ON THE MARK
D. MARK MITCHELL
Students attending Opelika City Schools started the 2022-23 school year year this week. Students in the first through 12th grades,reported Monday for the first day of class.
Student-athletes participating in fall sports like football, girls’ flag football, volleyball and cross country have been preparing for their first game, match or meet for several weeks.
The Bulldog varsity football team started “fall” practice Aug. 1, which is considered summer by all. Needless to say, fall sports will start in the summer and end in the fall.
Opelika football head coach Erik Speakman begins his fifth season as the head coach of the varsity Bulldogs. OHS has 94 players on the team after almost two weeks of practice, which includes 29 seniors. Speakman talked about the upcoming season and team as a guest on “On the Mark”, my daily radio show on FOX Sports the Game 910-1310.
“The seniors have done well all the way through, from seventh grade to now,” he said. “A lot of great kids in this class, probably one of the better classes that has come through in my 23 years at Opelika. From an overall standpoint, attitude and athletic ability, this will be a fun group to watch. We have three new varsity coaches.Tucker Brown (former AU player from Central Florida) will coach tight ends, S-backs and help with special teams. Tory Strong was hired as girls’ track coach and has a wealth of football knowledge. Strong comes from Tuscaloosa County, where he was an assistant on Adam Winegarden’s staff. William Kahil (from Tallassee) was moved from Opelika Middle School to varsity after one season to coach the corners. We had some changes on our staff, which is unusual, but it is good to have these guys. We moved to 7A, which was no surprise because our 10th grade class is large. This puts us back in the same region when we had six classifications. Most of these kids do not remember us playing the same region because it was in 2017. These are familiar faces and will be a good challenge. The season opener is Aug. 19 at Callaway. Coach Pete Wiggins has been there 18 years and does an excellent job of coaching. They have a bunch of big boys that are athletic. We’ve battled them for several years and I look for the same this year. Theodore is the other non-region game on our schedule. They dropped to 6A and needed a game. We will play at home this year and at Theodore next season. This is a tough schedule, but we look forward to the challenge and I think our kids will be ready.”
Speakman said the defense will be solid and have several returning players, many of them seniors. The offense will be different due to the departure of offensive coordinator Jonathan Chandler, who left for Wetumpka. Chandler handled the offensive side, but this year’s offense will be by committee. Quarterback Roman Gagliano started at quarterback the second half of last year’s season and participated in the “Manning Passing Academy” this summer. Speakman “thanked” (1982 OHS graduate) J Stern for helping secure Gagliano a spot in the camp.
Opelika opens the season next Friday, Aug. 19, against Callaway in Hogansville, Georgia. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. central time. Callaway is 2-1 against Opelika, including a 30-21 win last year.
OHS FOOTBALL TIDBITS
OHS is the 28th largest school in Alabama and will play in class 7A for the first time in history.
The Bulldogs are 243-69 in the last 25 years, winning 77% of their games, which ranks 11th in the AHSAA. Based off of last year’s records, 76-39, this year’s strength of schedule is third in 7A. Teams and last year’s record: Auburn (10-2), Central (13-1), Dothan (4-6), Enterprise (8-4), Jeff Davis (4-6), Lee (8-3), Prattville (7-4), Smiths Station (2-8), Theodore (10-2) and Callaway (10-3).
D. Mark Mitchell is the sports director at iHeartRadio, host of “On the Mark” Fox Sports the Game 910-1310, co-chair of the Auburn-Opelika Sports Council, chairman of the Super 7 and Dixie Boys Baseball state director.