By Rubin E. Grant
For the past few years, Spain Park has attacked opposing defenses with a spread attack.
But with several of their skill players on their offense in 2020 transferring to other schools, the Jaguars are changing their look on offense this season.
“In high school football, you have to adjust your offense and defense to the kids you’ve got,” Spain Park coach Shawn Raney said. “We’re going to a more option-oriented offense. It fits our personnel better. We are going to be more physical and run the ball more.”
The Jags brought in Danny Ward from Oak Mountain to be the offensive coordinator. He was the offensive line coach at Oak Mountain, where they employed the option.
Spain Park had a young defense last year and it showed as the Jags allowed 38 points per game. But Raney expects them to be improved this fall.
“On defense, we started seven or eight sophomores last year,” he said. “They are all back and are about 20 pounds heavier and stronger, so we’ve got better size and strength. I think we will be better defensively.”
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 2021 Jags:
Talented quarterback Bennett Meredith transferred to crosstown rival Hoover after passing for more than 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Jags in 2020.
Junior Evan Smallwood will take over and run the Jags’ new option attack.
“He’s a great leader and has been a standout kid since he was at Berry (Middle School),” Raney said. “He’s a real humble kid and a real quiet kid, but the kids love him and want to follow him. We have confidence in his ability to run the stuff we’re running.”
Sophomore Mitchell Nutter is slated to back up Smallwood. “He’s very similar to Evan in what he does,” Raney said.
The Jags lost plenty of firepower in the backfield when Justin Pegues transferred to Thompson. He had nearly 1,000 yards rushing (570) and receiving (426) last year.
Junior Zamir Farris will be the primary threat out of the backfield this season.
“He played quite a bit last year,” Raney said. “He’s a smaller back, but he’s really explosive and really fast. He’s also put on 20 pounds. He’s an excellent player.”
Sophomore Zavier Long also will get plenty of carries. Junior Evan Bishop will play fullback and serve as the long snapper on kicks.
The Jags also took a hit at receiver with Jaylen Ward and David Moultry transferring to Thompson.
With them gone, the Jags plan to alternate players at wide out and in the slot. Among the group are Pierson Cole, George Gilbert, Landon Miller, Clay Spencer, Dee Davis and John Michael Lee.
With their new offense, the Jags also will employ a tight end for blocking purposes, with two-way players Caldwell Bussey, Jackson Boler and Mason Bowden rotating at the spot.
The Jags have three returning starters on the offensive line, junior center Morgan Bowden (6-foot-1, 220), junior guard Rayshod Burts (5-11, 260) and senior tackle Conner May (6-0, 240).
Sophomores Hudson Cahalan (guard) and Conner Langston (tackle) will be the other two starters. “They are big, strong kids,” Raney said.
Seniors Travis Mann (center and guard) and Thornton Allen (guard and tackle) will provide depth.
Bowden, Bussey and Brian Alston give the Jags some experience at defensive end. Alston, a 6-2, 200-pound junior, already has received some college offers. Jarod Smith, a 6-5, 220-pound freshman, also figures to play. “He’s got a chance to be special,” Raney said.
The Jags will rotate four players at defensive tackle, including returning starters Jamal Scott and Jackson Boler, both seniors. Senior Parker Stone and sophomore Josh Lewis are the backups.
Raney described his linebackers as a “good group.” At the forefront is senior Ethan Gutowski. “He’s the leader of the defense,” Raney said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed player who has been good for us.”
Jonas Harrellson is another returning starter. Also in the mix are Jackson Mitchell, K.J. Rudolph and Landon Huey.
The secondary is another position with some experience, including returning starters Alex Smith and Tyler Hunter at cornerback and Jack Kendrick at safety.
Senior Tucker Steed and junior Stopher Walls also will play safety, while sophomore Jamari Mosley will be the reserve corner.
Talented kicker Drake Tabor graduated, but Raney believes the position is in good hands with senior Braxton Sumpter, whose brother Tyler starred at Spain Park and is now at West Virginia.
“Braxton will do all our kicking,” Raney said. “He has really good leg strength. I feel good about him and I feel good about our kicking game.”