Alabama Christian Academy Eagles – Football

  After reaching the state football playoffs for the first time in seven years and returning 10 starters on offense and seven more on defense, there’s a different feeling at Alabama Christian Academy this fall.

“The spirit here is absolutely on the rise,” first-year coach Nate Sanford said. “There is a camaraderie and a sense of unity that I think was building last year and is definitely building this year. It just seems like it’s a real special thing to be a part of.”

You can almost forget Sanford was the offensive coordinator last year and Bill Moore was the head coach. Moore had just completed spring training in mid-May when he was unexpectedly fired from his position. After an abbreviated coaching search, Sanford, a former head coach with 10 years of experience at 10 schools in Texas, was promoted to the position.

ACA QB Reece Solar will lead the Eagles offense

“I feel very strongly that things should be done a certain way, so we’re trying to make sure we do those things, little things, so that the big things can take care of themselves as we go,” Sanford said. “Coach Moore is a good friend of mine and he did a lot of the heavy lifting to bring this program through difficult times. I would just say that every football program eventually ends up taking on the personality of their coach. So I would just say that (whether it looks the same or will be a little different) remains to be seen.”

Reece Solar can answer that question after going through spring workouts with Moore and summer seven-on-seven drills with Sanford.

“It won’t be too much different, but I think we’ll improve on a lot of stuff, the things we need to improve on,” Solar said. “Returning 10 starters is huge and we’ll definitely take advantage of that. Higher numbers on the scoreboard, definitely.

First year head coach at ACA Nate Sanford

“We’ve been installing plays and we’re really trying to prefect them, but right now I think we’re in good shape and we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes. (The playbook) is not the easiest thing in the world to know, but we know it well.”

The only vacancy on the offense was at center and Tyler Lumpkin’s role will be filled by 5-foot-8, 195-pound sophomore Chase Whitfield, “just a dogged dude (that) does everything right.” Sanford has liked what he has seen from the offense but expects it to be a little more productive after getting 1,910 all-purpose yards from tailback Alden Stroud last year and nearly 2,100 passing and rushing yards from Solar.

“Any time you have a returning quarterback, you can let the reins out a little bit,” Sanford said. “The kid ran the ball 170 times last year and threw it around quite a bit as well so he wasn’t on a short leash by any means but we’re going to open things up a little bit for him and take some people out of the box so he can do what he does best, which is make good reads in the run game.

“But the biggest improvement so far this year has been the ability of our skill players. Teams will have to respect their speed and route-running ability than they did last year and I think that’s going to open up things for us across the board.”

There’s still work to be done on the defensive side of the ball, however. Seven starters return but there is a huge hole in the middle where linebackers DeMarvin Perry, who led the team with 103 tackles, and Dusty Young graduated.

“The biggest area of emphasis is definitely our linebackers,” Sanford said. “You had DeMarvin and Dusty, two seniors that played at a pretty good level last year. Some good young guys are stepping in but it remains to be seen if one of those guys can make up the 100 tackles that DeMarvin had or the senior leadership that Dusty Young had for us.

“But we’ll be better on the back end and we return our entire defensive front, so those linebackers should have a little bit more help.”

The Eagles are in search of their first playoff win since 1992, but it helps to finish as region champion or runner-up to avoid traveling to places like Andalusia or Thomasville. But the teams that finished ahead of ACA in the region standings last year – St. James, Dale County and Catholic – return most of their players from a year ago as well.

“We’re expecting a tougher region from top to bottom,” Sanford said, “and just to highlight the strength of this year’s teams, (the Trinity Wildcats) weren’t even in your conversation. We really would like to get a first or second seed.

“Winning solves every problem. You win some games early, the team gets confidence, the players feel they can go places, but we really don’t try to emphasize winning. I know this sounds cliché but we really try to emphasize doing the little things right, every day, every rep, and then those things can take care of themselves.”

 

2017 Roster

1  Jalen Clark

2  Blake Bryant

3  Alden Stroud

4  Brian Bauer

5  Grayson Evans

6  Cole Schlemmer

7  Alex Harmon

9  Jackson Hibbard

10  Dawson Locklier

11  Reece Solar

12  Ethan Hughes

13  Caden Perry

14  Kory Nixon

15  Wes Gallops

16  Jordan Hendricks

17  Tommy Small

18  Alex Campbell

19  Noah Silmon

20  Carson Hunt

22  TJ Silmon

23  Grant Weeden

25  John Wilson Jarrett

26  Garrett Weeden

27  Eddie Lagasse

28  Hunter Story

32  Chase Madrid

33  Jaeyeop Lee

44  Preston Perry

45  Collin Panehal

50  Austin Smith

51  Greyson Cumbie

52  Gabe Boyer

53  Sam Andress

54  Jackson Duke

55  Chase Whitfield

56  Tyson Amaya

57  David Coulter

58  Ty Taveras

59  Tyler Webber

60  Tyler Hale

61  Reed Black

62  Connor White

63  Mason Prestage

64  Coston Wright

65  Triston Sexton

66  Hagan Sullivan

67  Parker Slaughter

68  Solomon Hall

70  Blake White

72  Cole Mullins

75  Grant Sutton

78  Will Wright

83  Miller McCarthy

87  Garrett Cottingham

Montgomery Academy Eagles – Football

    Gary Nelson felt like he had his Montgomery Academy Eagles pointed in the right direction with four consecutive wins to close out the regular season, but a season-ending shoulder injury to quarterback Trey Lindsey changed all that.

The Eagles had to turn to freshman CJ Paymon for their playoff opener with Oakman and Paymon was nursing an injured hand and had missed much of the season with injuries.

