By Blake Ells
Defense will be a strength for Mountain Brook in 2018. Coming off an 8-4 season that concluded with a loss to Thompson in the second round of the state playoffs, the Spartans return nine players from a unit that lost just two 7A Region 3 regular season games.
“Most of the urgency is on offense,” said coach Chris Yeager. “We have a lot of positions up front that need to be filled. The line has been a revolving door, and we’re going to need guys to step up.”
That line will be anchored by seniors Michael Mancuso at tackle and Hayden McDonald at guard. But the other spots are up for grabs. Hugh Lawson Joy, Beau Hubbard, Chip Porter, Braxton Wetzler, Will Christopher, Braden Allemand and Sam Somerville have spent spring and summer working to fill those other positions.
The team also will be looking to replace two important pieces of the backfield in departing quarterback Hamp Sisson and departing running back Harold Joiner. Sophomore Strother Gibbs and junior Bennet Johnston will each get a shot at quarterback, while seniors A.J. Gates and Daniel Wilbanks hope to fill Joiner’s very large shoes. Joiner is now at Auburn.
There’s some experience at wide receiver in senior Hamp Greene. He’ll be complemented by Blake Roth, Pierce Rodrigues, Jay Rucker, Eli Pappas and Paulson Wright. While some new faces will see more time on the field this season – especially on the offensive side of the ball – a bounty of experience helps make that transition much easier. The 2018 Spartan squad boasts 35 seniors.
“They’ve had groups before them with great leadership,” Yeager said. “I think they know that if they do the same things, they can be successful. Leadership starts with internal desires within. You hope that internally, they want to elevate each other. We lost two guys that were excellent football players. These guys have to keep working to get better every day.”
But Yeager doesn’t hold each team to the standard of the team before it. When competing in a region as difficult as what the Spartans face each season, he said, the priority is focusing on themselves and what they know that they can control. He said that improving on last year’s 8-4 mark can’t be the focus for the team.
“It comes down to day-to-day work ethic. I’ve made that mistake in the past. You’ve got to set goals to match you. Your focus has to be developing yourself each day to maximize your own potential,” Yeager said.
Obviously, the Spartans will face stiff competition within their region, which includes Hoover, Spain Park, Vestavia Hills, Oak Mountain, Hewitt-Trussville, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County. They’ll also travel to Northridge and host Center Point and Gardendale in out-of-region play.
The team’s opener is Aug. 24 against Northridge, which Yeager expects to be a tough test.
“They have 18 starters returning and a great quarterback,” Yeager said. “They’re a veteran team.”
High school teams have 11 weeks to play 10 games. Many opt for a jamboree in the first week, but the Spartans will opt for a mid-season bye week. They’ll likely need the rest on Sept. 28, as they work their way through that familiar gauntlet. Diving headfirst into a difficult opponent is something Yeager believes ultimately will help his team learn more about themselves as they move forward.
“You’ve got to find out where your deficiencies are immediately,” he said. “If they don’t show up immediately, they’re going to get exposed quickly when you get into region play.”