By Wil Crews

The Opelika Dawg Pound saw a strong finish to its 2020 season when it competed in the Pensacola Hype Classic on Dec. 11-13 and Independent Nationals on Dec 18-20.

“I would like to thank everyone that helped us throughout the year,” said Director of the Opelika Dawg Pound Anthony Bryant. “Everyone who has donated, contributed to a fundraiser or just given anything to us, we just want to say we gladly appreciate that. It made a world of difference for the boys.”

The 8U, 10U and 12U teams participated in the Pensacola Hype Classic in Pensacola, Florida – their third tournament of the season – and the 10U and 12U were crowned champions. The 8U failed to place, but it wasn’t all bad news. Bryant said the director of the independent nationals was at the Pensacola Hype tournament and, based off the gritty performance of the Dawg Pound’s 8U team, invited them to have a spot at Independent Nationals. They, the 10U and the 12U teams all went to the tournament in Biloxi, Mississippi, and they did not waste the opportunity.

“[The director] saw how good they played,” Bryant said of the 8U team. “Even though they didn’t win, he actually invited them as well.” 

With less than a week’s rest after the tournament in Pensacola, the three Opelika Dawg Pound teams all placed at the Independent Nationals. The 8U team made the most of their personal invite and earned a second place finish. The 10 team won the tournament (in their respective age group) and the 12U finished third after losing a highly-contested defensive game in the semifinals, 7-0. 

“We lost a really, really hard-fought game,” Bryant said. “

For the 12U team, it was a bittersweet ending to a run that began, for some, four years ago. Many of the players on the 12U team were on the Opelika Dawg Pound’s original team that Bryant started in 2017. The difficulties that the original team faced in their first year – still learning the game and finishing with a 3-14 record – unknowingly prepared them for the difficulties they would face this year.

“This group of guys was a real special group for me,” Bryant said. “They went through a lot of hardships.”

The season began in disappointing fashion as the 12U went 1-4 in league play. Bryant said he attributes the slow start to COVID-related shutdowns that led to practice cancellations and hurt the teams’ ability to build confidence and chemistry.

“COVID shut us down,” Bryant said. “We had a couple kids who got COVID, so we had to shut down and we missed out on a lot of practice. We were kind of at a disadvantage.”

Still, the Dawg Pound worked harder to finish the season strong, placing in all four of the tournaments they participated in – winning two – and finishing with a 9-2 record overall.

“They were putting up major points,” Bryant said about his 12U teams’ tournament performances. “They had a lot of shutouts. They were scoring 20 plus points a game. We had great leadership, great quarterback play. It was just a great feeling to see them win because they have been through so much. It’s kind of like a redemption story for those guys.” 

Next, the Dawg Pound will have an end-of-season banquet to recognize the accomplishments of the different teams on Jan. 9. Bryant said that none of those accomplishments would have been possible without the support of the community, and he is thankful for that.

 Soon, the Dawg Pound will shift their focus to 2021. Tryouts for next year begin in February; conditioning and agility training begin in March; 7 on 7 football begins in April.

“Next year we’re looking for bigger and better things,” Bryant said.