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Coaches Corner offers look at upcoming year

Seniors Jackson Vickery (left), William Brown (right) prepare lunch provided by the Greenville Kiwanis Club during the 2016 Coaches Corner.

Seniors Jackson Vickery (left), William Brown (right) prepare lunch provided by the Greenville Kiwanis Club during the 2016 Coaches Corner.

All four of Butler County’s football teams united under a single roof Tuesday afternoon during the Greenville Kiwanis Club’s annual Coaches Corner.

All four area coaches took the podium to provide a sneak preview of the upcoming season.

Georgiana School’s Ezell Powell, who is entering his fourth year as head coach, was the first to take the stand to discuss his expectations on the heels of a landmark 2015 season.

The Panthers’ strength during the 2016 campaign will lie in an experienced offensive line with four returning starters.

“Those guys know that we are sort of hanging our hat on them,” Powell said. “We’re going to go as well as they will take us.”

The Panthers will run a two-back spread, making use of the play-action and running downhill to take advantage of the team’s athleticism.

The same strategy applies to the defense with a 3-3 stack that emphasizes the speed and athleticism of Georgiana’s secondary.

As for which teams he considers a threat in the region, Powell isn’t taking anyone lightly.

“If we don’t play like we’re capable of playing, anybody can beat us at any given time,” Powell said.

“I think we, McKenzie and Brantley are sitting in the position where one key injury means its anybody’s ballgame.  It could go any way when it comes to our region.”

Fort Dale Academy head coach James “Speed” Sampley was a bit more comical in his offerings to the Kiwanis crowd, making note of a particularly disastrous Monday afternoon practice.

Regardless, Sampley is hopeful for the coming year thanks to returning experience at key skill positions, including seniors Andrew Salter and Clay Mansmann in the backfield and junior Luke Taylor at quarterback.

“We had to start [Taylor] as a sophomore and usually there’s a lot of growth between that sophomore and junior season,” Sampley said.

“Physically he grew, also, and hopefully he grew mentally as well because we’re going to put a lot more on him this season than in the past.”

Consistency will be key for the Eagles moving forward, as Sampley noted that stringing together several purposeful practices would make the difference between being a strong team in Week One and a playoff-ready team by the start of the postseason.

The Eagles’ schedule will be more to their advantage compared to previous years, but there are still a few notable opponents such as Monroe Academy.

Also, several question marks remain as the Eagles face new opponents such as Northside Methodist.

Two critical vacancies in the cornerback positions—courtesy of a pair of season-ending injuries—have left the Eagles’ defense lacking in depth, but FDA’s defense will employ a 3-3 stack with an occasional four-man front to alleviate the burden on linebackers.

Offensively, the Eagles will still favor the run.

“I will tell you right now that we are going to throw the ball an average of 70 times a night,” Sampley said.

“Sixty-eight of them will be in pre-game.”

Greenville head football coach Josh McLendon have a tough act to follow in the wake of the previous season’s undefeated regular season and area championship.

Despite losing a healthy dose of offensive and defensive units, the adversity his current roster has continually faced and overcome gives McLendon hope for the coming year.

As a big fundamentalist, McLendon’s areas of concern are those that remain the same at nearly every level of the game—blocking, tackling and assignment.

A number of challenges await Greenville on their 2016 schedule, including regular region powerhouses Charles Henderson and Eufaula.  In addition, the Tigers will square off with the Class 6a Wetumpka Indians in Week 5 and an especially tough McAdory team on Week 10.

“McAdory has a kid at quarterback who has committed at Auburn,” McLendon said.

“He’s a great athlete and it’s going to be a good test going into the playoffs.”

Greenville’s offense will be a spread with a heavy emphasis on establishing the run to enable the passing game.

Defensively, the team will employ a 3-4 and an occasional 3-3 stack, though McLendon added that his players would need to be multi-disciplined and adaptable on both sides of the ball to succeed.

Coach Tony Norris and the McKenzie Tigers boast perhaps the smallest of Butler County’s teams with 25 players, but each of them has endured a wealth of challenges throughout the summer to prepare for the season ahead.

McKenzie’s largest strengths lie in its backfield with a wealth of experience in senior fullback William Brown and senior running back Chris Shufford.

One of McKenzie’s bigger focuses this summer has been in producing players who are both physically and mentally tough.

“The biggest thing is improving on physical and mental toughness,” Norris said.

“When everything else is going badly around you, how do you respond?  Do you fight or do you find a corner and lay down?”

McKenzie is opting to save its bye week for the final week of play just prior to the start of the playoffs, as Norris added that injury management is key to making a long run in Class 1A.

McKenzie will open the season by traveling to Class 2A Ariton Purple Cats, followed by the Class 3A Geneva Panthers.

“It’s going to be a tough test for us, but I want to know where we are by the end of that game and where we need to improve,” Norris said.

“I’ve got to see early where we are.  We can sit here and schedule people that won’t challenge us, and we won’t get any better.”

Greenville’s first game of the year will be a preseason jamboree with Stanhope Elmore on August 18.

Georgiana will face Loachapoka on August 19, and Fort Dale will open its regular season with Evangel Christian Academy.