By Lee Davis
At most schools, three consecutive 9-1 regular season records would be cause for celebration.
Homewood is not most schools.
“Yes, it’s great to win nine regular season games,” said Patriot coach Ben Berguson. “But we have high expectations here. We expect to contend for a state championship every season. That’s what we want to do this year.”
Homewood reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs in 2014 before losing to Gardendale for a final mark of 9-3.
A similar record – or better – should be well within the reach of the 2015 Patriots.
“Our goal is always to make the playoffs, because once you do that, anything can happen,” Berguson said. “Now we’d like to go past the second round.”
That should happen. Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Carson Griffis, a three-year starter who is an effective passer, runner and field general.
“We obviously have a lot of confidence in Carson,” Berguson said. “He’s been around and has helped us win a lot of games. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”
Joining Griffis in the backfield is senior running back Derrick Underwood, who at 5-10, 185 pounds, rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.
Homewood will also have fleet corps of receivers in Alec Marsch, Kevin Patterson and Ronald Claiborne. “We’ve got good speed and height at our wide out positions,” said the coach. “They are all at least 6-2, which makes them good targets.”
While the Patriot offense will still primarily focus on the running game, more passing could be on the agenda. “We’re always going to try to run the ball,” Berguson said. “But in certain situations we may rely more on the pass.”
Berguson has a bit of rebuilding to do in this offensive line as three starters have graduated. Center Cameron Moody, a 6-2, 250 pounder, is a three-year starter and will be the anchor. Senior Mason Thomas also returns.
Front runners for the other slots are Kennedy Clark and Terry James. Clark and James weigh 255 and 300 pounds, respectively. “I’ll make sure we have a good offensive line,” said Berguson, who coaches the position himself.
Cameron Wood will handle placekicking duties for Homewood, while Griffis will be the punter. “Having our quarterback as punter should give our opponents something else to think about,” Berguson said.
The Patriots’ greatest strength may be their defensive unit. A man to watch is 265-pound senior Griffin Gentry, who made more than 100 tackles from the defensive end post in 2014. Already committed to Troy University, Gentry will cause a myriad of problems for opposing offenses.
Homewood’s other defenders could easily be just as stout. Senior Tobbie Taylor and junior Antarius Mitchell have star quality at outside linebacker, and senior Nick Dutton calls the defensive formations from the inside spot.
As usual, the Patriot secondary should be experienced and talented. Waymon Green, coming off an outstanding spring practice, is projected at cornerback. Griffin Rivers and Jake Burdeshaw could be two of their region’s finest safeties.
Berguson thinks his team’s best asset may be intangible. “Our guys all seem to like one another a lot,” he said. “We don’t seem to have any divisions by class or whether they play offense or defense. Everybody looks at the team as if it was a family.”
Homewood will begin its second season in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 6A Region 5. Berguson said he didn’t see much difference between last year’s new classification and previous seasons.
“Perhaps (the new) 6A was a little more competitive,” he said. “But it always looked tough to me.”
Patriot fans will learn a lot about their team in the early going. Homewood opens against Class 7A’s Vestavia Hills, a team it hasn’t beaten in a decade. Then the Patriots face key Region 5 rivals Pelham and Briarwood on consecutive Friday nights. An early 2-0 start in region play could put Homewood in the driver’s seat, but don’t tell that to the coach.
“In our league, there are no easy games,” he warned. “We have to be ready to play every week. There’s no room for error.”
Berguson also believes Homewood’s football tradition – which includes six state championships – is an important part of his team’s makeup.
“The kids walk into school every day and see region championship trophies and those six blue state championship trophies,” he said. “They want to be the next part of that success. They want to win because of what’s been done here before.”
If everything breaks right, more hardware could be coming to the Patriot trophy case in 2015.