By TIM GAYLE
Special to the Elmore/Autauga News
Only a dozen players – and one starter – return from the 2019 Autauga Academy squad that won the AISA Class AA state championship. And while there’s talent on the 2020 team, much of it is talent that played somewhere else in 2019.
“The challenge for us, like it’s been every year, is getting these guys on the same page,” Autauga Academy coach Bobby Carr said. “It’s not about what you did when you were at this school, you’re with us and you came here because you wanted to be part of something special.”
Junior Anden Hilyer (at linebacker) is the only returning starter and Hilyer will move around to a variety of positions on both sides of the ball. But while he may be the lone returning starter, there are seven other Generals who saw significant playing time last year that will step into starting roles this fall, so Hilyer doesn’t feel his status affords him a special leadership role.
“I’ve got a bunch of guys I’ve always played with, but I don’t like to look at it like I’m the leader of the team,” he said. “I like to put everybody at the same level. But I do try to bring guys together to play.”
That will be the key, Carr said, along with the roles played by tight end Josh Palmer, receiver Noah Ray, linemen Brandon Strength and John Howard Tatum, cornerback Amari Shorter and linebacker Tucker Cousins. They’ll set the championship standard for a group of transfers who haven’t had the team success Autauga has at their previous schools.
“We’re still putting the pieces together,” Carr said. “I feel like, skill-wise, we’re as good as we’ve been the last four years and that’s a big statement. The question mark, as always for us, is at quarterback, having Tripp (Carr) the first three years there and then Octavius Palmer did a great job and Ty (Freeman) did a good job (last year). But Lake Barber is a junior who’s been at Autauga for years and was our junior high quarterback. Lake is a lot like Tripp – small in stature, has a good arm, is one of the fastest guys we have on the team and he’ll be able to extend plays with his feet.”
Behind him will be sophomore tailback Kaylen Griffin, a transfer from Robert E. Lee. Javonte Stubbs, a transfer from Selma High, “will be as dynamic as any player in this area on all levels. He was their best receiver at Selma last year” and will be the Generals’ return specialist in addition to his big-play capabilities on offense.
Another transfer receiver, Donte Henry from Marbury, “will be expected to do a lot of things,” Carr said. “We’ll line him up at strong safety on defense, he can play Wildcat quarterback or receiver.”
Henry’s got a brother Caden who will fill out the linebacker corps along with Hilyer and Cousins and another brother, Phillip Head, who will move into a starting position at guard.
In addition to Strength and Tatum on the offensive line, there are three transfers who are expected to provide immediate help to the Generals – Head, Chilton County transfer Darius Nix, who started at left tackle for the 6A Tigers last year as a sophomore, and Deilmelik Livingston, a sophomore who at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds may have the most potential of the group.
Nix is one of three Chilton County starters who transferred to Autauga, along with Jayquon Cohen and Britton Worrall in the secondary. Amari Shorter, who will line up opposite A.J. Perry at corner, is one of four returning Autauga seniors on the team.
Unlike last year, Hilyer, Palmer, Livingston, Head and Nix are among those penciled in as starters on both sides of the ball.
“On the field, I think we’re as athletic as we’ve been,” Carr said. “The depth isn’t quite what it has been and that’s probably our biggest weakness.”
The Generals lost one of their opponents (Vernon, Fla., was a coronavirus casualty), leaving Autauga with a nine-game schedule that includes one very familiar name (Escambia Academy) in the region and three teams from west Alabama – Patrician, Wilcox and Southern. Still, even with a new roster full of transfers, it’s a safe bet Autauga will be playing well into November with an eye on another state championship.
“We’re way better now than we were last month and I feel like next month we’ll be a lot better than we are this month,” Carr said. “If we continue that climb, we’ll have a great opportunity to be the last one standing again for the third year in a row.”