By Lee Davis
For those people who think that summer seems to be shorter every year, here’s some evidence that proves your theory: High school football practice in Alabama starts in less than three weeks.
As incredible as that sounds, it’s true. The Alabama High School Athletic Association designates Aug. 1 as the first day teams can practice for the 2016 season. So if you’ve got someone in your family playing high school football, the time to get in that last beach trip is now.
The 2016 season is upon us, and as always there are many compelling questions to be answered. Among them is how the new AHSAA reclassification will influence area teams. Let’s take a look at the new alignments:
In Class 7A, five Over the Mountain schools – Hoover, Mountain Brook, Oak Mountain, Spain Park and Vestavia Hills – will be a part of Region Three, along with Huffman, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County. That’s the exact same lineup as last season. It’s a good thing that the ASHAA wised up several years ago and rediscovered the necessity of putting traditional neighborhood rivals in the same region to create local interest and increase gate receipts. Regional gerrymandering reached the height of absurdity several years ago when schools were roped in with opponents with which they had nothing in common.
“It’s like when I coached for the Stallions in the first year of the USFL (United States Football League),” Mountain Brook coach Chris Yeager said at the time. “We didn’t know
anything about anybody we were going to play.”
Something was inherently wrong with a system in which, for example, Spain Park played far-away Wetumpka in a region game and didn’t play crosstown rival Hoover at all.
A cursory look would reveal that Hoover, Spain Park and Vestavia might be the top picks in the new region – but not necessarily in that order.
In Class 6A, locals Homewood and John Carroll Catholic enter Region Five along with Hueytown, Jackson-Olin, Parker, Ramsay and Shades Valley. The Patriots might be a pre-season favorite and the struggling Cavalier program could find some realistic victory opportunities.
The team most affected by the new alignment is Briarwood Christian, which moves down from Class 6A to Class 5A. Fred Yancey’s team is affiliated in Region Five with Fairfield, Moody, Pleasant Grove, St. Clair County, Shelby County, Wenonah and Woodlawn. The Lions open with Vestavia on Aug. 19, but they don’t play another Over the Mountain team all season. Briarwood should benefit from the change of scenery as it will be competing against more schools of comparable size.
One of the biggest questions of the season is whether Hoover will bounce back from a comparatively ordinary 10-3 record that included two losses to Spain Park and a defeat at the hands of Vestavia. It speaks much of Hoover’s domination for nearly two decades that a season that features 10 wins and a trip to the Class 7A semi-finals is considered a “bad” year, but that’s the expectation level the Bucs have set for themselves with all of their success. Can the Jags’ two-game edge over Hoover stretch into another season?
Another compelling story will come out of Vestavia, where venerated coach Buddy Anderson sets a new state record every time he directs the Rebels to another victory. Can the Vestavians bring Anderson a third state championship? And how many more years will he continue to coach?
Other stories to watch include whether Mountain Brook and Oak Mountain can rebound from disappointing seasons, and whether new John Carroll coach Logan Colafrancesco will be able to turn around a Cavalier program that can’t seem to get any traction.
Certainly there will be many surprises as well, and Friday night heroes will emerge who aren’t on anybody’s radar today. The bad news is that summer is already almost over. The good news is that football is right around the corner.