Way-Too-Early football predictions; Part 5

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Zac Oden is back for his final high school season, and will look to lead the Bulldogs on another playoff run. (File)

Zac Oden is back for his final high school season, and will look to lead the Bulldogs on another playoff run. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – Now we’re settling into a groove with these things. We’re about a quarter of the way into these prediction pieces, but we still have quite a few teams to get through, so let’s keep it moving. For part five of our prediction series we’re headed down south to take a look at the resurgent Montevallo Bulldogs.

Last year, Montevallo surprised everyone in the state outside of its own locker room, rocketing out to a shocking 7-0 start before finishing the year at 9-3 in the 4A class. The Bulldogs’ nine wins last season exceeded their win total from the previous four years. Combined. They won a home playoff game for the first time in 31 years, and had the single most successful season the program has seen in easily the last 20 years. Now, heading into 2016 in the wake of this newfound success, the question becomes can Montevallo capitalize on last season and continue to move forward, or was 2015 a pretty but distracting flash in the pan.

Before taking a look at the roster, we need to touch on the two biggest offseason changes that have touched the Bulldogs. For one, Andrew Zow has moved 10 minutes down U.S. 25 to take the head coaching job at 5A Calera, and in his place has stepped Brandon Wilcox from 1A Marion County. In addition to a switch at head coach, Montevallo has also been bumped down to the 3A classification in the wake of the 2016-18 reclassification. The Bulldogs were the fourth-smallest 4A school in the state for the last two seasons, and the move to 3A will allow them to match up against schools and teams more comparable in size.

But Montevallo’s move to 3A has also put them in potentially the most challenging region in the state in that class. Gordo, Oakman and American Christian Academy are all on the region schedule this year, which will make for a number of intriguing matchups.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the names that will highlight this Montevallo team.

First and foremost, back at quarterback is 2015 First Team All-County and 4A ASWA Honorable Mention selection Zac Oden. Oden has started for Montevallo since he was a freshman, and in his junior year threw for 2,388 yards, completed 56 percent of his passes and tossed 29 touchdowns as well. There is no quarterback in the state that has more experience than Oden, and last year the gunslinger truly found his groove. Oden, who is just as good of a baseball player as he is a quarterback, has the ability and talent surrounding him to make this a special season for the Bulldogs.

Part of the reason Oden had the year that he did was because Ahmad Edwards was out wide at receiver and had a breakout year as a sophomore. Edwards, who was a 4A ASWA Second Team selection last year, caught 45 balls for 877 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore, and has only gotten better in the offseason. He won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but he has turned into a true threat to score whenever he touches the ball, no matter who is opposing him. Edwards’ classmate Daqwan Bryant is also back for his junior year, and the smaller Bryant hauled in a respectable 33 balls for 455 yards last year as well, offsetting Edwards nicely. Those two create a nightmarish tandem at receiver, and the addition of explosive senior Tre’Shawn Brown and speedy junior Tavarius Holman puts this unit over the top.

Brown was a 4A ASWA First Team selection last season as a safety, and now will provide a new, dangerous wrinkle to an already stacked receiving corps. And Holman, the resident newcomer in the group, is potentially the fastest kid on the team, according to Wilcox. In short, the only problem this receiving group will have, provided they stay healthy, will be the fact that Oden will only have one ball at a time to throw.

The Bulldogs will have to replace Undreaz Lilly and Kerry Mack at running back. The two combined for nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns last year, and that production will have to be replaced to a large degree to offset Montevallo’s prodigious passing attack. Taking over in the backfield will be Caleb Cottingham and Tyler Olds. Cottingham, a senior, saw time as the third back last year, but will take an increased role in the offense this year, as will the sophomore Olds.

While the offense is more than set, the defense does have to replace five players who combined for 393.5 tackles last year. The Bulldogs lose their three most productive defensive linemen as well as two of their top linebackers, but still do have pieces to be successful. As a 3A school, the Bulldogs will play a number of guys on both sides of the ball, so a number of names on that side will be familiar.

Demetrius Smith and Taylor Hall will lead the defensive line unit this season, while retuning senior Jackson Hughes will be the unquestioned leader among the linebackers. Hughes, a rising senior, finished his junior year with 109.5 tackles and is a rangy guy in the middle of the field who can gobble up runners. Hughes will lead that unit and be joined by Cottingham and Olds, who will see significant time on both sides of the ball.

The Bulldogs’ secondary is littered with the same names that will make the receiving corps so dangerous. Brown and Edwards will be back at safety while Bryant will occupy one of the corner spots. Holman will join Edwards and Brown in the backfield, and newcomer Jay Sullens will be the new face in the secondary, playing opposite Bryant at the other corner.

Way-Too-Early prediction: This Montevallo team can and will put up points. A huge chunk of the offense that posted 33.3 points per game last year is back, and there is no reason to suspect this team will slow down on the offensive end. The interesting question will be how this group does against teams like Gordo and Oakman as well as American Christian Academy, each of which have strong programs and are all primed for big years as well.

Here’s the answer to that question. The Bulldogs will finish the regular season with an 8-2 record, easily making the playoffs. What will happen in the playoffs is up for debate, but whatever the case, this will be a fun fall in Montevallo.