High school football is nearly back in eastern Alabama; teams are winding down their summer workouts, shifting their focus to the upcoming season and making final adjustments before the beginning of fall camp. Inside the locker room of the newly reclassified Valley Rams, excitement continues to build.

After a 4-5 campaign in 2021, head coach Adam Hunter’s squad has its sights set on a drastic improvement in the new year after making the drop down to 5A.

“Dropping down to 5A has really helped our motivation,” Hunter said. “I think our kids really bought into it and are excited to compete at the 5A level. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us; this schedule in our region is one of the toughest in 5A.”

Despite a classification change, Valley remains committed to preparation.

“This team has really bought into being very physical and getting stronger in the weight room,” Hunter said. “I told the kids the other day, this month of June has been the best since I’ve been at Valley, as far as working hard and building as a team. Our guys have really bought into it, and it was great seeing them come together, work hard, improve their skills on the football field.”

As is traditional at Valley, the 2022 squad will continue to be a defensive-minded unit.

“We’ve got pretty much everybody back defensively and that’s what our strong suit is going to be,” Hunter said. “We’re going to really play fast defense, fly to the football, bring a lot of pressure.”

According to Hunter, the Ram defense is not only the team’s strong suit, but the primary source of leadership.

“Kenny Stevens, one of our outside linebackers, he’ll be back,” Hunter said. “He had over 100 tackles for us last year so we’re looking for big things out of him. Isaiah Brogson, inside linebacker, he’s going to be a leader for us on the defensive side. Then, Quinn Story, defensive end, does a phenomenal job, probably one of the best turnarounds in the summer that I’ve seen in a kid. He’s really bought in.”

That being said, the orange and white offense is far from forgotten. The head coach is excited by the opportunity to teach rising junior quarterback Cam’ron Dooley.

“Offensively, we’re going to mix it up a little bit,” Hunter said. “We’ll spread it out some, then we’ll be rotating personnel. We’ve got (Dooley) coming back, our quarterback, he’ll be a junior.”

After showing early promise in his sophomore campaign, Dooley was forced out due to injury in 2022.

“Cam was fortunate to start the first four games for us last year, ended up having an injury that kind of set him back a little bit, so we’re excited to see what he can do for a full season,” Hunter said. “He’s a playmaker; he’s a competitor. He can throw it and he can run it, so we’re looking forward to building our offense around him.”

While acknowledging the importance of his skill positions, Hunter made a point to place emphasis on establishing the trenches.

“We want to be real physical up front, win the game up front in the trenches on both sides of the football,” Hunter said. “Our offense and defensive line are veterans, we’ve got a couple of young guys now on the offensive line, but they’ve come a long way and got reps last year.”

Between filling vacancies on both sides of the ball and adapting to a new set of opponents, 2022 is sure to be chock-full of challenges for the Valley Rams; Hunter and company appear to be up to the challenge.

Valley opens its season on the road against Handley, Aug. 19. The two teams last played in 2005, with the Rams coming up on the losing end.