By Rubin E. Grant
Matthew Forester’s first season as Briarwood’s head football coach got off to a rocky start in 2019.
The Lions lost their first two games, then reeled off 11 consecutive victories to reach the Class 5A semifinals.
Their reward is a move up in classification and into the challenging Class 6A, Region 5 that also includes Mountain Brook, which dropped from 7A, and Homewood, a perennial playoff team.
Forester said the Lions are ready to face the task head on.
“We’re going to do the best we can and see where we are at the end of the season,” he said.
“We have more returning starters than normal, including six on defense, so that’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who have played a lot of football. We have a returning quarterback, which we haven’t had in a while, so that’s exciting. We have a great bunch of other guys who are ready to step into prime time.”
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Lions:
Christopher Vizzina started last season as a 14-year-old freshman and proved more than capable of running the Lions’ offense.
“He’s a calm guy under pressure and a great leader,” Forester said. “He’s got a lot of intangibles, plus size, 6-foot-3½, 190 pounds. He’s a great kid and comes from a great family. He does things the right way.”
Brady Waugh, another sophomore, will be Vizzina’s primary backup.
“He got a lot of experience playing on our junior varsity last year, so we feel confident in his ability,” Forester said.
The Lions boast two junior running backs, Luke Reebals and Riley Margene.
“They’ve been a tandem since middle school,” Forester said.
Reebals actually started at receiver last year but moved into the backfield when then-senior Luke Prewett was injured.
“I am excited to see what he does now that running back is his dominant position,” Forester said.
Senior Parker Huston, who also plays linebacker, and sophomore Colton Williams add depth.
Senior Brooks Donnelly returns after missing last season because of a knee injury and will play outside receiver along with senior Eli Steadman. Nic Dicen, Sawyer Tindall, Payton Clement and Luke Gilbert also will see plenty of playing time. Dicen and Gilbert are juniors, and Tindall and Clement are seniors.
“This group was a question mark last year, but we have some experience now,” Forester said.
The Lions will employ a tight end this season with Bailey Salmon and Sam Gage sharing the role.
“Both guys are seniors and we’re looking forward to them having a great year,” Forester said. “They have put a lot into our program since they’ve been here.”
Junior Mathis Tindall and sophomore Walker Chambless will serve as backups.
The Lions have to replace highly decorated tackle Trent Howard, who’s now at Clemson. Junior Charlie Heidepriem will take over at left tackle with junior Peyton Fox at right tackle. Junior Alex Moorer and senior Daniel Corbin will man the guard positions along with sophomore Harrison Clemmer. Senior Harris Smith will be the center.
Sophomore Jason Bess and junior Rich Connell will provide depth at tackle and James Michael Tedesco will be the reserve center.
Carson McKeen was brought over from the offense to beef up the defensive line.
“He’s our only senior on the defensive line,” Forester said. “We’re looking for him to have a great senior year.”
Junior Miller Stubblefield is the lone returning starter up front, while juniors Holden Patterson and Clay Dorrill, and senior Tyler Smith will be in the rotation.
All-State middle linebacker Tyler Waugh, a senior, and weak side linebacker Hutson both return.
“They’ve been with us since the ninth grade and you don’t have to tell them what they need to do,” Forester said. “They provide great leadership and understand what it takes to win.”
Seniors Aaron Cale and Luke Hand are battling to start at the other linebacker spot, but both will play extensively.
Junior Grant Bruce and sophomore Grant Dickinson provide depth.
Senior Alastair Harris returns for his third season as a starter in the secondary.
“He’s sort of our Swiss army knife,” Forester said. “We moved him from linebacker to cornerback and he can also play safety. He’s a big-time player for us.”
Senior safety Cal Higdon is another returning starter, while seniors Vraj Patel and Pierce Reichle and juniors Haddon Stubbs, Ethan Anderson, Reece Garner and Seth Alford are in the mix for the other spots in the secondary.
“It depends on where we want Alastair more,” Forester said.
The Lions will have a new kicker for the first time in a while after Noah Nall graduated.
“We’re going to miss having him,” Forester said.
Without Nall, the Lions are trying out several players to handle the placekicking and punting duties. Among the candidates are Alford, Stubbs, junior Jakob Brower and sophomores Aidan Punch and Harrison Self.