By Lee Davis
Nobody can blame Vestavia Hills coach Buddy Anderson for being ready for some football.
After a summer of controversy over the Rebels’ mascot, Anderson – and everyone else in the Vestavia football family – is ready to move on.
“All of that is behind us,” Anderson said. “The full focus is on the season ahead.”
The Rebels are hoping to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 3-7 season, in which they lost five games by a touchdown or less.
“Record-wise the season was a disappointment, but I was pleased with the effort,” Anderson said. “Our guys could have thrown in the towel late in the year, but they never did. We could easily have finished 8-2.”
Anderson is hoping that an added year of experience for his younger charges will get Vestavia back in the playoff picture.
A strong point should be the offensive line led by senior center Alex Robin, who earned All-Over the Mountain honors a year ago. Junior Reed McMahon will also see playing time. In the rotation at guard are seniors Aaron Dixon, Whitt Watts, Addison Stewart and Walker Padgett; and juniors Hamilton Haynes and Hayden Haynes.
Clayton Farris is a returning starter at tackle. Also working in the rotation are juniors Patrick Nuss and Barrett Striplin. Dixon and Padgett will also get repetitions in the tackle slots. Slade Stewart, recovering from injuries, will also be a factor in the offensive line.
Vestavia’s tight end is senior Davis Guroksy, whose father, Scott, was a star Rebel quarterback in the 1980s. Jeremiah Smith and Jack Strong bring depth to the position.
Senior Brett Jones returns to quarterback the Rebels. A savvy leader and game manager, Jones has Anderson’s full confidence. Keep your eye on sophomore Coleman Petway, a likely future star. “Brett is our number one guy without a doubt,” Anderson said. “But we have confidence in Coleman, too.”
Either quarterback should have plenty of quality targets, although injuries hampered several of them. Seniors Josh Denney, Remington Patterson, Nolan Turner and Charlie Sharbel are working at the receiver posts, along with juniors Jacobi Hudson, Mitchell Langley, Connor Rohling and Joseph Travis.
In contention at fullback are Morgan Long, Jo Jo Ross, Cooper Jones and Stephen Thackerson.
Vestavia has traditionally built much of its offense around the tailback, and senior Walker Minor will carry much of the load in 2015. Others slated to contribute are Toliver Chatwood, Ray Murphy and William Schaffeld.
Curry Howard, Jack Strong and Manraj Singh are battling for placekicking duties. Either Howard or Strong will be the punter.
Anderson seems to be building depth in the all-important defensive line. Working on the inside are James Edwards, Jacob Edwards, Walter Thomas, Prescott Gilbert, Stone Brooks and Alex Goodwine.
Although they are stalwarts in the offensive line, Robin and Gilbert will see time on the defensive side of the ball, as well.
The defensive ends are Dillon Campbell and Sam Lawson.
Manning the tackle slots are senior Immanuel Johnson, Ray Murphy, Michael Schroeder and promising sophomore Cameron Cacace.
As usual, the Rebels have plenty of talent in the linebacker positions. Nate Lewis, George Dazzio, Steadman Gully and Ethan Guidry are all in the mix on the inside. Reid Adams is a leader at outside linebacker, along with Jackson Ewing, Zach Meadows, Bo Norman and Alex Hall.
Nolan Turner is a probable starter at safety, with Daniel Sims and Jonathan Hess also seeing action.
“Our guys have worked very hard since the spring,” Anderson said. “Now it’s a matter of blending and executing to get where we need to be.”
Vestavia will once again play in Class 7A’s Region 3, almost certainly the most difficult division in Alabama high school football. A particularly brutal part of the schedule comes in October, when the Rebels face Spain Park, Hoover, Tuscaloosa County and non-region rival Shades Valley on consecutive Friday nights.
“Our region is incredibly balanced,” Anderson said. “After the ninth week last season, we could have had a five-way tie for third place. Take Hoover out of the equation and it should be the same way this year.”
The Rebels open the season with another traditional rival, Homewood. While some schools prefer non-region matches with high-profile, out-of-state powers, Anderson believes that the neighborhood rivalries are an important fabric of high school football.
“We’ve played Homewood, Mountain Brook, Shades Valley and Berry – or now Hoover – every year since the 1970s,” he said. “These rivalries are important to the players, the student body and the community as a whole. When it looked like we might not be playing Hoover a couple of years ago, kids were literally stopping me in the hallway of the school to say how much that game meant.”
Anderson – who has led the Vestavia program since 1978 – became the winningest coach in Alabama high school football history last season. While the world has changed greatly in four decades, he believes the football field is one place where important lessons of life continue to be taught.
“The biggest difference now is the technology,” Anderson said. “Everyone wants instant entertainment and instant communication. There’s nothing instant about football. That’s where a kid can learn lessons about the importance of work and sacrifice that a book or a computer can’t teach.”
Despite his long tenure, the coach may be getting his second wind. Last spring, Anderson turned over his athletic director duties to former Rebel player and assistant coach Jeff Segars. With those responsibilities off his plate, he can devote even more time to football. “I don’t fish. I don’t hunt. I don’t play golf,” he said. “Coaching football is my hobby.”
Anderson said he doesn’t know when he might hang up his whistle forever. “I’m taking it a year at a time,” he said. “The Lord will tell me when it’s time to retire.”
But that’s a question for another year. For the moment Buddy Anderson and Vestavia are ready for some football. ϖ