Oak Mountain Eagles 2019 football prediction

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Last year’s eight-game losing streak was tough for the Oak Mountain Eagles to swallow, but it didn’t define their season, and now heading into a fresh 2019 season, the Eagles know they get the opportunity to start from scratch with a team ready to take down one of the most difficult schedules in the state.

While the Eagles won their first game last year and went on to lose their next eight in a row, they not only were able to regather their composure to win their final game, but competed in several of their biggest games of the season before injuries and depth caught up with them.

Oak Mountain started 1-0 with a 42-9 victory over county-rival Chelsea, and then went on to play Hewitt-Trussville, Thompson and Hoover in consecutive weeks, all of which spent time ranked inside the top five of the Class 7A rankings last year.

The Eagles lost to Hewitt by five points in a shootout, lost to Thompson by 14 in a back-and-forth game and lost to Hoover 48-20. They came close to pulling off two big upsets and competed strong in each game, but that gauntlet ended up putting wear and tear on the team.

Injuries and depth caused struggles the rest of the season, which saw Oak Mountain’s offense go from one of the best to struggling to score points.

Throughout the spring, summer and early in fall practice, Oak Mountain has worked on depth and physicality to help the team’s health and durability this season since they’ll face that same gauntlet early in the season.

Several key playmakers returning, however, will be the key on this year’s team, specifically on the offensive side of the ball in the backfield, which is what makes Oak Mountain such a difficult team to face.

Possibly the most important piece back this year will be sophomore quarterback Evan Smith, who threw for 861 yards and ran for an additional 755 rushing yards with 13 total touchdowns last year. He was stellar to watch as a freshman, and looks to be poised for an even better year this year thanks to his continued progression.

He’s a speedy, dual-threat quarterback that handles Oak Mountain’s option attack extremely well, but has also improved on his passing ability heading into the new season.

Just as exciting will be the three-headed monster at running back featuring Jonathan Bennett, Judah Tait and Devin Holden.

This year, the Eagles will spend the majority of time under center, which will benefit Bennett, who knows the system well and brings back the most experience.

Oak Mountain will lose Luke Percer, who posted 956 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but Tait is also an experienced back who can bulldoze his way for yards, while Holden is a versatile back as a senior.

Head coach Cris Bell said he is excited about the potential that those three bring to the table to compliment Smith’s ability at quarterback.

Running the option attack tends to lead to less passing, but last year, the Eagles spread it out a bit more. And while they’re going back under center again this year, Smith has really polished off his passing game, which should bode well for the Eagles’ passing attack this year.

Key in that success will be 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior Noah Young. At that size, if he’s given a chance to go up and grab it, he should be able to beat every defender—he just has to catch it.

There will also be several other guys who should step up, including punter Sam Johnson, Kyle Percer, Zach Paisley, Harrison Miller and Hasani Burns. It’s a unit that is possibly deeper than last year, and if Young can play up to his potential, the Eagles will burn a lot of teams that respect the run too much.

The most crucial position for Oak Mountain’s success in 2019 will be the offensive line.

After losing six of seven guys who played their last year, the Eagles’ ability to run the ball successfully with all of that talent will depend on how quickly this new unit can come along.

Drew Padgett will be the anchor of the unit as a returning starter for his senior season. At 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, he’ll take on left tackle.

The good news is that the rest of the line will be filled with upperclassmen, including senior Zach Bailey at left guard, junior Alex Mathis at right guard and senior Zac Hollington and junior Drew Rowland splitting time at right tackle.

Those linemen all know the offense, but will have to come along quickly with some of the toughest games taking place early in the season. If they end up being a highlight of this year’s team, that will spell success for Oak Mountain in 2019.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line will also have several new faces with only two out of the 10 expected to play being seniors.

The unit will lose players who combined for 105 tackles last season in Zykeius Strong and Travis Thomasson, but the return of Jacob Goldfon at defensive end should help. Jacob Payne will also be a trustworthy starter, while juniors Micai George and Andrew Lee are battling for solid playing time.

Behind that, three sophomores in Caleb Webb, Gavin Nelson and Charlie Serra will all have to grow up in a hurry.

The inexperience will carry over to linebacker with the losses of Jacob Fitzgerald, Xzavier Brown and Jaylen Thomas, who combined for 228 tackles last year.

Will Pfaffman was a starter last year before an ACL injury forced him out, but now he’s back and healthy as one of the team’s leaders. Junior Justin Taylor will join him at inside linebacker, while Cameron Atkinson, Braxton O’Brien, Collin Herring and Jaquarious Davis will handle outside linebacker.

Closing out the defense, the secondary will also be young with no seniors expected to play there, but don’t let that fool you. Bell said it could be the best the unit has been in several years.

Zach Taylor, Chase Schwender, Jimmy Harris, Dan Null and Eli Hackbarth are all juniors who should be a factor at the position, while sophomore Khalil Jackson has the staff excited.

Prediction (5-5): Oak Mountain’s 2019 season will all depend on how quickly the new starters get acclimated to competition in the difficult Class 7A, Region 3. That specifically goes for the offensive line and the entire defense. If the offensive line can be successful, that paves the way for an offense that will be tough to keep up with and will take pressure off of the defense, which makes that unit key. The defense, however, really has to step up and stay healthy to limit young players being forced into action. A 1-3 start is possible, but the Eagles can’t let that discourage them. I, however, see them upsetting somebody early, and if that happens, it will mean the team has come along early in the season, which should equate to success.