Prediction: Spain Park set to capitalize on potential with hard-working, physical team

Published 8:11 am Thursday, August 17, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – After a string of disappointing seasons, the Spain Park Jaguars believe that this could be the year everything turns around.

Second-year head coach Tim Vakakes has unified the team and grown the talented players on his team both on and off the field. He likened them to a heavyweight fighter and said they will be strong and physical, won’t go down easy and want to win right now.

Linebacker Landon Huey said on media day that no one cares about Spain Park more than Vakakes. Cornerback Jamari Mosely echoed those thoughts, saying that he has gotten players to buy in who just weren’t in the past and that a lot of leaders have stepped up around the team.

That last part is important because Vakakes said that you can only go so far without being player-led. Now, the players are holding each other accountable and have become a true brotherhood who believe that they can do something special this year.

Before they do that, however, they will need to answer a few questions across the roster. The most important one is at quarterback, where the Jags will replace the graduated Evan Smallwood with either sophomore Brock Bradley or junior Ethan Smallwood. Vakakes believes that Bradley has tremendous potential, and even went as far to say that there aren’t many teams in the region he wouldn’t start for.

However, Vakakes also likes Smallwood’s calm presence and smart decision-making in the pocket, which make the decision challenging. The battle was still up in the air going into fall camp, and Vakakes will use that time to make a call on a starter.

The good news for whoever starts is that since Spain Park has so many weapons, Vakakes believes that it won’t force the new quarterback to make as many plays. Those weapons start with their running back duo, Derrick and Dakari Shanks.

The two brothers are both very versatile backs who can run between the tackles, make plays on the edge and even block for each other. Their skillsets will allow them to be interchangeable and save them from having too many carries, but it will also let them run side-by-side to take advantage of different parts of their game.

The receiver group is full of talented veterans, including seniors Jonathan Bibbs, Jamar Jones and Logan Bromlee. They all have big play potential, but they aren’t scared to throw out blocks and do what they need to do to help out their teammates. Look for tight end Cam McFarlan to be an aggressive threat at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds.

One of the other questions that the Jags need to address is on the offensive line. They will have two senior veterans at the offensive tackle positions in Connor Langston and Hudson Calahan. Beyond that, they have four juniors battling for three spots on the line. Jayden Craig, Jovan Taylor, Jackson Bell and Clete Ponder will fill the guard and center positions.

Over on the defense, the Jags are loaded with stars ready to make big leaps this year. That starts on the defensive line, where Jared Smith and Nik Alston are two names generating a lot of buzz ahead of the season. Smith was recently rated a four-star edge rusher by 247Sports, and he was named a second team preseason junior All-American by MaxPreps. Alston is also receiving attention from Power 5 teams, and that is because the two of them are big playmakers and a handful for any offense to deal with.

At linebacker, Vakakes hopes that the trio of seniors who will start over there will step up and contribute more. Landon Huey and Chase Wolsoncroft are two experienced returning players, and Jacob Roe is back after missing time due to an injury last year. Vakakes believes that their football IQ and aggressive nature will serve them and the rest of the defense around them well.

Like the linebacker room, the secondary is also full of seniors ready to make an impact this year. Jamari Moseley will be back to his headline-grabbing ways over at cornerback, and he will be one of the main leaders on the defense. Safeties Kelly Roberson, Tyler Walker and Keontae Robinson will also be a physical position group for the Jags.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Spain Park’s chances this season. The talent, potential and culture are all there for the Jags, but now Vakakes and the players must prove all of that on the field if they want to return to Spain Park’s winning ways of the past.

Prediction: 5-5. This Spain Park team is a lot better than their record shows. The pieces are there to be better on offense if the young players develop quickly, and the defense has a great chance to improve on the foundation they laid last year. This prediction has less to do with the players and coaches on this team, and more to do with everyone else around them. Right now, there are two groups in Class 7A, Region 3: the powerhouses of Thompson, Hoover, and Hewitt-Trussville, and everyone else. However, it’s not impossible to break through that glass ceiling. Oak Mountain broke through into the playoffs a couple of seasons ago, and Vestavia Hills is making a case to join those three behind their recent success. Spain Park has plenty of winnable games across their schedule against rebuilding teams like Oak Mountain, Briarwood and Calera, as well as some closer games against Tuscaloosa County, Chelsea and Pelham. If the pieces come together quickly, the Jags could be one of the area’s surprise teams this year. The difficulty of the region should keep Spain Park out of the playoffs, but the improvements in 2023 will carry on into the future with a young core and newer coaching staff, and they’ll be back among the region’s best in no time at all.