by D. Mark Mitchell
The 2016 AHSAA football season opens this week. Alabama high school teams are allowed 11 weeks to play up to ten games, beginning Aug. 18.
Opelika will host Carver of Columbus, Ga. in the season opener Friday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. This will be Coach Blackmon’s eighth season as the Bulldogs head coach. Blackmon is 56-23 overall, 34-11 against region teams and 7-6 in the AHSAA state playoffs.
In 2015, OHS finished with a 12-1 record which included a region championship. The Dawgs were eliminated from the 6A playoffs by eventual state champion, Spanish Fort, in the quarterfinal round.
Like all high schools, Opelika will have a number of new names to go along with the returning players. Following is a list of starting players and comments about each from Coach Blackmon.
Kicker – Austin Blackmon (Sr.) Coach: “Works hard and is a dependable kicker.”
Punter -John David Worth (Sr.) Coach: “Athletic punter with a strong leg.”
Punter -Carter Milner (Sr.) Coach: “Improving every day and I will not be afraid to put him in to punt.”
Long Snapper – Austin Morgan (Sr.) Coach: “Returning with experience and dependable. Will snap on punts.”
Long Snapper – Tristan Black (Sr.) Coach: “Will snap for extra points and field goals. Great kid that will contribute.”
Holder -Carter Milner (Sr.) Coach: “Extra points and field goals. Great hands. Experienced and will put the football on the tee regardless of a bad snap. ”
Returners – Jaleel Heard (Sr.) and Jamias Pressley (Jr.) Coach: “Both can catch the football and can go the distance. Big play potential. ”
Wide Receiver – Jaleel Heard (Sr.) Coach: “Great hands. Over 500 yards receiving last year. Big play potential.”
Wide Receiver – Jordan Heard (Jr.) Younger brother of Jaleel. Coach: ” First year to play football. Potential to be explosive.”
Inside Receiver /Slot – Tristan Black (Sr.) Coach: “Solid player and person. Not flashy but consistent and will catch the football.”
Inside Receiver/Slot – CJ Jordan (Jr.) Coach: “Dependable and will run the correct route. Great at downfield blocking ”
Fullback – Caleb Florence (Sr.) See next.
Fullback – Henry Smith T (Sr.) Coach: “Both guys are high character players with great skills.”
Running back – Weldrin Ford (Sr.) Coach: “Finally cleared to play after tearing up his knee in the ninth grade. All three ligaments were torn. Solid runner, gaining confidence everyday. ”
Running Back – Conner Smith (Jr.) Coach: “Fast and quick runner with speed.”
Quarterback -John David Worth (Sr.) Coach: “Smart and athletic, played receiver and back-up QB last year. ”
Tackle – Rock Chambers (Sr.) Coach: “ Three-year starter that will anchor the line. Very intelligent. Full ride to Duke where he will study to be a heart surgeon. ”
Tackle – Paul Money (Sr.) Coach: “Hard working and dependable. Played last year. Looking for big things. “Guard – Deandre Butler (Jr.) Coach: “Returning starter. Slimmed down and should keep improving. ”
Guard – Jordan Stevenson (Jr.) Coach: “First year starter. Size and smart.”
Center — Hank Brown (Jr.) Coach: “Solid center. Worked really hard in offseason.”
Strong Safety- Ahmad Butler (Sr.) Coach: “Can play corner. First year starter. ”
Free Safety – Jamious Pressley (Jr.) Coach: “The QB of the defense. Must stop big play. ”
Weak Safety – Will Boler (Sr.) Coach: “Returning starter. Ball hawk. Led team in interceptions last year ”
Linebacker – Brandon Gaffney (Sr.) Coach: “Focused and student of the game.”
Linebacker – Zach Yancey (Sr.) Coach: “Last year’s leading tackler, incredible instincts you can’t coach. Solid.”
Defensive End – Malik Jackson (Sr.) Coach: “Plays bigger than his size. ”
Defensive End – Demonte Martin (Sr.) Coach: “Returning starter, Must lead the line.”
Defensive Tackle – Callahan Saggus (Jr.) Coach:” “Big size. Stops the run. Returning player.”
Defensive Tackle – Kalif Kellum (Sr.) Coach: “Stops the run. Will be the tough to block.”
Nose Tackle – Christian Collins (Sr.) Coach: “Great kid with big heart. Tough inside.”
OPELIKA HOSTS CARVER OF
Opelika will open the football season Friday night against the Carver Tigers from Columbus, Ga.
This will be the third meeting between the two schools. Carver won the first two games 14-6 (1981) and 23-21 (1982).
The Tigers are coming off a 9-2 season, including a first round playoff loss in the GHSAA football playoffs.
This is a good opening opponent for Opelika. If the Tigers are as good as last year’s team, they will be a difficult challenge for the Dawgs.
The Tigers have a new head coach which leaves Bulldog coaches wondering what offense and defense they will run.
Coach Blackmon wants OHS to play a game against a quality team before heading to “the Duck” next week for the annual Opelika/Auburn game. Carver has the potential to be this quality team.
Opelika has questions. How will the new guys play? How will the guys playing quarterback play in a real game? The Bulldogs have a small but quick defensive front. The linebackers will have to step up and make most of the tackles.
Look for the Dawgs to play it close to the vest in the opener. The coaching staff wants a “win” in the season opener and I believe Opelika will get it in a close, low-scoring game.
ON THE RADIO
Fans can listen to all Opelika football games on WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM. The “Brian Blackmon Pre-Game Show” starts at 6:30 with kickoff set for 7 p.m. I will be broadcasting my 37th Opelika season as the “Voice of the Opelika Bulldogs.’ Former Opelika QB Jeff Sasser and former OHS head football coach, Larry Gore, will handle the commentary. My daughter, Mallory Mitchell, will handle the sideline reports.
You can also listen online at www.kickerfm.com, click listen live .
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.