THS previews 2018 team at spring game

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – Thompson head football coach Mark Freeman was frank about the challenges facing his team after graduating 13 starters from last year’s region championship run, but he saw reason for optimism following the team’s spring scrimmage at Larry Simmons Stadium against Clay-Chalkville on May 19.

“The biggest key is that we lost 13 starters. In high school football, that’s a lot of starters. We lost a kid who broke the state record for receptions, we lost two Division I linebackers, a Division I defensive lineman, a safety went to Jacksonville State, just a lot of key players,” Freeman said after the scrimmage. “The number-one goal for today was to pray that we don’t see a doctor on the field, and we didn’t. We got out healthy against a great football team.”

Clay-Chalkville, which has been to the 6A playoffs every year since 2012, including a trip to the semi-finals last season, walked away with a 35-34 victory at the end of the scrimmage, although the score was tied at 28-all when both teams’ starters were benched midway through the third quarter.

Freeman said the contest gave his players a chance to see realistic game action to wrap up spring practice, and gave the team a better idea of the areas it needs to focus on this summer.

“We had some key guys out, and at the end of the day, it’s a blessing because all the kids who are playing right now really could be in a backup role. In this region, you’ve got to build depth,” Freeman said. “We played everyone, I think, on the team. We got out healthy, which is a positive, we got a lot of kids some experience out of it, which is positive, and we played a really good football team with a lot of athletes and a lot of speed.”

The scrimmage marked a now-annual event, as Clay-Chalkville has agreed to scrimmage against the Warriors each spring, Freeman said.

Thompson scored a trio of touchdowns in the first half, as Alabama quarterback commit Taulia Tagovailoa connected with Kyle Smoak once and Chris Hopkins twice on passes of 9 yards, 6 yards and 6 yards, respectively. Kicker Evan McGuire was held out with an injury, forcing the Warriors to go for two after each touchdown, with the lone successful attempt coming after the second touchdown with Tagovailoa again connected with Smoak.

Down 28-20 midway through the third quarter, Tagovailoa connected with Smoak on a 7-yard touchdown pass, followed by a Tagoviailoa-to-Jarrett Crockett two-point conversion.

Backup quarterback Sawyer Pate came in late in the third quarter after Jeremiah Alexander picked off Clay-Chalkville, and guided the Warriors to another touchdown when he connected with Shafton Reese on a 15-yard pass.

Freeman said the team has some building to do this summer, especially if it hopes to replace the bevy of talent it will lose to graduation this year.

“Our receivers have to learn how to run routes and catch balls. We got to find some outside linebackers to replace KJ and Jaylen. That was the heart of our team last year,” Freeman said. “We got some young guys, and we’ve just got to get better. Now it’s time to build up a new bunch, and we’ve got two months to get them ready.”