County has 4 ranked in 2017 preseason football poll

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

Shelby County Schools officially started back on Tuesday, Aug. 8, bringing to an end for most a summer spent by the pool, on vacation or working a small summer job, but for 16 Shelby County football teams it’s been a different story.

Over the last month and a half, teams have been hitting the football field in the thickening humid Alabama summer heat to prepare for the 2017 season. The week of Aug. 7 not only marked the beginning, but the end, the end of tiring summer workouts as fall practice coincided with the return of school.

Along with the return of fall football came the 2017 preseason football rankings, which means we are less than two weeks from the first AISA/ACSC football games kicking off and only two-and-a-half weeks from seeing all 11 of our AHSAA schools take to the field for game one.

Several teams are projected to have strong seasons in 2017 and it reflected in the first poll of the year as four county teams found a spot in their respective top 10 and two others received votes for a spot in the top 10.

The poll was highlighted by the two teams that have the best shot at bringing a state championship to Shelby County, the Briarwood Christian Lions and Thompson Warriors.

The Lions came in at No. 2 in the 5A standings as the highest ranked team in the county while also receiving three first place votes. There is good reason for that high praise as Briarwood returns a lot of talent from its 2016 team that made it all the way to the semifinals of the state championship.

J.R. Tran-Reno, who led the team in rushing as a sophomore, is back for his junior season at the running back position and will be joined by the return of leading receiver Carson Eddy as those two help pace the offense this season.

Their defense is probably what has the most hype surrounding it however as the Lions return their top two tacklers from one of the best defenses in the state. Gabe Russell and Mark Hand both return after combining for 275 tackles in 2017. They’ll also be joined by the return of Carson Donnelley who brings back 78 tackles, 10 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Thompson was the next highest rated team in the preseason poll finding themselves at the No. 3 ranking in Class 7A, an impressive accomplishment for head coach Mark Freeman in just his third year at the helm.

The reason for that hype is largely due to several top receivers offensively and the addition of Taulia Tagovailoa at the quarterback position, but like Briarwood, it’s the Warriors’ defense that has this team so highly regarded.

The defense is loaded with guys returning like Mackie McNeal on the defensive line, Jalen Rayam and KJ Robertson at the linebacker position and Myles Brown in the secondary. Last season those guys led this team to one of its best defensive finishes in school history giving up just nine points per game.

Last season it seemed as if Thompson was just a few turnovers offensively away from being 8-0 at one point in the season instead of 5-3. With the addition of a trustworthy quarterback and more stability offensively to help the defense this year, the No. 3 ranking is warranted.

Also finding a spot inside their respective top 10 were the Spain Park Jaguars and Montevallo Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs were the third highest ranked team in the county gathering a ranking of No. 5 in Class 3A. As they say, “defense wins championships,” and just like Briarwood and Thompson, Montevallo is strong on the defensive side of the ball.

Leading tacklers Tyler Olds and Demetrius Smith are back and bring with them a combined 258 tackles, 55 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception. Those two alone are reason enough to have this team in the top 10, but other playmakers returning defensively and on the offensive side of the ball make this team a top 10 quality team.

Joining Thompson in the 7A poll is Spain Park, who grabbed the No. 7 ranking. The Jaguars are coming off an 8-3 year, but have a lot of excitement surrounding their offense as Braxton Barker looks poised for a breakout season at the quarterback position and leading running back D’arie Johnson returns as well.

While there are plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball as well, head coach Shawn Raney has proven he can have his team ready every season as the winningest coach in the school’s history and will do so again this year.

Two additional teams, while not ranked, received votes for a spot in their respective top 10 as well.

The Calera Eagles and Cornerstone Christian School Chargers both received consideration. Cornerstone is coming off an 8-3 season and is transitioning into a new era with head coach James Lee; while Calera is coming off an 8-4 season and has plenty of promise heading into Andrew Zow’s second year as head coach.

The rankings for classifications featuring a Shelby County team are listed below:

 Class 7A
1. Hoover (29) (12-2) <ws>366
2. Central-Phenix City (1) (10-2) <ws>261
3. Thompson (5-5) <ws>229
4. Hewitt-Trussville (1) (11-1) <ws>191
5. James Clemens (8-4) <ws>179
6. McGill-Toolen (13-1) <ws>171
7. Spain Park (8-3) <ws>114
8. Bob Jones (7-4) <ws>83
9. Auburn (8-4) <ws>64
10. Enterprise (10-2) <ws>56
Others receiving votes: Gadsden City (7-6) 22, Mountain Brook (8-3) 10, Vestavia Hills (5-5) 8, Lee-Montgomery (0-9) 5, Murphy (6-5) 5, Sparkman (4-6) 3.

