The Tuscaloosa County Wildcats will host Paul W Bryant at Wildcat Stadium on a special Thursday night opener for both teams. Bryant lost to Stanhope Elmore in the first round of the 6A playoffs last season and have made it to the playoffs three out of the last four years. Tuscaloosa County hasn't it made it to the playoffs since 2014 and hope to turn that around this season.
The two teams back in January decided to play this game on Thursday night to be one of the few games to kickoff the 2020 season. "I really wanted to be the only game in town," said Wildcats Head coach Jay Todd. "When Coach Hill and I discussed this, obviously the Covid-19 wasn't even happened yet, because we had conversations back in January of 2020. I think the people of Tuscaloosa and Northport are looking for a little sense of normalcy and being the first day of school, the walls will be climbing of anticipation and excitement. This will give people a burst of energy that they can show in the stands and so we are exciting about the Thursday night game."
Paul Bryant has some experience but some youth from last season in hopes to have a big season. "This is the beginning of a new day," said Stampede Head coach Eldrick Hill. "We say this to our team before practice begins from a quote from Coach Bryant. We tell our players that any given day this all can be taken away and don't take anything for granted. When Thursday hits, we are going to be overly excited. When the ball is in the air, it's going to be lights out with our team busting their tales to play their hardest." With Covid-19 and what teams have to deal with it is definitely a new day.
The Paul Bryant offense need to average more points and be more balanced this season if they want to advance in the playoffs. Running back Jordan Evans is a big weapon for the Stampede. "Jordan is the baby Roydell Williams," said Hill. "Powerful runner, speedy with shiftiness. He just a blue collar mentality that just comes to work everyday. When the ball is in his hands, he is very dynamic and look to have a big season."
At quarterback, sophomore first-year starter Cameron Ellis is going to be that guy. "He has great mechanics and a good understanding of the offense," added Hill. "Really, really good. Starting to grow into his own. A pocket passer and can make sure everyone is in the right spot. We have seen him since middle school, played some freshman and JV games last year and so we have seen him progress over the years. Were looking to be more balanced and he gives a chance not to be one way on just running the ball. Being balanced is a key, but a good running game will setup the pass more."
Junior Javion Watkins can stretch the field for the Stampede. Watkins is a track and field athlete and has tremendous speed and leaping ability. Look for a few more wrinkles being added to the offense this season.
The offensive line will return five starters and will be the strongest of all the groups. They have the most continuity of each group. Jmir Turner, Emanuello Mindillo, Roger Clay, Jamal Woods and Traveon Pittman. The group stayed together last season and look to get better and better each game.
The Stampede defense is loaded with talent. Brylan Lanier is moving from his cornerback position to safety to help place the defense in the right spots. "He is very unique skill set," said Hill. "He is very quick with great speed. You could see him on the offensive side of the ball. He is elite with his ball skills. Football intelligence. Very smart player on and off the field. Great leadership skills that players look up to him. We have young guys we can put at corner so he can put guys into position. Overall, he is becoming a great defensive back." Lanier has many offers including UAB, Sanford, South Miss, Toledo, and Tulane just to name a few.
One of the best tacklers on the team is Matthew Porter. Porter had 78 tackles along with two defensive touchdowns along with nine sacks last season. He plays all over the field. Tobias Howard and Kenneth Archibald return on the defensive side of the ball. Look out from Porter, he is a high motor guy that is very strong. He might get some plays at mike linebacker but plays defensive end most of the game.
For Tuscaloosa County coming off a 2-8 record look to rebound in 2020 but play in the hardest region in 7A along with dealing with the virus restrictions and the loss of Coach Little. With games with Hoover, Thompson, Hewitt-Trussville and Vestavia Hills, the Wildcats will need to get ready in a hurry for these region 3 games looming. "Everyone has a part to do with the Covid-19 deal," added Todd, "I think our parents understand this, this a choice for any one to opt out but also to opt in. There is always have adversity to overcome. We are learning to overcome in difficult times on and off the field. Life doesn't care who you are or your status. The message we put out their is God is good. There are situations that are going to be difficult but having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is going to help us through these times."
On offense, the Wildcats have one of the best running backs in Class 7A. Damien Taylor rushed for 1,851 yards and 17 touchdowns with zero fumbles. "Damien has great parents that have raised a great kid," said Todd. "We is a great leader, the hardest worker on the team, a great person to be around, a great student in the classroom and a great teammate and locker room guy." The Troy commitment is looking to have a big 2020 season. If stays healthy, don't be surprised if he rushes for over 2,000 yards this year. "He was definitely a bright spot last season for them," said Hill. "We hope to sneak in an extra hat and get 12 to the ball. Great runner with great vision and had big games against Thompson and other good defenses."
At quarterback, the Wildcats have two that they are looking at in fall practice and both bring different strengths to the team. Brax Garrison and Connor White look to get reps during the season. Both had playing time last season due to injuries. "Brax having a year under his belt is big along with a year with Coach Williams our offensive coordinator those two have grown tremendously along with Connor White," added Todd. "Both guys have their strengths so it's our job to know what they do well to help the team be successful."
On the offensive line, Kendarius "KD" Small is the lone returner with experience. Small has a big part of the offensive line that produced big numbers for Taylor last season. Tyrell Williams and Hayden Parks will work in at center. Logan Skelton, Cage Coger, Gene Rodriguez, Cooper Combs and Matthew McDaniel.
The Wildcats defense is ready to make big strides this season. Coach Todd said that the defense will play fast but might have tried to give them to much last season. The Wildcats are looking to be fundamental sound and to live another down by not giving up the big play.
The Wildcats have an experienced player at the defensive line, linebackers and in the secondary. Tolando McCaa is having a big fall and is big on rushing the quarterback. Senior Austin Pate is looking to be big at the linebacker position and three-year starter Darrius Williams. Williams has offers from Culver-Stockton, Birmingham-Southern, Faulkner and Huntingdon.