By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
ALEXANDER CITY —
Each year, the high school football season presents a multitude of storylines that captivate fans and media alike. Oftentimes, these stories are centered around comeback players, overlooked teams or outside factors beyond an individual’s control. At Benjamin Russell High School, 2022 presents a unique storyline: The beginning of the last chapter in the accomplished head coaching career of Smitty Grider.
After 17 years of coaching football, Grider made the decision to hang up his clipboard in 2021; that is, until he received an opportunity with the Benjamin Russell Wildcats and realized that he was not quite ready to call it quits.
“Back in November, I thought that it was time for me to stop coaching,” Grider said. “But after a couple of months I knew that I still had a strong desire to do this. I’m really fortunate for the opportunity at Benjamin Russell.”
The longtime play caller’s excitement extends beyond the football program he now leads, and the Alexander City community has already left a positive impression.
“Really excited for the opportunity,” Grider said. “Alexander City is a great town, a great football town. I’ve been coaching against him since (1995) and I’ve always been impressed with not only the football program over there but with the tradition and the community.”
On the field, Grider believes that the Wildcats possess the talent to turn heads in 2022.
“We’ve got good players,” Grider said. “I was really impressed with our skill guys, especially when I came in. I feel like — on both sides of the ball — we’ll be able to compete with anyone on that level.”
As far as preparation work goes, Grider claims that the biggest challenge to his late start with the Wildcats was not player development; assembling a staff in June was a true uphill battle.
“We got out there and got going,” Grider said. “We kind of had an idea of where to start with them — as far as their positions — but the biggest challenge was putting a staff together. Having friends in the business helps… I didn’t want to just hire someone to have a body.”
According to the newly named head coach, the player buy-in has been a spectacle which should not be overlooked. The Wildcats are focused on one thing: winning ball games.
“All of them are talking about winning,” Grider said. “The last three years have been difficult. These guys have had three head coaches in three years; winning is important. It’s important to them, it’s important to our community and we want to do it the right way.”
Benjamin Russell will look to improve upon a 3-7 record in 2021 and to return to the AHSAA playoffs in Grider’s first season; the road to the Wildcats’ dreams begins on Friday, Aug. 19, when the group plays host to the Aggies of Sylacauga at 7 p.m. CST.