New Regime at Glenwood Hopes to Return to Winning Ways
By Wil Crews
SMITHS STATION —
Following years of consistently challenging for titles in the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) Class AAA, the Glenwood Gator varsity football team finished 6-5 in the 2021 regular season, losing out in the playoff semifinals to Pike Liberal Arts, 29-6.
Despite reaching the playoff semifinal, 2021 was what many would consider a down season for Glenwood, as the Gators reached the state championship the previous two years running.
Now, Glenwood has new head football coach, Ryan Nelson, who spent 2011-19 as offensive coordinator from Central Phenix City, 2020 at Lowndes High School and last season at Grissom High School.
“He’s been a great coach to us; he pushed us every day,” said one player at Media Days last Wednesday. “He not only treats us as his players, but he treats us like we are sons to him.”
Nelson replaces Jason Gibson, who helmed the Gators the previous six years.
“Coach Gibson did a wonderful job,” Nelson said. “The big thing for me is, they haven’t actually won [the state championship game] in 30 years. For us, we talk about the state championship every day. We are not running from it; we aren’t hiding from it. That’s what the goal is.”
The departure of 5-star defensive back A.J. Harris by way of Central Phenix City, and some other key producers graduating, further signals the changing of the guard in the program. Since he arrived in January, Nelson and his staff have worked diligently to instill their brand of football into the program.
“The first day I came in we started our offseason program,” Nelson said. “The guys accepted me and we hit the ground running. We were able to get a lot of the young guys and develop them in spring. But since June 1, we have had an amazing summer. The guys have been grinding it out. The kids have worked extremely hard. We have high expectations. We are here to win. We have a good roster and a lot of good players.”
The Gators return about 10 starters from last year’s team, according to their coach. Nelson plans to lean on returning quarterback Dallas Crow and others to push the rest of the squad to new heights.
“We got some guys who are inexperienced like everyone else,” Nelson said. “The main thing for us is getting out there every day and competing against ourselves.”
Nelson said he plans to bring an aggressive and fast play style to Glenwood.
“We will play up tempo; we will play fast,” he said. “I’ve been at the highs of 7A and people ask if you can do that in this league. Well, football is football. “Offensively we are going to be very aggressive. Defensively we are going to fly around and be aggressive. At the end of the day, if you can give some of these teams something they don’t see every day, it will be a benefit for us.”
Over the course of the offseason, Glenwood installed new sod and new lights to its playing field. Both of these efforts signal the renewed commitment to the greatness that Nelson, his staff, the school and the players have taken up.
“It’s all for the kids,” Nelson said of the field upgrades. “We are trying to give them the best environment they could possibly have to play on and be proud about.”
The Gators have a tough schedule per usual in 2022. Nelson’s experience at the highest level of public school football, however, gives him confidence that Glenwood can compete with anyone.
“We are not going to be fearful of anyone we play,” he said. “If we fail, it’s not going to be because we are timid.”
The Gators begin their campaign with two non-region, cross-town rivals in St. Anne-Pacelli and Brookstone. It’s a test Nelson believes will set his team up for success in the long run.
“We are expecting two battles out the gate from them,” he said. “I believe in playing really quality opponents early in the season to challenge us to see where we are at.”
Regardless of how the start to the year shakes out, Nelson reiterated there is only one goal for the Gators in 2022 — it’s championship or bust.
“We are going to do everything in our power to take it one week at a time to try and be 1-0 each week,” Nelson said. “But the ultimate goal is to first win the region championship, and then put some hardware up there that hasn’t been there since 1992.”
Glenwood opens its season on Aug. 19 against St. Anne-Pacelli in a non-region road game.