Prediction: Thompson ready to make run at fifth straight state championship

Published 10:54 am Thursday, August 17, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – The expectation at Thompson is the same since Mark Freeman took over as head coach: win a state championship.

The Warriors have done just that each of the last four years, and now they are going for a historic fifth straight 7A championship in 2023.

With that, you would think that the Thompson players would feel pressure from both the inside and outside to live up to that lofty standard. That isn’t the case, according to Freeman, who says pressure doesn’t exist in the program.

He believes pressure means you think you can’t do something, and he knows if his players give their all and do what they’re supposed to do, they will reach their goals.

Obviously, that’s a lot easier said with a roster as talented and deep as Thompson’s. They may have a few questions to answer and five-star players to replace, but not many teams are in as fortunate of a position as the Warriors are with the talent they can reload with.

While quarterback may look like one of those questions that needs an answer on the surface, in reality, it may not. Freeman sees both senior Zach Sims and freshman Trent Seaborn as his main quarterback. While only one will obviously walk onto the field for the first drive, Freeman will utilize both quarterbacks throughout each game to take advantage of each of their talents.

Even though Seaborn had a breakout postseason and a historic state championship game last season, he still has a long road ahead of him as Thompson’s signal caller. Freeman is Sims’ self-proclaimed biggest fan, and he knows what a healthy Sims can bring to the Warriors offense. Moreover, Sims and Seaborn see themselves as a team, and they will support the other when they are in the game while preparing on the sidelines to make an impact when they go in.

Sims and Seaborn aren’t the only talented tandem on the offense, as AJ Green and Michael Dujon will again feature from the backfield in Thompson’s run-heavy offense. Freeman said he wouldn’t trade his running backs for anybody because of how well they complement each other.

He also frequently refers to Dujon as one of the team’s MVPs because of his versatility and football IQ. Green is a special player in his own right, and Thompson should use both to success this year.

Sims and Seaborn lost their top target from last year in Korbyn Williams, but Thompson has a lethal receiver duo this year with Deuce Oliver and Kolby Hearn back. Both have had a phenomenal offseason and look to be even more dangerous than they were last year.

Oliver believes that all of the work that he and Hearn have put in over the years will pay off this year, and younger receivers like Angel Jones, Trey Knight and Colben Landrew will take notice and file behind, making Thompson even better for the future. He and Hearn said they both like Sims and Seaborn equally, and they will make a strong pair no matter who is under center.

From there, Thompson has two big questions to answer–the offensive and defensive line. On the offensive line, Freeman has 10 players battling for five spots. Look for Dylan Marquess, Braydon Saylor, Baron Crittle, KC Walters and Matthew Wilkerson to feature across the line. Freeman believes that working players across the line will create depth that the Warriors can utilize when the wear and tear of the season sets in.

Over on the defensive side of the line, Thompson will have to replace one of the top linemen in the nation in Peter Woods and fill holes around him. Fortunately for the Warriors defense, the unit has All-County First Team talent Caleb Ballard back for his senior season.

Around him, Freeman says to look out for Matthew Hurd at defensive end, Noah Streeter and Haden McDonald at nose guard, and Cam Pritchard, as he believes all four will be talented athletes who will play well.

Speaking of talented athletes, Thompson historically has strong linebackers, and that is the case yet again with Jayden Davis and Tyler Hicks leading the position group. Freeman believes this duo will be as talented as any that Thompson has produced.

Davis in particular has stepped up as a leader on the defense, and is looking forward to how the younger players will come along. He also said the linebackers are harping on being versatile and helping other do their job on defense, and they will use both traits to make the entire defense better.

The Warriors also have as gifted of a secondary as anyone in the state, especially at safety. That is where senior Kaleb Harris and junior Anquon Fegans will roam and continue to make plays this season. Freeman called Harris one of the most efficient players he has ever coached, and he has a diverse skillset that enables him to do basically anything you would want a safety to do.

As for Fegans, he has already impressed even though he just recently became an upperclassman. He is already verbally committed to USC, and the five-star safety is the top ranked in his position for the class of 2025. Harris and Freeman complimented how Fegans is off the field, saying that “Newboy” has a contagious smile and excitement along with a great work ethic. Even though he is highly regarded across the nation, he still takes time to help other players like Peyton Lewis become better secondary players.

Thompson will also bring back a great special teams this year, led by five-star kicker and punter John Alan McGuire. McGuire is the top ranked kicker and punter in the state and the No. 5 punter in the nation according to Kohl’s Kicking Camps, and Thompson will use him and Vickor Kyatt to control the game on special teams. They will also have quick options at kick returner, including Anquon Fegans and Deuce Oliver.

Overall, Freeman knows that Thompson is very good at what they do, and stylistically, they will look the same as in the past even though some of the players are different. He said there’s no secret formula to their success, and they’re just a family that have one common goal: don’t fear failure.

If recent success holds, failure won’t be the cards this season.

Prediction: 9-1. Even with the question marks that Thompson still has to answer, I still believe that they will finish better than last year. However, they have a difficult road to earn that record. There is no shame in falling short against IMG Academy, as they attract the nation’s top recruits and end the season high on the national rankings for a reason. In addition, Thompson will face arguably three of the top five teams in the state during the regular season in Clay-Chalkville, Hoover and Hewitt-Trussville. Of those three games last year, they only fell to Hoover, and that was a single-digit loss that the Warriors avenged in the playoffs. I think that Thompson will be competitive against every single team on their schedule, including those four teams mentioned, but there is a chance that they lose a couple of those games. Freeman has been open that he views a tough regular season schedule as preparation for the playoffs and the high-stakes situations that single-elimination football presents. This is a team that peaks when the calendar flips to November and the bright lights come on, and they have proven each of the last four years that they can win when it matters the most. That should put them right back where they have been for most of the Freeman era: competing for a Class 7A State Championship.