BY TIM GAYLE
SPECIAL TO THE ELMORE/AUTAUGA NEWS
Marbury coach J.B. Wallace staged the largest turnaround in the football program’s history last year when he inherited a winless 0-10 team and turned the Bulldogs into a 6-5 squad that reached the first round of the state playoffs.
Steve McCord completed a similar turnaround in the mid-1980s and Mike Roberts would do the same a decade later, but Marbury was a rural 1A school, not the 5A program it grew into in the last decade.
“The biggest thing for us is to continue to keep the guys involved, keep the players coming and growing (the program),” Wallace said. “We’re much younger this year, but our players have been very disciplined and hard working. I think the groundwork has been set, we just have to continue to build from that.”
To build from that, Wallace will have to do what no coach at the program has ever done – take on some of the more established 5A programs in the state and win. Last year, Marbury beat teams with similar programs (Montevallo, Elmore County, Shelby County, Jemison and Holtville) but lost to the three established programs (Demopolis, Bibby County and Briarwood Christian).
What does it take to compete with those teams?
“I just think having new blood in there is going to help them get over the hump,” Wallace said. “You know, the seniors that we had went four years of seeing that type of atmosphere. You never know what kind of psyche is going on before the game even starts. With the younger guys and the seniors we have now, I don’t think that’s going to play a huge role. I think they’re going to go out and play our style of football regardless of who the opponent is.”
Senior receiver and return specialist Zack List, one of four returning starters on offense, said the Bulldogs simply need to focus more on their job and less on distractions.
“Focus,” he said. “That was our main problem last year. There was no mental focus during those big games. Like Briarwood, a playoff game, pretty big team. We go in there and punch them in the mouth, but it was the mental mistake of one of our receivers lining up in the wrong place. We were going to be up, we would have the adrenalin and everything, we just lost mental focus.”
Three returning linemen give the offense some experience (and size) up front as left tackle Matthew Johnson (6-3, 284), Bennett Landry (6-3, 296) and Jakobe Smith (6-2, 312) anchor a front that includes senior Jackson Carr and junior Wyatt Seamon, but the skill players are relatively unproven.
Last year, Dantavius Bristow rushed for nearly 1,700 yards, but sophomore Ethan Gomez, junior quarterback Jack Thompson, receivers Jathan Esco and Gavin Thompson and tight end Myles Lewis all have to prove themselves.
“I think we had a lot of players on offense when we came and a lot of the stuff we inherited, if it wasn’t broke we didn’t fix it, but we were very talented on offense,” Wallace said. “We had a returning quarterback and built an O-line, so we were just trying to build the style of play defensively. We’re getting there. We’ve got a ways to go. Right now, the offense is putting up big numbers, but defense is what we’re trying to build.”
It starts up front where senior end Carson Barregaye is joined by junior Ricky Smith and sophomore Will Moseley but the Bulldogs are fortunate to have two of the four linebackers returning in senior Alex Greene and junior Andrew Urnis. Senior P.J. Connor and sophomore Braeden Mizusawn step into starting roles alongside Greene and Urnis and returning safeties Austin Rhodes and Pharrell Banks are paired with a couple of sophomore cornerbacks, Cody Whitford and Jerel O’Neal, giving the Bulldogs a solid mix of veterans sprinkled among the newcomers.
“I think the biggest thing we’re looking for is how long will it take us to grow up,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a lot of young faces offensively and defensively. At running back, this is his first time being the guy, same thing with the quarterback, so however long it takes us to grow up and jell as a unit. You never know until you get in those battles.”