“We kind of divided into two camps that week,” Nelson recalled. “There was a group that kind of rallied around CJ and said we can go win this thing and then there was a group, maybe not admittedly, but they knew in the back of their minds we can’t win it with a brand-new quarterback coming in and a week to prepare. And what kind of happened there was a little fissure.

“We had to make some choices in the offseason. We had opportunities for our kids to be together and hold each other accountable. My hope is we’ve more guys out of that camp of being circumstantial believers into guys that are just believers.”

As the Eagles return the bulk of their offense and much of their defense from 2016, the question is not so much about talent but more about what was learned from that 21-0 loss to Oakman last November.

Senior lineman Nathan Pohlman: “We got to do the little things.”

“We’ve been working really hard this year because that’s not the way I want to go out my senior year,” senior offensive lineman Nathan Pohlman said. “We’ve got to do the little things. We’ve got guys in the backfield that we love blocking for and if we can just perfect that, we’ll be a great team, better than last year, in my opinion.”

The Eagles lost Nelson’s head coaching debut to Elmore County but cruised through the rest of the season in winning fashion except for a midseason loss to Trinity and a region battle with Pike County.

“Pike County and Trinity, we had a lot of mental lapses,” MA senior offensive lineman Will Cousins said. “We were able to be physical enough to win those games, we just didn’t bring it. We’ve worked a lot harder in the weight room because we know we’re going to need it. We’re going to face boys that are a whole lot bigger than us, so we just try to get prepared every day.”

Montgomery Academy lost offensive linemen William Wilson and Ford Mozingo, along with tight end Landon Crane, but Oliver Lester filled in for Crane at times and Lindsey, Paymon, tailbacks Keefe White and Kevin Doh and receiver Nate Meacham return, so Nelson believes he can install more of his offense in his second year as head coach.

“I would like to be more balanced,” he said. “Last year, we had a sophomore at quarterback, freshman at one receiver, sophomore at the other receiver, several young backs. I felt I had to protect Trey a lot. And the best way to do that is to turn around and hand the ball to No. 22 (White).

Gary Nelson will be in his second season as the MA head coach

“This year, my goal would be to be a little more balanced and I don’t mean balanced from a run-pass standpoint, I mean balanced by getting multiple players touches of the ball during the game, where last year for us to win a game I felt Keefe needed to carry the ball 30 times. Now, my hope would be that Keefe still gets his touches but we’re able to mix in some other playmakers on the offensive side as well.”

Defensively, it’s more of the same. The Eagles have to find replacements for defensive lineman Michael Kelly and linebacker Jud Blount, their two best performers on that side of the ball in 2016, but Nelson has been working on finding the depth that can make the difference between a good team that can make the playoffs and a great one that can be a contender.

“I’ve had to step up and play a little defense,” Pohlman said, “and we’ve got a bunch of other people stepping up, filling positions on both sides of the ball. And it’s some people that maybe some people wouldn’t think of that have been big additions for us and are going to be able to contribute better than some of our players from last year that we didn’t think we’d be able to replace.”

One of those is junior Brian Wilson, who played quite a bit last year at linebacker but will now have to step in and fill the shoes of leading tackler Jud Blount.

Much of MA’s offensive success rests with QB Trey Lindsey

“Jud had over a hundred tackles for three straight years and I’d be lying to you if I told you we have replaced Jud,” Nelson said. “What we have done is put a fierce competitor over there, Brian Wilson. Brian may run a little better than Jud. He might be our second or third strongest player, too.”

In 2016, the Eagles played their first three games on the road at Elmore County, St. James and Beulah, so those three games will be at McLemore Field in 2017, which could help the team get off to a good start. Still, three of its biggest region games – Pike County, Central-Coosa and Prattville Christian – are all on the road.

“Montgomery Academy has to be a better football team two weeks from now than we are today and we have to be a better team two weeks after that than we are then,” Nelson said. “If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to compete.”

And Nelson hopes his team has learned its lesson from the 2016 playoff game against Oakman.

“There’s nothing you can do to simulate a playoff game,” Lindsey observed, “and we’ve got a bunch of juniors who started (against Oakman) who return as seniors this year, so when we reach that point hopefully they’ll be like we played one. It’s a motivator whenever you get put out early.”

This group of seniors expects more, Pohlman said.

“We’ve been working really hard this year because that’s not the way I want to go out my senior year,” he said. “We’ve got to do the little things. We’ve got guys in the backfield that we love blocking for and if we can just perfect that, we’ll be a great team, better than last year, in my opinion.”

2017 Roster

1 Mac Main

2 CJ Paymon

3 Trey Lindsey

4 Hilsman James

5 Eric Doh

6 Reggie Dixon

7 Lawson Pemberton

8 Nate Meacham

9 Brian Wilson

11 Britton Kohn

12 William Robertson

13 Ridge Lindsey

15 Mason Young

16 Will Peeples

19 John Q Adams

20 Jack Anzalone

21 Ben Harris

22 Keefe White

23 Kevin Doh

24 JonClarke Woodward

26 Carter Wallis

27 Jake Sylvest

28 Jones Corley

32 Jack Mozingo

33 Harris Gowan

34 Braxton Trest

35 Bradley Westhauser

40 Cam Holmes

50 Thomas Speaks

51 Hunt Scott

52 John Bagwell

53 Charlie Harrelson

54 Jackson Kelly

55 MacLeod Parker

56 Wilson Butler

57 Scout Whaley

58 Alex Brewbaker

59 George Beringer

60 Trey Rush

62 Alec Luster

63 Will Cousins

64 Casey Whit

66 Sidney Thomas

67 James Snead

70 Will Davis

71 Nathan Pohlman

72 Thomas Kirkham

74 Matthew Buckalew

77 David Wilson

84 Jack Cleary

88 Brooks Seale

89 Oliver Lester