‘A Special Group’

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Pictured above: #2, senior Markei Brooks (OLB), head coach Mike Glisson (middle), #62, senior AJ Braswell (C/DE) PHOTO BY ROBERT NOLES / OPELIKA OBSERVER

Smiths Station Prepared to Compete with the Best

By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

For seven straight seasons, the Smiths Station football team has failed to reach the playoffs.

Entering his fourth season at Smiths Station, head coach Mike Glisson believes this could be the year the Panthers return to post-season play.

“Two of my three years, we have been real close [to the playoffs],” Glisson said on Wednesday at Media Days in Opelika. “We’ve got to make the plays when it’s time to make them, and I do think this group has what it takes to make those plays.”

Markei Brooks and Al Braswell, two seniors who accompanied Glisson to Media Days, are convinced this year can be different, too.

“I feel like this can be one of the best seasons we’ve had and I feel like we are going to make it to November,” Brooks, an outside linebacker for the Panthers, said. “We have great coaches, great players, a good staff — and we have a great community around the school.”

Braswell, an offensive lineman, echoed his teammate’s ambition and said the Panthers have been getting “bigger, faster and stronger” this offseason.

“We won’t be overlooked and we can make it to November,” he said. “Most of us have never been in that type of experience, but I feel like what our community is doing for us, what we are doing for our community, they are going to be there for us.”

The Panthers finished last season 4-6, second from the bottom in the AHSAA Class 7A Region 2 rankings. With the return of spring training and normal summer practice (things that were nonexistent in 2020 due to COVID-19), Glisson said he feels his team can improve on that mark.

“It’s been a great summer for us,” he said. “Compared to last year with COVID … having them all summer is huge … having spring training is huge … I feel like we are so much further along right now than we were at this time last year. Our kids have worked really hard; we’re looking forward to the season, and we’re ready to play.”

Another reason the Panthers’ are feeling a renewed sense of confidence heading into the season is the revamped coaching staff.

“I think I got three guys on my staff that are former head coaches and about five or six coaches who are former coordinators,” Glisson said. “Any coach will get up here and tell you, you are only as good as the guys who work with you.”

Brooks and Braswell are buying into the staff’s teaching, and working toward setting the example for underclassmen below them.

“Our coaches, they put in a good game plan to win, and if we follow that, we can do whatever we need to do to get the job done,” Brooks said.

“It’s just us being able to become leaders and being able to teach these younger guys that we know what we are doing, we know what we can do and what we will do in the season,” Braswell added.

Smiths Station’s scoring production has regressed in each season under Glisson. The departure of last season’s quarterback, Corey Minton, means there is a big chunk of production to replace. Glisson is still optimistic, however, and he views this year’s crop of seniors as a key to improved results on the field.

“We got a good senior class that’s leading the right way and doing things the right way,” Glisson said. “These seniors have been in the weight room for four years, working the way we want them to work, being pushed the way we push them — it’s going to pay off.”

Smiths Station begins its season at home against Russell County on Aug. 21. In a region with traditional powerhouses like Central Phenix City, Auburn and Prattville, Smiths Station is apt to fall by the wayside.

“Of course our region is tough, like always,” Glisson said.

However, the Panthers are convinced this year will be different.

“I feel like Smiths Station has always been overlooked,” Brooks said. “The difference between then and now, the guys weren’t really understanding what they could do and what their potential was. We have a lot of courage now. A lot of confidence in ourselves and our coaches. I feel like we can do big things.”

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