Teams collide for annual Coaches Corner

Published 5:49 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Fort Dale Academy, Georgiana, Greenville and McKenzie football programs gathered under one roof Tuesday during the Greenville Kiwanis Club’s annual Coaches Corner event.

The schools’ four coaches took the stand to outline their plans and expectations for the coming year.

McKenzie head coach Tony Norris was first to detail his excitement for the impending fall season.

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“It’s always a good event that I look forward to because if I’m up here, that means they haven’t fired me yet,” Norris joked.

“I really feel like this is a special group of kids.  I was impressed with the way practice went [Monday], especially with the conditioning. The challenge is always to further that.  I tell them at the end of practice ‘can you come out and get better tomorrow?’”

McKenzie lost five seniors last season, including Chris Shufford and William Brown, running back and fullback respectively, who were a vital part of the Tigers’ backfield in 2016.

Thirty-two players comprise the McKenzie roster this season, including eight seniors, and Norris is confident that 2017 will mark another successful season, if the Tigers can focus on the details.

“If we focus on the little things and do the little things well, then the wins will come,” he said.  “If you can’t go the class, be quiet and do what you’re supposed to do there, then how can I expect you to compete on the field?  It all starts off the field.”

Longtime FDA head football coach James “Speed” Sampley said that seniors compose half of his team, even if participation is lower overall from last year to this year.

“We have 30 varsity football players, which is down in numbers a little bit,” he said. “The classes in 10th, 11th and 12th grade are a bit smaller than normal for us, and so our numbers are down a little bit.

“We go this Thursday to a scrimmage game with Macon East in Montgomery.  We look forward to seeing ourselves against someone else, and getting a measurement of what we can and can’t do.”

Georgiana head football coach Ezell Powell remarked on the challenge of following up the 2016 season, a historical highlight for the Panthers.  The team broke a number of records last year thanks to its passing game, including tying the highest number of regular season wins in a single season.

“Offensively, we’ll be in a version of a two-back spread most of the time,” Powell said. “I threw the ball a little bit more than I ever have in my whole 15 years of coaching.  But I had guys that could catch the football and a quarterback who could throw it halfway decently, so we’ll do the same thing this year.

“But we also like to play tough and physical, so we want to run the football at you and bring the defense behind you.  We’ll be mostly a 3-3 stack because it fits our personnel.  We’re not very big, but we’re small and fast.  That’s the motto we live by—we’ll be fast and physical.”

Greenville head football coach Josh McLendon discussed the productive offseason the Tigers have had, noting a number of strong performances in 7-on-7 competitions around the state.

He also noted that experience would be the biggest difference between this year and last year’s teams.

“Offensively we lost three starters, and defensively we lost four, so we’ve got a lot returning this year,” McLendon said. “We were young last year, and I think that helped us.  It didn’t help us as far as the win-loss record last year, but I felt like it really helped us get prepared this year for what we needed to experience.

“I know most of these coaches will tell you that every now and then you have a group that you just really enjoy being around, and coming to practice with.  They’re a good group, they have good attitudes and they like each other, and that makes it enjoyable.”

The Tigers will be tested early and often in 2017 as Greenville begins its regular season against the defending Class 5A state champs, Beauregard.  The Tigers will receive no quarter in non-region play, either, thanks to Class 6A threats such as McAdory and Wetumpka.

“When I was at McKenzie, I talked a lot about developing yourself for the postseason and playing some of those tough non-region games to get prepared for those third and fourth-round games, if you’re lucky enough to get there,” McLendon said.

“That’s the notion that we adhere to—we want to test ourselves with our nonregion games.  It’s tough, and you’re not always guaranteed to win those games. But it helps us out in the long run.”