By Lee Davis
As Buddy Anderson enters his 39th season as head football coach of the Vestavia Hills Rebels, he’s become accustomed to the media questions about his possible retirement date.
His answer to the question now is similar to what it was 10 years ago, and probably what it will be 10 years in the future, assuming Anderson still is coaching.
“Coaching is what God wants me to do,” said Anderson. “He’ll let me know when it’s time to go.”
Then he added one short disclaimer: “I’m closer to the end (of his career) than the beginning.”
In truth, why would Anderson retire? He doesn’t play golf. He isn’t into hunting or fishing. He’s not a gardener. The coach’s only real hobby is spending time with his family. And, oh yes, Anderson is the winningest coach in the history of Alabama high school football with 320 wins, including a mind-numbing 47 playoff victories. Every time Vestavia wins a game, he sets a new record. So what’s the reason not to keep going?
The 2015 season was another good reason the Anderson era should continue. Coming off a disappointing 2014 campaign, the Rebels rebounded to post a 9-3 record against perhaps the state’s toughest schedule, advancing to the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.
“Last year was a good season,” Anderson said. “Our guys worked hard. I’m seeing a lot of that same work ethic out of this year’s group.”
The starter at quarterback is junior Coleman Petway, in whom Anderson has great confidence. Sean Smyth, a sophomore, will be in the backup role.
Rotating at fullback are Steven Thackerson, Cooper Jones and Reed Stockton.
Senior Toliver Chatwood is the front-runner at the tailback spot with William Schaffeld, Ray Murphy and Anthony Sims also in contention.
Vestavia will have a deep wide receiver corps. Joseph Travis and Mitchell Langley may have the most experience but seniors Isaiah Flowers, Trip Gurner, Jacobi Hudson and Conner Rohling are all in contention, as are juniors Drew Stockard, Cole Dothard and Everett Shea.
The Rebels will have a strong offensive line. Senior Patrick Moss is a returning starter at tackle, and Walter Thomas has been moved over from defense to contend for another tackle slot. Also in contention are senior Slade Stewart, junior John David Adams and sophomore Andrew Sims.
Brothers Hamilton and Hayden Haynes will be working at guard, along with Will Philpot, Drew Gurosky and Tucker Smith.
Senior Reed McMahon is the starter at center with Philpot and Gurosky providing relief. The long-snapper in kicking situations is Jack Dunphy.
Jeremiah Smith is the tight end. Junior Jeff Weatherby and sophomore Michael Vice will also contribute.
Senior Manraj Singh and sophomore Caleb Huber will handle place-kicking and punting duties, respectively. Quarterback Petway and sophomore Doug Thomas are also capable punters.
Vestavia’s defense should be rock solid. “We’ve looked good in scrimmages,” Anderson warned. “But we still have a long way to go.”
James Edwards and Michael Schroeder are the most experienced ends and Cameron Cacace, Charlie Dellaccio, Sawyer Dutton and Hunter Salmon are in the mix.
The tackles are Jacob Edwards, Barrett Striplin, Micah Davis, Douglas Thompson, Jamail Fox and Lamar Swain.
Travis Saunders and Parker Hilburn are solid seniors at inside linebacker. Others who will see work are Earl Bradberry, Asher Hamilton, Rob Barrentine and Cooper Bishop.
At the outside linebacker slots, Spencer Lawson, Luke Denney, Jonathan Hess, Cam Blake and Dixon Jones vie for playing time.
As usual, the Rebels have plenty of quality defensive backs. Seniors Alex Hall, Garrett Lee, Tucker Queen and Jonathan Hess are in the rotation, as are juniors William Jemison, Charlie Ball and Ben Willoughby.
Anderson is prepared to put inexperienced players in tough situations if required.
“We’ve got a lot of inexperience on our roster,” he said. “And the only way to get experience is to play.”
Vestavia’s schedule is as tough as ever. The Rebels are still aligned in Class 7A’s Region Three, which includes perennial foes Spain Park, Oak Mountain, Mountain Brook and Hoover. Vestavia must go on the road to play both Spain Park and Hoover this fall.
Outside the region, Anderson – ever mindful of local rivalries – opens the regular season with Homewood and closes it with Shades Valley. “We’ve played Homewood every year since 1972 and we’ve played Shades Valley every year since 1973,” he said.
Anderson doesn’t live in the past, but he admittedly is not a particular fan of modern technology. Any Rebel caught texting during a team meeting can expect to feel the coach’s full wrath. Drawing on the wisdom of his 39 years as a head coach, Anderson believes that football teaches vital lessons to a tech-obsessed generation.
“Kids expect to get everything instantly now,” he said. “Entertainment and communication are at their fingertips. There’s nothing instant or easy about playing football. It’s sweating and working hard. There are certain to be bumps and bruises along the way. That’s what life will be like after they leave high school. These are lessons that they won’t necessarily get in a classroom.”
In addition to teaching life lessons, Anderson also knows what it takes to win football games, and he expects Vestavia will do a lot of winning in 2016.