarterback. “He has been progressing for us nicely,” Raney said. “Joey is a cerebral guy who will do a good job for us.”
Beatty will have a fine choice of receiving targets. Seniors Parker Kelly, Bridge Suber and Will Green, and junior Thomas Jordan will all be in contributing roles. Kelly and Green also will get work at H-back and tight end.
The anchor of the Jaguars’ offensive line is senior center Grey Best, a 255-pounder. Junior Brett Stover, a 250-pounder, is at one guard post. Jonathan Mote – who played in the defensive front last season – is moving to an offensive line spot.
Spain Park has two excellent kickers in seniors Crosby Gray and Tyler Sumpter. “We have plenty of confidence in both of them,” Raney said.
Raney served as Hoover’s defensive coordinator before taking the Jaguar head coaching job in 2013, so he understands what’s required to be successful in Class 7A. “We should have a good defense overall,” he said. “We expect to be very strong upfront and with our linebackers but we’re a little inexperienced in the secondary.”
On the front, Spain Park will rotate senior Jonah Tibbs, Douglas Henze, Will Dailey and junior Douglas Henze. Tibbs is the largest of this group, weighing 250 pounds. Markell Clark, a recent move-in, will give the line even more beef. Clark weighs 280 pounds.
“We’re going to be shifting our guys around to keep them fresh,” he said. “You can’t have too many defensive linemen.”
The Jaguar linebacker corps could be among the best in the region. Senior Perry Young – playing outside linebacker – already has several college offers. Senior Chester Hutcherson and junior Houston Hollis are solid and dependable.
While Spain Park’s secondary is admittedly short on experience, talent is plentiful. Junior Damarius Farmer, coming off a fine spring practice, will be a starter at cornerback. Chase Young and James Mason will see plenty of action.
Senior Bryan Sanderson, a standout on the Jaguar baseball team, will start at a safety slot. Cameron Toyer, Jack Connell, Trey Robinson and Darrius Stringer will also play.
As always, Region 3 will be a brutal path. Spain Park faces Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Oak Mountain and Mountain Brook on consecutive Friday nights. “This kind of schedule always motivates our kids,” he said. “Every week is going to be a battle. There are no easy games.”
The Jags went to a camp in Mississippi for two-a-day practices earlier this month, and Raney thought the trip built team unity.
“We didn’t go (to camp) last year and I think it hurt us,” Raney said. “This year, it really helped our kids to get to know one another. I’ve been very impressed with the work ethic I’ve seen so far.”
Raney said the key to a successful season is simple. “It’s all about consistency,” he said. “We had so many close games last year. We want to be able to put ourselves in position to win in those situations. Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”
And Spain Park is hoping for that opportunity in 2015.