Prep football preview: Even after losing 23 seniors, Piedmont faces high expectations
by Rip Donovan
Special to The Star
Aug 10, 2013 | 4775 views |  0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont coach Steve Smith works with his team's offense during summer workouts. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Piedmont coach Steve Smith works with his team's offense during summer workouts. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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PIEDMONT -- Piedmont High football has been the model of consistency in Steve Smith’s seven seasons as head coach – seven straight playoff appearances. In each of the past three years, the Bulldogs have been region champions and undefeated in region play.

That success hasn’t gone unnoticed across the state. Despite losing 23 seniors from the 2012 team -- many of them three-year and four-year starters -- the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason poll, released earlier this week, ranked Piedmont No. 3 in Class 3A.

“The biggest thing is going to be overcoming our youth,” Smith said when asked what he considered the key to another playoff appearance. “We’ve got a lot of kids that we’re excited about their potential as players, but they just haven’t played a whole lot on Friday nights. … They’ve played a lot of Monday night games and a lot of fourth quarters but they haven’t played a lot when it was depending on them.”

Then he added, “They’re a very dedicated bunch. They hear all the chatter about us being down and losing all the seniors we lost, that this is going to be a down year for us. They’ve worked really hard to try not to be that squad that doesn’t live up to the expectations.”

Rebuilding the offensive line, where center Caleb Adams and right tackle Jeffery Pryor are the only returning starters, is one priority.

After Thursday’s first practice in pads, Smith said senior Dustin Norton was ahead at left tackle, sophomore Jamie Crutcher at right guard and freshman Chase Bobbitt at left guard. Final decisions won’t be made until Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage. Seniors Ryan Kirk and Taylor Cooper are making a push at guard. Junior Jaden Amberson is working at tackle, and senior Josh Minton is getting repetitions at center. Junior Cody Daughtry and sophomore Chase Keener will be at tight end.

The Bulldogs will have a double threat at wide receiver. Junior C.J. Savage, last year’s go-to target, will play split end. Senior Denard Spears, the reigning Class 3A 100-meter dash champion, will be at flanker. The rotation at wide receiver will include junior Mitchell Bennefield and sophomores Bayley Blanchard and Wil Mitchell.

Piedmont returns a stable of running backs and will again use a rotation at the two running back positions. Seniors Tre Reese and Jaret Prater, juniors Dreek Thompson and Dalton Barber and sophomores Darnell Jackson and Neonta Alexander will carry the ball, but all six will also see playing time on defense, too.

“We’re always trying to get two tailback types in the game so I would call those guys pretty much all interchangeable,” Smith said.

Three players – senior Ty Sparks, junior Tyler Lusk and freshman Taylor Hayes – have been productive at quarterback in the preseason, giving Smith three good options under center. A final decision isn’t likely until the end-of-week intra-squad scrimmage.

On defense, expect Piedmont to continue to use the 3-4 alignment as its base.

“We’re kind of thin on the D-line rotation right now,” Smith said. “X (senior nose guard Exavyer Jackson) is back as a starter. After that, you’re probably going to find some combination of Tre Reese, Ryan Kirk, Josh Minton and Tyler Lucas – that’s five guys to play three spots.”

The linebackers will be some combination of Hayes, Alexander, Prater, Barber, Keener and junior transfer Jacob Clark. Just who will be where is a work in progress.

“Several of those guys are getting work inside and outside, trying to give us some flexibility,” said Smith.

The Bulldogs will have the most experience in the secondary. Daughtry and Darnell Jackson will be the starters at cornerback with Savage and Spears the relief. Thompson and Lusk are working with the first group at safety with Sparks, Blanchard and sophomore Deven Hincy behind them.

Exavyer Jackson, Darnell Jackson and Minton are potential kickers. Either Bennefield or freshman Krae Keener will be the snapper. Blanchard or Mitchell will hold.

Piedmont at a glance Head coach: Steve Smith (75-16 in seven years at Piedmont; 160-61 overall, including 85-45 in 11 years at Cedar Bluff. Class 3A state champion in 2009.)

Last year’s record: 11-1, including 7-0 and region championship in Class 3A, Region 5. Lost to Deshler in second round of playoffs.

Outlook: Piedmont returns an abundance of skill players on both offense and defense. Linemen with starting experience are scarce. How quickly the lines develop will go a long way in determining the Bulldogs’ fate in 2013.

Schedule

Aug. 30, at Cherokee County

Sept. 6, Ashville #

Sept. 13, at Glencoe #

Sept. 20, Cleveland #

Sept. 27, at Leeds

Oct. 4, White Plains #

Oct. 11, Susan Moore #

Oct. 18, at Saks #

Oct. 25, at Weaver #

Nov. 1, Lincoln
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