DANVILLE — Before stepping off the practice field, Danville High running back Justin Hannah took a moment to confirm the obvious.
There is a huge difference in the Hawks’ football program. The flock has gotten larger.
Much larger. Danville fielded 25 players last fall. That number has grown to 58 this year.
“Things are changing around here,” Hannah said. “We’ve got more guys coming out to play football, and you can already tell it’s going to make us better. It’s been a few years since we’ve been to the playoffs, so I think everybody is ready to change that.”
Second-year Danville coach Scott Curd said he noticed potential when he arrived at the school last fall. While walking the hallways, he saw prospective players everywhere.
There was one problem, though — several of them were not on the team.
Changing that became a priority.
“We recruited the hallways hard,” Curd said. “There were a lot of guys who could have helped us, but they weren’t playing, for whatever reasons. We were able to sell our vision for the program to a lot of guys. Getting some of these guys who haven’t played in a while acclimated to high school football is the next step. But there are a lot of good athletes in this group, so they’ll be fine.”
Double the team, double the fun.
And perhaps more than double the wins?
Optimism is high. Players feel like the Hawks are on the verge of turning around a program that went 2-8 last fall and has won only six games in the past two seasons.
Curd said there is a reason for that. Having more players on the field increased competition, creating a better brand of football in the process.
“The competition is the bigger factor,” Curd said. “When you’ve got guys competing for positions all over the field, that does nothing but breed success. There’s also the mental aspect. If your teams looks across the sideline and see they are outnumbered — see 70 players to their 25 — kids sometimes get a sense of defeat before the game is even played.”
Offensive guard Evan Anderson said he sees a difference.
“There’s a lot of desire to win out here right now,” he said. “Everyone is on the same page. We all want to get back to the playoffs. You can see that at practice. Having more depth and more competition is making us better.”
Adding depth across the field has allowed Curd to tweak Danville’s offensive scheme.
Playing fast is the motto. Stretching the field and wearing teams down with an up-tempo ground attack is the goal.
“We’re going with a lot more up-tempo this year,” Hannah said. “Having more guys is a huge plus with that because we’re able to rep different running backs in and out. With the players we have, I think we should be pretty good offensively, especially with our running game.”
Offense is Curd’s background. He was the offensive coordinator at Addison when the Bulldogs won the Class 1A state title in 2005.
But defense is where Curd believes this Danville team is most improved.
Hunter LaRoche has the potential to be a star on the defensive line, and a good offseason — coupled with strong in-school recruiting — has given the Hawks more speed and size on that side of the ball.
“The biggest thing is that we’re in better shape,” Curd said. “We had a great offseason in the weight room. More than 50 players met their goals this summer. That means they were here for every workout.”
Danville’s region last season was brutal. Curd said the old Class 3A, Region 8 was like “playing in the SEC West.”
From a small-school football perspective, that comparison may not be far off. All four teams from the old Class 3A, Region 8 advanced past the first round of the playoffs, with two of those teams making deep runs. Rogers advanced to the semifinals, while Lauderdale County’s season ended in the quarterfinals.
Because of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s classification realignment, Danville moves to Class 3A, Region 7 this season. The new Region 7 features only three teams that had winning records last fall. Hanceville finished with a 10-1 record, while Hamilton went 8-3 and Cordova finished at 6-5.
Curd said he believes the lumps Danville took in the old Region 8 made the Hawks a better football team.
“That was a tough region. Absolutely brutal,” he said. “But going through those battles, playing extremely good competition like that, it only made us better.”
2011 results: 2-8
Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Randolph
Head coach: Scott Curd (8-32 in four seasons; 2-8 at Danville)
Returning starters: Five total
Big games: Sept. 7 vs. Vinemont; Sept. 14 vs. Winfield; Oct. 5 vs. Good Hope
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