The Gardendale Rockets come into the season ready for a big 2020 season. With a lot of experience coming back on defense and a three year starter at quarterback, the Rockets could make a big splash when playoffs roll around if they can stay healthy.
Gardendale finished last season with a second round loss to Muscle Shoals in the playoffs and look to build on that when the end of the season comes around.
With the pandemic going on, the head coach has more things off the field to worry about. "This is a whole new world for coaches," said Rockets head coach Chad Eads. "Were figuring our way through this. Our biggest priority is keeping kids safe. Not only are we concerned about injuries but now we have to add the virus to worry about. We want parents to know that we are keeping things clean here. Were excited about the season but not about wearing the masks but it's just part of it right now."
On offense, the Rockets are led by Will "Goose" Crowder at quarterback. The West Virginia verbal commitment can run it at his 202-pound frame or can throw it with his accurate strong arm. Last season, the senior QB completed 185-of-303 passing for 2,295 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"Summer has been going great being back with the team," said Crowder. "We have some new faces at receiver but they have been working hard. We have a few players on defense that will give the offense a boost. I believe we have one of the best defenses in the state and facing them everyday it will just make the offense better."
At running back is LT Sanders. Sanders can run it or has solid hands out of the back field. "When I first come into the huddle, I want to make a big play because after I make one big play it will carry over throughout the whole game and lead to a big touchdown," said Sanders. "If feel like I bring a dedication to the game and I'm willing to do anything to make our team successful."
Sanders looks to build on his 2019 season where he rushed for 852 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 31 catches and two touchdowns.
The offensive line has two experienced players and three newcomers. That might be a problem for most schools but Coach Eads is one of the best line coaches in the state when he was at Hoover. Two of the experienced linemen are Jafet Colato and Blake Lowe. Both seniors look to lead this young offensive line. Three juniors will play a key role in the line. At center, Joseph Herold has some experience. Cole Jenkins and Nate Wright round out the offensive line. Look for this group to come together by the first game.
The receiving core has the least experience on the team and look to make the necessary improvements. Tight end Nic Odem is a big target for Crowder. Wide receiver Brendan Pickens is in the receiver conversation.
The defense line is loaded with talent and experience. "We have some talent and some hard nosed kids that play hard," added Eads. "Isaiah Robinson is the grandpa of the group as a junior. Kelby Collins is a hard worker, shows up everyday and does his job as a sophomore."
Robinson stands at 6'0" and at 285-pounds is quick to the ball for his size. "I feel like we can be really good upfront this year," said the Rockets defensive lineman Robinson. "I trust the guys besides me that we can execute our game plan week to week. We have a lot of talent on our defensive line and I can't wait for it to show this year."
Sophomore Collins is a big time player for the Rockets. Collins holds D1 offers from Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina, Nebraska, Kentucky and hometown UAB.
The linebackers are Kenny McShan and transfer Cole Fuller. McShan is a Navy verbal commitment and led the team with 148 tackles last season. Fuller has offers from Jacksonville State and UT Martin.
The secondary is led by Justin Parks. The Arkansas State verbal commitment has the speed to keep you from the long ball and size to hit you on the line to stop a run play. When asked about playing offense a few plays, a game a big grin came on his face. Look for Parks to be talking to those offensive coaches for a few plays during the game.
At corner, Derek Carter will be looking to lockdown opposing teams best receivers. Carter can get in your face on the line and has great speed. Another smart defensive back against the run. Carter has offers from UT Martin, Tennessee-Chattanooga and North Alabama.
Junior Colby Thomas will be handling the kicking duties.
The Alabama Sports Writers Association has the Rockets at #10 in the preseason but something tells me they are going to be a lot better than that. When our rankings come out look for Gardendale to be in our Top 5 later this month.
Gardendale had to cancel their game with Calhoun, Georgia due to COVID-19 on August 28 but agreed to travel to Smiths Station to fill that hole in the schedule. Gardendale will open the season against a good 7A Sparkman team to open the 2020 season.