By TIM GAYLE
Special to the Elmore/Autauga News
Last year, Prattville High School football fans started to see glimpses of the old Lions.
Over the last eight years, Prattville had recorded double-digit wins just once, but last year’s 9-3 season was a little closer to the standard established under former coaches Bill Clark and Jamey Dubose. The 185 points allowed were the second lowest over that eight-year span, while the 344 points scored were the second highest.
“We’re on our way of trying to build it back,” third-year coach Caleb Ross said. “We’re not there yet but we’ve had a successful two years and I expect a successful third year.”
Still, there’s that nagging 45-20 loss to Central-Phenix City earlier in the season (and another loss to the Red Devils in the playoffs) and an embarrassing 17-3 loss to Auburn High which is a pretty good indication that the Lions can whip all the Montgomery schools and the other downtrodden programs but still can’t be considered elite just yet.
“We’re knocking on the door, coming back to the old Prattville,” senior linebacker Ian Jackson said. “Those teams we’ve got to beat, the Auburns and the Centrals, those are the teams holding us back and you’ve got to circle those days on the calendar and be ready to play against them.
“Every team on the schedule is important, don’t get me wrong, but those are the two teams that have been beating us consistently these past few years. Once you think about it, you’re like, all right, this is the team we’ve got to beat to get past this point.”
The offense returns just five starters, including the quarterback, the leading rusher and the top two receivers, but Ross feels comfortable with the players taking over as starters in 2020.
“We had some guys at key positions leave, but we’ve got some talented kids stepping into those positions,” Ross said. “There are always guys you never do replace, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be just as good. The talent is there at Prattville, you’ve just got to develop it.”
Gone is quarterback Kyle Kramer, who threw for 2,240 yards and 18 touchdowns, but junior E.J. Ousley is ready to step in and take over the position. Jaden Kidd may be gone, but the Lions’ second leading rusher, Albert Taggart, and returning starter Keondre Powell can fill the void. At receiver, Taylor Thompson and Kendrick Rogers will be difficult to replace, but Al’Terious Bates returns after catching 38 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns a year ago.
Tight end Spencer Roy, senior RJ Meyer and junior Javon Harris return as starters across the offensive front and will be joined by Javen Andrews, Gaines Stokes and Chandler Gibbs.
Defensively, it will be difficult replacing the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Mason Taylor, but Jackson was an impact on that side of the ball for the Lions, registering 90.5 tackles as a linebacker, along with 12 tackles for loss, eight quarterback pressures and five sacks while rushing off the edge.
Jackson and returning starter AP Coleman will be joined at linebacker by Eric Benson and James Myers, while talented defensive end Tim Trotter will anchor the defensive front along with Julius Toodle and Jalin Herbert.
In the secondary, Laderius Fitts and Jahmir Cromblin return to give the Lions some experience, while Jakerian Willis and Ghvon Furlow will step into a starting role.
Prattville will once again have a relatively easy path to the playoffs, with the two four teams in Region 2 advancing from a group that includes Auburn, Smiths Station, Dothan, Enterprise, Central-Phenix City and Jeff Davis. Advancing to the playoffs is a relatively simple task, but Prattville is after a lot more this season.
“The hardest part is getting over that last hump,” Ross said. “We started getting back with how to work, how to practice, getting back the daily habits, then having to go play in big ballgames. We’ve got one more (mental) step to go, we’ve got to beat a Phenix City, we’ve got to beat an Auburn. You’ve got to eliminate the things that cost you ballgames.
“The good news is, our kids expect to win now where a couple of years ago they were hoping to win.”