By D. Mark Mitchell
The Opelika football team completed their first full week of fall practice with a scrimmage Friday afternoon inside Bulldog Stadium.
Coach Ross saw all three phases of his football team – offense, defense and special teams – and said the live scrimmage lived up to what he and his coaches expected.
There were no live hits for starting quarterback Cade Blackmon. The junior wore a yellow vest over his jersey, a precautionary measure designed to keep him from taking hits.
Ross said Cade doesn’t need to be hit in a team scrimmage to prove he is tough.
“I didn’t think it was necessary for Cade to be tackled like he will in a game. He is a physical player that played the entire second half of last year’s 6A championship game. He understands football,” Ross said after the scrimmage.
The scrimmage lasted 45 minutes, including a break and special teams practice.
Starting running back Branton Barnett was held out due to an ankle injury, but is expected to return soon.
The first team offense and defense went head-to-head for a short time during the scrimmage. The second team offense and defense also faced each other
Tyler Sellers and Dalton Cooper each rotated kicking and punting. It appears Cooper has the edge punting. Tyler Sellers and Cooper also rotated kicking off and extra points.
After the scrimmage, Ross and the All-Star Booster Club arranged an “appreciation” dinner for the folks that volunteer to handle the chains and press-box duties.
The chain-gang crew, led by “Head Coach” Bruce Heath and team members Tyler Gaphen, Bill Brown and Eric Canada.
The press box team includes the voice of announcers Eddie Owen and scoreboard operator Eddie Owen, and spotter Bob Johnson. All were present.
Mayor Gary Fuller and his “assistant coaches, Chief Johnny Mac, Fire Chief Byron Prather, Michael Hilyer, Derek Lee and Bill Trant joined the group for a Mrs. Story’s chili dog inside the indoor athletics facility.
Ross and his staff thanked each volunteer and expressed appreciation for their time.
Opelika High opens the season Aug. 25 at Smiths Station. The Panthers replace Carver of Columbus, Ga., who was the scheduled opener last season.
Georgia reclassified this year, which changed each school’s schedule. Carver had to play a region opponent the night of the Opelika game. This forced CHS to break contract and lose a home (Columbus) game with Opelika.
The same problem happened to Smiths Station. The Panthers lost a home game with a Georgia team.
This is why Opelika travels to Smiths Station to open the season.
I applaud both schools for working this game out.
Opelika and Smiths Station are 20 minutes apart and both bring large crowds. The game is normally a sellout! Let’s hope this series continues after this year.
Coach Ross, appearing on my sports radio show On the Mark last Thursday, talked about his starters.
The following is a list of potential starters and their position from Coach Ross’s interview.
Quarterback – Cade Blackmon
Running back- Brantan Barnett
Tight end- Melvin Billingsley
Wide receiver – Malik Wilson
Wide receiver – Conner Smith
Wide receiver -Jordan Heard
Left tackle -DeAndre Butler
Left guard- Blake Landers
Center -Hank Brown
Right guard -James Dawson
Right tackle- Justin Whitlow
Defensive lineman – -Talik Jackson
Defensive lineman- Callahan Saggus
Defensive lineman – Cameron Torbert
Defensive lineman- KeyShawn Dowdell
Linebacker – Corbin Nunn
Linebacker- JaQuan Foote
Strong safety- Kory McCoy
Free safety- Jaylen Stinson
WS- Jamias Pressley
Cornerback -Justin Lewis
Place kicker, kick-off specialist – Tyler Sellers
Punter – Dalton Cooper
Deep snapper for field goals and extra points- Hank Brown
Deep snapper for punts – Parker Rogers
Punt returners – Jamias Pressley and Jaylen Stinson
Kickoff returners – Brantan Barnett , Malik Wilson, Conner Smith
Opelika will play a 10-game schedule, which will include five home games and five road games.
The Dawgs open with 7A foe Smiths Station (Aug. 25) on the road, and return for the home opener Sept. 1 against rival Auburn.
6A Carver rolls to town Sept. 9 before the Dawgs hit the road for three-straight games, Chilton County on Sept. 14, Benjamin Russell of Alex City Sept. 22 and 7A Central of Phenix City Sept. 29.
The Bulldogs return home for Helena Oc. 6, then travel to Chelsea Oct. 13 for the last regular season road game.
OHS finishes with two region games against Wetumpka Oct. 20 and Pelham Oct. 27.
The Dawgs are off a week before payoffs begin.
This year’s Super 7 is at Bryant -Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
I will preview the opener against Smiths Station in next week’s column.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.