By Rubin E. Grant
Mountain Brook football coach Chris Yeager expects it will take a few games for the Spartans to get a feel for what they’re doing this season.
“We had a good summer of workouts and we have a lot of optimism, but we’ve got a long way to go to be the team we want to be,” Yeager said. “We can tell that we missed spring training, but I am sure other teams are in the same boat.”
Coming off an 8-3 season, the Spartans return six starters on offense and six on defense and have 42 seniors to help with continuity.
Mountain Brook will not compete in the state’s highest classification for the first time in school history. The Spartans have dropped down from Class 7A to 6A and will compete in Region 5 along with Homewood, Briarwood, Shades Valley, Chelsea, Woodlawn and Huffman.
“There are good players and good coaches in every classification in the state, so when you step on the field on Friday nights, you better be ready to play,” Yeager said. “We’re in a great region and it’ll be a playoff atmosphere whoever we play.”
The Spartans still have four 7A schools on their schedule as non-region opponents: Vestavia Hills, Huntsville, Thompson and Austin.
“We’re playing all 7A non-region teams to make sure the axe is sharp,” Yeager said.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Spartans.
Senior Strother Gibbs, who made his first appearance on the varsity as an eighth grader, is entering his third season as the Spartans’ full-time starting quarterback.
“The thing I love about Strother is his desire to compete,” Yeager said. “And he’s a complete player. He’s a good runner, good passer and good decision maker.”
Gibbs accounted for 24 touchdowns, 10 passing and 14 running in 2019.
Sophomore John Colvin will be Gibbs’ primary backup, but receivers Paulson Wright, a senior and Jake Thompson, a junior, could also play quarterback if necessary.
With Sam Higgins gone, the Spartans will turn to seniors Michael Brogan, Kamp McMinn and Ethan Shunnarah as well as junior George Cain and sophomore Heath Griffin to carry the load at running back.
“We’ve got a few guys, but we need one person to step up and be the guy down in and down out,” Yeager said. “They have got to gain some consistency.”
Wright and Thompson return as Gibbs’ primary targets. Junior Sims Brown moved from defensive back to receiver to provide some depth. Also in the mix are senior Pearson Bedingfield and sophomore Jackson Beatty.
Senior Turner Welsh and sophomore Miles McGilberry are competing for the tight end spot.
The Spartans have plenty of experience on the offensive line with senior centers Will Grant and Drew Elliott; guards Wilder Hines, a junior, Davis Peterson, a sophomore, and Ryan Kampakis, a senior; and senior tackles Charles Law Schilleci, Jack Smith and Grayson Chew.
“We’ve got a lot of good possibilities and each one’s skill set is different,” Yeager said. “We’ve got to find the ones who check all the boxes and get the guys to jell together.”
Senior nose tackle Braxton Wetzler figures to spearhead the defense. He is a four-year starter with his first two seasons spent as a starter on the offensive line. Seniors John McKimmon, Rob Gunn and Colledge Elliott will rotate at defensive end.
Senior Calvin Wilbanks will back up Wetzler at nose tackle after moving down from linebacker. Juniors Tompkins Richardson and Gray Doster will provide depth.
The Spartans have to replace Clark Griffin, who has been the team’s leading tackler the past three seasons.
Senior Matt Holloway returns after missing much of last season with a knee injury. Senior Win Horn, sophomore Trenton Wright and junior John McMillan figure to start.
Yeager said they also have a good core group of youngsters, including sophomores Pete Fruin, Parker Belt and Billy Radney, who will compete for playing time. Junior Quinn Thomas will play linebacker and defensive end.
Yeager really likes the makeup of the Spartans’ secondary.
“We’ve got good experience and it’s the strength of our football team,” he said.
Leading the way are senior cornerbacks Blake Pugh and Rhyne Hogue, senior safety James Nichols and senior Lev Berman, who will play safety and cornerback. Senior Brock Payne, a transfer from Vestavia Hills, will see time at safety, as will senior Paul McMinn. Senior Zach Bass provides depth at cornerback.
Reed Harradine, a 6-2 sophomore who Yeager said could be special, will be the Spartans’ placekicker and will share punting duties with junior Trenton Hirn.