School: Russell County
2013 record: 5-6
Key players: Byron Johnson, Majik Sanders, Simeon Hill, Marquez Relf, Frederick Hoskins, William Peebles, Deontae Gillis, Josh Washington
Key game: vs. Dothan, Oct. 24 at Russell County
Outlook: For a team coming off its best season in 15 years, the 2014 offseason wasn’t optimal.
Former coach Demond McCoy stepped down to accept a job as an assistant principal at Russell County Middle School, and the search for a new coach dragged deep into July when last year’s defensive coordinator Vincent Wiggins was named the interim for the upcoming season.
Ready or not, though, a football season is coming, and Wiggins says the approach won’t be any different than the last.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’re going to be extremely young, but I think we’re going to have a chance to be a pretty good football team. I’m not looking at it as if I’m an interim. I’ve been at the school for a year, and I’ve been working out with these student-athletes all summer long, so I’m not looking at it that way. I’m looking at it as if I’m the head coach. I’ve been faced with these challenges before, at Jeff Davis when I was hired late in the process. All you can do is roll your sleeves up and work hard, and that’s what I’m accustomed to and that’s what we’re going to do.”
With three returning starters on offense and four on defense, that’s what the Warriors have to do to begin with. Wiggins admitted that there will be plenty of youth across the board and that players will have to grow up fast in order to contend from the get-go. Seven of 22 starters on offense and defense will be either a freshman or sophomore as it stands now.
One player who will have the experience, though, will be senior quarterback Byron Johnson, who will go into his third season under center.
“My first year, I came in scared,” Johnson said. “First game, I played scared. Last year, I picked it up. This year, I just hope to have my best year ever.”
He said he’d take a larger part in the leadership of the team, both on offense and defense, where he plays linebacker. Last year, the 6-foot-4 passer tossed for 574 yards and six touchdowns on an offense that made the ground attack its primary weapon. With the loss of running back Joshua Johnson, who carried 152 times for 1,093 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore before transferring to Opelika this offseason, Byron Johnson will be counted on to be a bigger piece of the offense.
Defensively, Russell County lost the vast majority of its production from a year ago. Behind players like Caleb Smith, Chevel Smith, Courtney Allen and Cortez Gunn, the unit was the team’s biggest strength. Allen, too, transferred to Opelika, while the other three graduated.
Players like Dennis Brown, Charlie Lloyd, A’Ryan Caples, Dominique McMillian, Deontae Gillis, Jerome Battle, Byron Johnson, Keon Thomas, Gregory Williams, Derrick Harper, Corey Person and others will all be leaned upon to match last season’s production.
Wiggins admitted that Russell County is still in its infant stages as a growing football program. He said he thought the team could be pretty good this year, but shied away from making this season’s success the ultimate goal.
“We’re trying to build a football program, one that’s going to be a consistent playoff contender,” he said. “That takes time. We think we’re going in the right direction.”