BY TIM GAYLE
SPECIAL TO THE ELMORE/AUTAUGA NEWS
When you consider that Wetumpka has put itself in the championship conversation for three consecutive years, a 6-6 record in 2019 was a huge disappointment. There were growing pains on the defensive side of the ball – the Indians surrendered 28 or more points seven times last season – that no amount of offensive talent could overcome.
“When you think about the fact that we started six sophomores on defense, we had more inexperienced players start this past year than we’ve had since our first year (in 2012),” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “So the inconsistency, I think, we can attribute that to the inexperience. I thought the older guys did a great job in helping lead, they didn’t get frustrated. As coaches, we were just excited we were able to play consistent enough to get in the playoffs.”
But something was missing from a team that played in Tuscaloosa for the 6A state title in 2017 and was so close in losing in the semifinals a year later.
“At points in the season, it didn’t feel like a team,” three-year starter Ben Barker noted. “The seniors have talked about that and that’s why we’re pushing so hard. I feel like a bunch of guys have stepped up, gotten out of their comfort zone in the weight room and on the field. My sophomore year, we had the heartbreaking finish in the fourth round of the playoffs. Last year, we lost to Spanish Fort at home and I feel like that image is in everybody’s head. This year, we don’t want that to happen. The expectation is there for everybody.”
Barker leads a talented group of linemen that aim to bring the Indians back to championship contention. The team that was known for quarterbacks J.D. Martin and Tyquan Rawls over the past three years is reverting to earlier in Perry’s tenure at Wetumpka when linemen like Christian Williams and Brandon Kennedy were the leaders on offense.
“We actually have more starters back on defense, but a lot of our experience on offense is with the offensive line, which is good,” Perry said. “Ben and (left tackle) Colby Golson and (left guard) Abraham Preston are three guys that started last year. Ben is a three-year starter. Our centers make all the calls for our blocking schemes and our protection, so he’s really the quarterback of the offensive line. We signal the play to him and he makes the calls.
“I think we had 588 snaps last year and he didn’t have an errant snap. To make all the run-scheme calls, the protection calls and then to snap the ball in shotgun and not have any errant snaps, that’s asking a lot.”
Sprinkle in junior guard Jaice Sims and sophomore tackle Jacobie Jenkins, along with receivers Stone Minnifield, Jackson Ray, Rudarius Anthony and Dorian Jackson and the only questions are in the backfield, where talented senior Brandon Bowman is likely to line up, either at tailback or quarterback.
“We’re giving him reps at quarterback, but he was a starting receiver for us last year,” Perry said. “He had played quarterback throughout middle school and ninth grade but because of our quarterback situation his sophomore and junior year, we wanted to get him on the field in other ways.
“Robert Rose, another young man competing at the quarterback spot, was the starting quarterback in the seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade. Again, these guys are kind of waiting their turn.”
Barker said the Wetumpka offense will continue its explosive production whether Bowman or Rose, a junior, is leading the attack.
“It’s really going to be the same,” he said. “It’s going to be the same presentation, just different people this year. Like going from Jadarius (Martin) to Tyquan (Rawls), we’re going from Tyquan to another player now. And whichever guy, Robert or Brandon, they’re going to get the job done.”
Defensively, the Indians should be much improved in 2020 as all of the sophomores pressed into duty last year are now seasoned juniors. Imarius Roberts and Steve Nolan man two of the four positions along the defensive front, along with senior Myles Ross, and Dylan Price and Lamarius Jackson are joined by sophomore Justin Crumbaugh at linebacker. A trio of juniors – Amaerion Hampton, Avery Thomas and Tre Seabon – joined senior Jalen Johnson in the secondary.
The Indians are part of a new region (6A 3) that includes Helena, Hillcrest, Benjamin Russell, Pelham, Chilton County, Calera and Stanhope Elmore. In addition, Wetumpka opens the season with Prattville in the AHSAA Kickoff Challenge at Cramton Bowl, then hosts Tallassee in its new stadium the following week.
The stadium is reflective of a new attitude at Wetumpka High as the players and coaches try to wipe out the disappointment of the 2019 season and begin anew in 2020.
“There’s all that history behind Hohenberg Stadium, the whole ‘Wetumpka doesn’t lose at the ‘berg,’ that’s where everybody went,” Barker said. “We’re not going to lose at the new stadium, either. It’s beautiful. I’m thankful for (mayor) Jerry Willis and everybody who was behind it. They kept up their promise.”