By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
2021 was a year of tangible improvement for head coach Matt Johnson and the Reeltown Rebels’ football program. After posting a 5-5 record and missing the playoffs just one year before, the group saw a noticeable improvement in offensive production, sustained success on the defensive side of the ball and earned the opportunity to compete in the AHSAA state playoffs.
Despite falling short against Opp in the first round last fall, the seventh-year head coach believes that his group is continuing to progress in 2022 and has the right attitude and talent to return to heights the Rebels have soared to in recent memory.
“We’ve had a great offseason and a great spring,” Johnson said at Media Days last week. “We’re replacing a lot from last season but we’ve got a lot coming back. We’re returning six starters defensively and five starters offensively; we’re young in some spots and our skills positions, but there’s a lot of talent there.”
As far as work in the trenches goes, the Rebel front is a blended mixture of returning starters and younger guys who Johnson believes can make an immediate impact.
“Up front — on both sides of the football — we’re returning some experience,” Johnson said. “We lost a little bit more defensively, on the offense we returned some guys… and some younger guys are stepping up.”
According to the head coach, player development extends well beyond the realm of up-front work; his entire squad has bought in.
“I’ve been really impressed with the summer program,” Johnson said. “How they worked, how they’ve embraced the work and how we’ve started coming together. It seems like the harder you work and the harder it gets there’s one of two choices: You start pointing fingers and ready to go home, or you embrace the work, they’ve started to do that.”
Player buy-in has likely been imperative in the offseason as the Rebels prepare to roll out with an approach which will look significantly different from years past on both sides of the ball.
“We’re a little bit different as far as personnel-wise,” Johnson said. “We’ve had to change some things up on both sides of the ball. That’s actually been exciting too; that’s part of this game.”
Between the work done on the field and in the weight room, there is little doubt that Johnson’s group is preparing to compete in 2022; this year presents a renewed opportunity to compete in a classification which they’ve found success with in the past.
“We’ve been 3A the past three years, which was kind of new to us,” Johnson said. “We’re back in 2A for the next couple of years in a new region with a lot of really good football teams here — a lot of great coaches and a lot of guys I’m real close with.”
As Johnson and company continue to prepare for the new challenges which lie ahead, their date with cross-town rival Tallassee draws nearer and nearer. The Rebels will open their season in what one might depict as the most impactful game of the year for their community on Friday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. CST.