Coaches offer insight on teams, 2010 season

Published 7:52 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In what’s become an annual tradition in Greenville, the county’s four high school coaches came together at the Kiwanis Club on Tuesday to talk – what else – football.

With the official start of season less than two weeks away (a jamboree or two aside), Greenville’s Ben Blackmon, Fort Dale’s James “Speed” Sampley, McKenzie’s Miles Brown and Georgiana’s Shawn Gregory all offered some insight into their respective teams to those attending.

Greenville High School

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Blackmon is entering his fourth year in Greenville. The Tigers went 11-1 last season, but lost many of the contributors from that team to graduation, he said. However, numbers are up this season from 59 players a year ago to 77 this season, which is encouraging, he said.

The Tigers open the season against Wetumpka at home. However, the Tigers will play Opelika on Friday night in the first game of the Champions Challenge at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

Opelika is coached by Blackmon’s older brother, Brian.

“We hope we’re still brothers after the game,” joked Blackmon.

A Tigers, defending region champs, also face three new opponents this season after regional realignment. On the schedule is Paul Bryant, Central-Tuscaloosa and Brookwood. Demopolis and non-regional rival Charles Henderson remain.

Fort Dale Academy

Fort Dale’s Sampley hates polls so he wasn’t too happy when the Alabama Sports Writers Association ranked the Eagles No. 2 in the state in the preseason.

“They don’t really mean anything,” he said. “We had one bad game in November last year and it was over with.”

FDA lost to Bessemer in the semifinals after spending much of the year ranked No. 1 in the state.

With three offensive starters returning this season in quarterback Hunter Armstrong, center Chance Williams and tightend Stephen Till, Sampley said the Eagles will still run a spread offensive attack, but with more I-formation mixed in.

“That’s in my blood,” he said.

Fort Dale opens with three consecutive region games. Sampley expects region foe Pike Liberal Arts School (two-time defending state champs) and Lee-Scott to be tough.

He also said Fort Dale is probably the only school in America not in school yet.

“We practiced for three hours this morning,” he said.

Fort Dale starts school Thursday.

McKenzie High School

McKenzie is returning 12 seniors this season, the largest senior class Brown has ever had the opportunity to work with.

Brown also had a nice problem in the offseason: he ran out of helmets for the players.

“We have 40 players in McKenzie,” he said. “So that tells you that kids are starting to want to be a part of what we’re doing.”

McKenzie returns the bulk of a team that finished 10-2 last year, including versatile athlete and Southern Mississippi commitment Emmanuel Johnson.

“We’re expecting a lot from our seniors,” he said. “We’ve come to an understanding that if we’re going to be successful, everyone has got to be on the same page.”

Georgiana High School

First-year coach at Georgiana Shawn Gregory said the Panthers have 45 players this season.

“We’re very pleased with the kids we have and the way they’ve responded to what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Sophomore Devin Bonner will run Gregory’s spread offense. Bonner has the intelligence Gregory said he needs in a quarterback. Bonner wants to be brain surgeon and has a 3.9 GPA, said Gregory.

The Panthers will count heavily on junior running back Keon Binion, said Gregory, nicknamed “The Reverend,” because he loves church. Gregory and the Panthers have been visiting local churches each Sunday as a team.

Georgiana hosts John Essex on Friday for a scrimmage.