NORTH COURTLAND — Graduation stole R.A. Hubbard’s top two leaders and 13 others, but the Class 1A powerhouse is reloading and planning another trip to the playoffs.
Head coach Nicholas Vinson is proud that last year’s stars Floyd Jones and Eddrick Harris are now playing college ball at North Alabama. But Vinson knows he’s got plenty of talent ready to fill the vacancies.
More importantly, he said he won’t be satisfied with another quick exit from the playoffs.
“I want this team to make it deep into the playoffs,” the third-year coach said. “The loss in the first round last year was just devastating. We were so much better than what we showed that night.”
“That night” was a 34-30 loss to eventual-state champion Marion County. The Chiefs closed the season 7-4. Vinson said his team doesn’t need to get ahead of itself, “just take care of the games that are in front of us every Friday night.”
He added it is important to avoid a three-game losing streak like it had midway through the 2011 season, falling to Hackleburg, Addison and North Jackson.
Winning Region 8 won’t be easy with Hackleburg and Shoals Christian on the schedule.
Vinson said filling Jones’ shoes at quarterback isn’t as difficult as it appears. He has seniors Chris Gilcrease and Darrian Almon competing for the starting job. The one who isn’t at quarterback will be at wideout on offense.
“We are looking at these guys as our main playmakers,” Vinson said. “They have great speed and are our leaders on the field.”
Gilcrease is excited about getting a shot at playing quarterback. He played some at the spot in 2011.
“It’s a big spot to fill with Floyd gone,” said Gilcrease said. “I’ve got to just go out and get the job done.”
Gilcrease said having played receiver last year will help him be a better quarterback.
“I will know where to put the ball. I will be able to get out of the pocket and find our receivers,” he said.
The Chiefs will be running a multiple offense. Vinson said the offense could change game to game depending on the o ponent.
Vinson is counting on junior John Owens and Toddrick Allen as the top ball carriers. Owens will join Almon as a defensive back, too.
Vinson said senior tight end Paul Mason is joining Almon and Gilcrease in attracting attention from colleges.
Senior Devante Glasper, also a college prospect, will be counted on for steady play on the offensive and defensive lines.
Also returning to the defensive front is junior Eddquerion Harris, who earned Class 1A All-State honorable mention in 2011. He is the younger brother of Eddrick.
Junior offensive lineman Matthew Cook said the team’s summer program of running and weightlifting is only a small part of the preseason.
“We are committed to playing more as a team this year,” Cook said. “We’ve got people who will step up and make us a better team than last year.”
Not only does a home contest against county rival Hatton open the season for the Chiefs on Aug. 31, R.A. Hubbard will christen its new stadium, behind the high school on Jesse Jackson Parkway.
The school is the former site of Central High, and former Central High athletes will be recognized at halftime.
“The stadium is shaping up, and we’re excited to be playing on campus,” Vinson said.
“It’ll be a great night for the community. These former athletes will be back on the field where they once starred.”
Junior tailback John Owens said he can’t stop thinking about playing in the new stadium. “It looks nice,” he said.
“I bet it is pretty at night. I can’t wait until the bright lights come on and people are in the stands screaming.” Vinson said the team’s season will depend on “giving ourselves better opportunities to be successful.” “We’ve got to be good on defense and offense, and great on special teams. We have got to run the football. To be successful in 1A, you have to have a good ground game.”
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