#1 Central-Phenix City and #3 Hoover will play in the 2019 Champions Challenge at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama Friday night. The defending 7A Champions Central comes off a 14-0 season and look to repeat this season.
Both teams have experience coming back in key positions and really could play again in the finals in the 2019 playoffs since the Red Devils are in the south region and the Bucs are in the north region. Head Coach Jamey DuBose has a 54-9 overall mark at Central along with five region titles with a 29-1 region record. DuBose has a 7A championship with Central and a 6A championship with Prattville. Head coach Josh Niblett holds a 138-20 record at Hoover with seven region titles and six state championships.
"We have an opportunity to play an elite program like Hoover, who would turn that down," said DuBose. "This is a great opportunty to play the best. We are judged by Hoover for the standards that they have set. We are chasing them and this is how you get better as a program to play the best."
"Coach DuBose and myself go way back coaching against each other when he was at Susan Moore and I was at Oneonta," said Niblett. "It continued when he was at Prattville. There kids are always well coach and he does a great job of putting them in great situations to be successful. You have to be ready but he's going to make you a better football team. We tell our guys, there is going to be a good team and there is going to be a really good team. When Friday night is over with we will find out who we are. It's not who we are now, it's about who we will be in the end."
Central comes into the game with six offensive and six defensive players returning. It will start at the quarterback position for the Red Devils as Tucker Melton will take the reigns from Peter Parrish who is now playing at LSU. Melton, a Bowling Green verbal commit, has a big arm and looks to make big plays down field. Melton played in big games and made big plays last season. "We just need to keep working hard everyday," said the Red Devils QB Melton. "Were big, fast and pretty physical so we need to keep getting after it." The senior QB completed 61-of-94 passing for 1,092 yards with 11 touchdowns along with 156 yards on 36 carries and three touchdowns. "Wesley is our leader and had a lot of experience last year," said DuBose. "We has a big arm that can stand tall in the pocket and make the big pass downfield."
Trey Miles could get some playing time at quarterback to give the Red Devils a different look. Miles has a lot of quickness with his legs along with a good arm while Melton has the big passing arm. Look for Miles to be inserted after the third series in this game. "This is just what we do playing two quarterbacks," added DuBose. "Trey is a lot like Parrish. He has great speed. Spins the ball real well. We runs the read option and he will get his chance. He is a little of the unknown but look for to seeing what he can do on the field."
At receiver, gone is Justyn Ross who is doing big things at Clemson. Returning though is E.J. Williams. Williams has big speed and will look to get deep down the field for Melton. Robert Marsh and Peter Jakes look to give the quarterbacks big play weapons for the Red Devils. Williams will be making his college choice on August 24 at 2 pm (EST). He could be following Ross to Clemson.
At running back, A'Montae Spivey who looks to make his way on the field at Arkansas this season, return Joseph McKay. The junior running back had an 80-yard touchdown run vs Lee-Montgomery and a touchdown run against Thompson in the 7A championship game last season. Last season, McKay had over 500 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns. Look for Dexter Wright to get carries along with McKay. Wright has all the tools along with McKay for a solid 1-2 punch.
On the offensive line, Javion Cohen and Joshua Jones return. Both had big years this past season. Cohen, at 6-5, 275-pounds, is an Auburn verbal commit while Jones, at 6-5, 304-pounds, is a Kentucky commit. Mason Cook is another talented offensive lineman and he has a big offer from Illinois that he is pondering over. "We do have some talent on offense and people know that," added DuBose. "We just have to put it together. The strength of the team is the offense and hopefully we can take a little pressure off the defense to start the season."
The defense has some holes that need to be filled especially in the secondary. Safety Mike Harris is the only returner and will be a key piece in the Red Devils secondary. Harris has offers from Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, and Tennessee. Terrell Gordon is another key returner in the secondary for the Red Devils. Gordon holds an Ole Miss offer.
At linebacker, Jadon Richardson and P.J. Ramsey return and add Billy Keyt and Chase Alexander to the linebacker group. Vontavious Maddox, B.J. Randolph, Ralen Robinson and Byron Jenkins will be on the defensive front. "The strength of team could be the D-line," said DuBose. "We have the most returners on the defensive front. We have to grow in the secondary. We have some athletic guys but they need experience. There is a lot of jobs open in the secondary. We have to find those guys."
The Hoover Bucs lost to Thompson in the 7A north region playoff game last season on a last minute drive and are hungry to get back in the 7A state championship game but have a few obstacles in their way playing in the toughest region in 7A.
The offense all starts with quarterback Robby Ashford. The Ole Miss verbal commit will need to stay healthy for the Bucs offense to go. Ashford can scramble for a big gain and throws the deep ball as good as anyone. Ashford looks to play baseball and football at the University of Mississippi. "Robby is a dynamic player that has to put us in some good situations," said Niblett. "He does a great job of scrambling and our receivers have to do a good job of getting open. He has such a strong arm and a dynamic athlete on the field."
The running game is in good shape with Anthony Hayes and Dylan Betts-Pauley. Hayes has speed that can break a long run at anytime. Betts-Pauley is a powerful back that can run you over when he gets through the line. The junior running back holds offers from Kansas, UAB and Vanderbilt. Also, Messiah Tolen will get touches in the backfield for the Bucs. "We need to keep our composure at times on offense," said Bucs RB Hayes. "We will see on Friday how we have put things together this fall. We all have been working hard along with Robby and we need to stay on the same page with him to work together as a unit."
At receiver, the Bucs come into the season with no varsity receptions to start the year. The group of Malik Thomas, Cooper Tullo, R.J. Hamilton and Jamari Buye will get the first look at receiver. Tullo is a good possession receiver and will be a solid look from Ashford on third down. Hamilton is a freshman. It's been a long time a freshman started at Hoover. John Propst was the last freshman starter for Niblett back in 2006. "I thought we made some strides in the Spring but we only had 10 practices," added Niblett. "Once we go into the summer with 7-on-7's to the end, I thought our guys started making plays, getting those 50/50 balls. You want to see if our receivers can create a mismatch, can he win a 50/50 ball, does he understand coverages those type of things. It's not all about routes but where is Robby going to put the ball. In fall camp, we had good energy. We are running a lot of guys through with the dog days of fall camp."
The offensive line has David Bodden, Nick Paradise, Harrison Ozgun, Juan Sparks and Luke Godwin. Bodden played center last season and will move over to right guard this season. "I see potential in our line," said Bucs OL Bodden. "We are young but we just need to execute to the best of our ability."
On defense, the secondary will be the strength of the team. Cornerback Codey Martin brings a lot of talent and leadership. Martin has offers to Jacksonville State, Kent State, Southern Miss, Temple and Toledo. Safety Kory Chapman is another outstanding secondary player for the Bucs. The Bucs could have the best cornerback combination in 7A with Martin and Seth Parker. "We have a lot of spirit in us," said Bucs CB Parker. "I feel like everyday we have a chip on our shoulder to get better."
At linebacker, Marcus Williams, Jeptha Kilgore, Josh Smith and Aarren Smith look to make this 3-4 Bucs defense go. The defensive line has Joseph Davis, Sam Suswam and Drew Tountasakis. "We see more speed out of our offense that has to get our speed up on defense," said Bucs DL Davis. "We try to be more physical each day in practice but you have to mentally tough to do that and that is what we are learning each day in fall camp."
With kicker Will Reichard playing for Alabama, Constantine Hontzas will fill the punting and kicking roles for the Bucs.
This big matchup in this game is going to be the young Bucs receivers against the unexperienced corners for the Red Devils. What a great matchup to start the season. See you all in Montgomery on Friday.