By Blake Ells
Mountain Brook earned a pivotal victory over Vestavia Hills on Sept. 21, a 28-14 decision that allowed the Spartans to remain undefeated not just in 7A Region 3, but overall. It dealt the Rebels their first loss of the year.
Their offense was thorough, using long drives to keep their defense off the field. Daniel Wilbanks led the attack with 103 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns, while sophomore quarterback Strother Gibbs was 15-of-18 for 97 yards. He added 89 yards rushing on 16 carries.
“They were on the field for eight or nine minutes in the third quarter,” said senior defensive lineman Gavin Lee. “It’s helped us a ton.”
That 12-play, 80-yard drive ended with a Gibbs touchdown run of 26 yards. The Rebels had been within one score, and it was the dagger that Vestavia Hills couldn’t overcome.
Lee is one bookend of the Spartans’ three-man defensive front. Mountain Brook returned nine defensive starters this year, which led to lofty expectations. And they’ve met them, allowing just 42 total points through the season’s first five games. But not even the defensive side of the team – which sees them the most – expected a young offense to gel so quickly.
“Our offense has blown me out of the water,” said defensive lineman Trey Gory. “They’re a great group of guys; they work hard in practice, they put extra time in.”
Gibbs and company’s success has helped the veteran group on the other side stay prepared.
“We’ve got a very physical offensive line,” said senior defensive lineman James Burkett. “It gives us a good look so that on Friday nights, we’re prepared for any offense we face.”
The trio attributes their defensive success to their coaching staff, particularly first-year coordinator Robert Evans. Evans came to Chris Yeager’s staff from Hoover, where he was part of four state championship teams.
“We all bought into what (Evans) wants us to do and I think that’s a big part of why we’ve been successful so far,” Gory said.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s a group that has played football together since preschool.
“We’ve been playing football for a long time together,” Lee said. “There’s no lack of trust on this team. We all depend on each other to play at our best.”
The Spartans will remain in Region 3 play on Oct. 4 when they return from a bye week. They’ve spent the week working on themselves and their health, trying to make sure they are physically prepared for what’s to come.
“We’ve been trying to heal our bodies; trying to get the soreness out,” Lee said.
They’ll travel to 1-4 Oak Mountain on Thursday before beginning a grueling stretch at Hewitt-Trussville, hosting Thompson and at Hoover. Their 2018 season will be defined in October.
“This bye has been critical for us because the second half of the season is going to be very tough,” Burkett said. “We have some tough opponents that we’re going to have to play. It’s given us an extra week of preparation. (Oak Mountain) runs an option offense that’s different than a lot of other teams’ offenses. Their offensive line, quarterback, running back – everyone on that offense is very good. The bye week has been great for regenerating our bodies and preparing for that option attack.”
But the seniors will treat October like any other month. Though looking ahead would be easy as the Spartans face a stretch that could be as difficult as that of any high school football team in the state, they remain poised and focused on the current week’s task.
“It’s another couple of weeks of football to us,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to playing them. There are some good football teams in there and we like competition. There’s nothing different about it to us.”
The seniors work to encourage perspective in their younger players as they enjoy strapping on their own pads for their final season.
“For us this it,” Gory said. “We’ve got to tell them to play hard but have fun at the same time. It’s just football. You don’t need to worry about who you’re playing. They’ve got to go out there and have fun.”