First ASWA football poll of 2019 features 4 local teams
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
The grueling summer work will soon pay off under the lights on Friday nights as we near another football season in Shelby County, and with four teams being nominated for a spot in the 2019 ASWA preseason rankings, it’s time to take a look at some of the favorites to win a state championship this season.
When the first poll in nine months was released on Sunday, Aug. 4, the Briarwood Lions, Thompson Warriors and Montevallo Bulldogs each resided inside the top 10 of their classification’s rankings, while the Helena Huskies received nominations for a spot.
All four will enter the season with different challenges, but those four teams are easily the four best teams from Shelby County heading into the season.
The two teams we have gotten accustom to seeing in the top 10 over the last couple of years are Briarwood and Thompson, both of whom not only were in the top 10 but the top five of their respective classification.
The Lions, who will enter the season with a new head coach for the first time in 30 years, still garnered high praise from voters and ended up No. 1 in the 5A classification by a narrow margin over No. 2 Ramsay.
Oddly enough, Ramsay dethroned Briarwood from the top of Class 5A, Region 4 last year, while the Lions went on to lose in the second of the playoffs.
But that and a coaching change to defensive coordinator Matthew Forester wasn’t enough to downgrade the high expectations for Briarwood to once again make a run at a state championship as the preseason No. 1 team in Class 5A.
One reason for that is because of the defensive side of the ball, which has given up 12.7 points per game or less each of the last three years, and with Forester leading the team, that shouldn’t change.
The only major concern will be offensively after last year’s inconsistency on that side of the ball. While running back will be solid with Luke Prewett and a few others returning; quarterback, receiver and the offensive line all have to step up.
Jonah Carroll returns at quarterback and there seems to be more threats out wide for him to throw to. The offensive line will lose a few starters, but with Trent Howard back and everybody else being a senior, that position shouldn’t take too much of a hit.
If the Lions see success offensively throughout the season, they’ll back up that No. 1 ranking.
For the third year in a row the Thompson Warriors will start inside the top four of the Class 7A standings after earning the No. 3 and No. 2 spot each of the last two years, respectively.
Coming off a runner-up finish to Central-Phenix City in last year’s state championship, the Warriors will start the season as the No. 4 team in the classification behind the Red Devils at No. 1, region-foe Hoover at No. 2 and McGill-Toolen at No. 3.
They’ll also start just ahead of Hewitt-Trussville at No. 5, putting three teams from Class 7A, Region 3 inside the top five, while Mountain Brook is just two spots lower at No. 7.
For the Warriors, they could very easily be a top-five team this season, but there will be some new playmakers looked upon to step up.
Thompson will have to replace All-State quarterback and current University of Alabama quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who broke records in the state as a starter the last two years, as well as the entire offensive line, including two Division I players, and All-State running back Shadrick Byrd.
The good news offensively is the return of three top receivers and three very capable running backs, including newcomer Brandon Franklin, who has the coaching staff excited.
Sawyer Pate will get the job of replacing Tagovailoa at quarterback, but he looks to be more than capable of stepping in and keeping the offense rolling.
The bigger question mark comes on the defensive side of the ball. While they should be talented defensively, the Warriors will be replacing a ton of talent.
While sophomore Jeremiah Alexander returns to hold a spot at defensive end or outside linebacker with several Division I offers, the rest of the defense, like him, is extremely young. They are talented, and will get better as the year goes along, which will be beneficial come playoff time.
If things start to click for the Warriors early in the 2019 season, they could become a favorite to once again make a trip to the state championship with the amount of talent on their roster, but it won’t come easily.
The Montevallo Bulldogs are in a situation where they return everybody from a 9-2 team from last year, including the state’s most productive receiver and quarterback.
With their J.J. Evans back at receiver after finishing second in state history for single-season receiving yards last year, and Malik Inabinette back at quarterback after leading the state in passing in 2018, the Bulldogs got high praise heading into the new year and were ranked No. 8 in the Class 4A standings.
Just two years ago, this team was in the 3A classification, but now sits as a legit contender in a classification higher.
Montevallo won’t just return those two star athletes; they’ll also get back 1,000-plus yard running back Deon Gilliland as well as three other targets aside from Evans to throw to.
The offensive line may have some early growing pains, but they’re coming along this summer, while the entire defense returns as well.
It’s a team that has to start the season fast with several difficult games, but after last year’s heartbreaking first-round playoff exit, this team is motivated. If they use that motivation to fight for four quarters every game, they’ll be fine this year, but they can’t become complacent or they’ll be another one-and-done team.
While the Helena Huskies didn’t find a spot in the Class 6A top 10, being considered for a spot heading into the season shows how far this team has come in just one year under Richie Busby.
With the return of 27 seniors and wins in four of their last six games last year, the Huskies have an extremely good chance to be a breakout team this year.
The offense has to be lightyears better, but with the return of basically their entire team, experience will play a major factor in helping them take that giant leap forward.
Helena will have a lot to prove, including the belief in themselves to win big games, but if that comes, the Huskies could potentially become a top-five team this year. A fast start will be key for Helena’s chances in Class 6A, Region 5.
Complete ASWA football poll:
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