Prediction: Chelsea chasing success in second 7A season

Published 9:39 am Monday, August 14, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

CHELSEA – After getting a taste of Class 7A football last season, the Chelsea Hornets are out to prove that they belong on the state’s biggest stage heading into the 2023 football season.

It won’t be easy, as Class 7A, Region 3 is one of the most difficult regions in not just the state, but the country. However, Chelsea weathered those challenges last season and came out on the other side as a better team.

This offseason, the Hornets have been improving both on and off the field now that their young players have had a full season and summer to develop, and they will look to improve from last year.

Head coach Todd Cassity believes that Chelsea’s leaders will be their strength, especially the seniors. He and the players say that there are no bad eggs in the locker room and they are more together than ever.

That culture is a result of the excitement that Cassity has brought back to Chelsea football and the investment he has gotten from the community, as well as what he personally has poured into the program, will serve them well for years to come.

Chelsea’s improvements start at the quarterback position, where Carter Dotson is bigger, stronger and a lot more comfortable in the starting role than he was a year ago. Last year’s experience gave him a great feel for what 7A football is like, and Cassity and running back Emerson Russell are confident that Dotson will take a big step this year.

Russell and receiver Jaxon Shuttlesworth are two of those great senior leaders Cassity mentioned, and they will take charge of their areas of the offense.

Russell is an all-around workhorse who has grown in nearly every way this offseason as he chases his dream of college football, and Cassity is excited to see how that growth translates onto the field this season. Russell has some help in the backfield this year with sophomores Morgan Barnes and Chase Stracener who have the size to take on the between-the-tackles runs that Russell can’t as a small, athletic running back.

As for Shuttlesworth, he has become an even more imposing force out wide as he has added 30 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. He will be more equipped to be Chelsea’s main target this year after taking the time to buy in to Cassity’s system. He will be joined by hybrid tight ends Nick Sulenski and Owen Carlson as well as the quick senior Raymond Bridgeman.

Up front, Chelsea returns three seniors in Zach Hair, Logan Sanders and Jacob Glidewell who will bring great experience to the offense, along with juniors Will Pohlmann and Eli Williams on the left side.

The opposite line is a different story. Chelsea returns none of their three-man front from last year, and while they will still run that system this year, they will have fresh faces in senior Carter Parrish and juniors Gavin Hailstock and Romello Cooper.

Cassity admitted that this position group will be a weakness simply because of their lack of experience. If they adjust to game speed well in the first few games, the line could slide in with Chelsea’s other strong position groups on defense and make the unit solid overall.

As for those other defensive units, Anderson Brooks has become a leader within the linebacker room and looks ready to take another step forward after the improvements he has made this offseason. Blitzing will be a priority for this aggressive group under new defensive coordinator Scott Lowery’s play-calling, and senior veteran Adam Cornwell and their new junior starter Ethan Prickett will play a big role in helping Brooks out with those assignments.

Both the cornerback and safety groups are fully back from last year. Drew Cheslock has stepped up as a great leader at safety, and he will have big expectations along with Owen Key, who was one of the top tacklers last season for the Hornets.

Brandon Sims is another veteran to look out for at cornerback, while a pair of sophomores will round out the group with safety Sam Parrish and corner Kenny Wesley as Lowery and Cassity will look to use the mix of veteran and young players to make plays all over the field.

Special teams will be another talented group for Chelsea this year with All-State soccer product Luke Miller at kicker, as he can hit 40-yard field goals consistently, senior punter Qassim Harbor, who has a 40-45 yard punting range, and returning long snapper Tyler Kirkland.

The consensus last year was that Chelsea was a much better team than they showed on the field, and they should come closer to realizing the full potential this season, even in the challenging waters of Class 7A.

Prediction: 3-7. I do think that Chelsea will be a much-improved team from last year. You could definitely tell that this was a unit very much out of their depth after being used to the waters of 6A. It’s easy to pick this team to win more games. That is, until you look at their schedule. Enough ink has been spilled on the strength of the top of the region with Thompson, Hoover, Hewitt-Trussville and the recent resurgence of Vestavia Hills. Chelsea should be more competitive against the rest of the region, including Oak Mountain, Tuscaloosa County and Spain Park, but even some of those teams are likely to be improved in 2023. Chelsea’s best chances at wins will come in their opening stretch against Helena, Calera, Tuscaloosa County and Oak Mountain. If they flip those games, then Chelsea has a fighting chance of finishing at .500. The Hornets will need to show up every week as each game is either against a regional opponent, heated local rival or sometimes both. Regardless of where Chelsea ends up after this season, this will be a tremendous growing opportunity for the future and another step towards brighter times for Cassity’s program.