Class 6A
1. Ramsay (18) (13-2) <ws>297
2. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (4) (11-1) <ws>233
3. Blount (1) (10-3) <ws>201
4. Austin (2) (10-4) <ws>194
5. Opelika (13-2) <ws>184
6. Pinson Valley (5) (8-4) <ws>180
7. Oxford (10-1) <ws>155
8. Daphne (1) (9-3) <ws>108
9. Muscle Shoals (7-6) <ws>76
10. Park Crossing (13-1) <ws>44
Others receiving votes: Spanish Fort (10-3) 43, Gardendale (8-4) 12, Hazel Green (6-4) 8, Jackson-Olin (8-3) 8, Clay-Chalkville (6-5) 5, Sidney Lanier (8-3) 5, Wetumpka (8-3) 5, Decatur (10-2) 4, Saraland (6-5) 3, McAdory (8-4) 1, Pell City (6-5) 1.

Class 5A
1. Beauregard (26) (13-1) <ws>350
2. Briarwood Chr. (3) (12-2) <ws>270
3. St. Paul’s (2) (9-4) <ws>260
4. Vigor (8-4) <ws>183
T5. Alexandria (5-4) <ws>127
T5. Carroll (12-1) <ws>127
7. Central-Clay Co. (9-3) <ws>97
8. Wenonah (11-3) <ws>90
9. Eufaula (8-3) <ws>87
10. Brooks (9-3)<ws>56
Others receiving votes:  Demopolis (7-4) 25, Russellville (8-4) 19, Jackson (9-4) 15, Charles Henderson (7-4) 11, Mortimer Jordan (10-3) 10, Scottsboro (12-1) 10, Etowah (9-3) 9, Calera (8-4) 7, Guntersville (6-5) 6, Fairfield (7-5) 5, Pleasant Grove (4-7) 2, Moody (4-6) 1.

Class 3A
1. Piedmont (27) (15-0) <ws>351
2. Mobile Chr. (3) (13-2) <ws>271
3. Gordo (1) (13-1) <ws>268
4. Ohatchee (12-2) <ws>165
5. Montevallo (10-2) <ws>162
6. Opp (9-2) <ws>110
7. Oakman (8-5) <ws>109
8. Pike Co. (9-3) <ws>85
9. Weaver (9-4) <ws>72
10. Randolph Co. (10-3) <ws>59
Others receiving votes: Clarke Co. (4-6) 43, Hillcrest-Evergreen (5-7) 24, Lauderdale Co. (7-5) 12, T.R. Miller (8-3) 12, Fultondale (8-3) 9, Bayside Acad. (8-5) 5, Plainview (6-5) 4, Wicksburg (8-4) 4, Lexington (8-4) 1, Straughn (4-6) 1.

Class 2A
1. Fyffe (28) (15-0) <ws>354
2. Aliceville (1) (13-2) <ws>272
3. Lanett (1) (11-3) <ws>230
4. Elba (10-3) <ws>225
5. G.W. Long (1) (12-1) <ws>154
6. Tanner (9-4) <ws>128
7. LaFayette (12-1) <ws>125
8. Leroy (8-4) <ws>110
9. New Brockton (7-5) <ws>52
10. Sand Rock (9-3) <ws>43
Others receiving votes: Reeltown (6-5) 17, Sheffield (9-3) 13, Goshen (8-4) 12, Southern Choctaw (10-2) 12, Cleveland (8-4) 5, Washington Co. (6-4) 5, Horseshoe Bend (6-5) 4, Cold Springs (5-6) 2, Westbrook Chr. (3-7) 2, Luverne (7-4) 1, Red Bay (8-3) 1.

AISA
1. Autauga Acad. (28) (13-0) <ws>353
2. Bessemer Acad. (2) (13-1) <ws>283
3. Escambia Acad.  (8-5) <ws>247
4. Monroe Acad. (1) (11-2) <ws>215
5. Glenwood (8-4) <ws>185
6. South Choctaw Acad.  (8-3) <ws>139
7. Chambers Acad. (12-1) <ws>127
8. Abbeville Chr. (7-6) <ws>77
9. Pike Liberal (6-5) <ws>49
10. Lee-Scott (7-5) <ws>41
Others receiving votes: Clarke Prep (4-8) 21, Patrician (5-6) 14, Cornerstone Chr. (8-3) 5, Marengo Acad. (11-1) 5, Southern Acad. (4-7) 4, Lakeside (5-6) 1, Lowndes Acad. (8-3) 1.