(WHNT) — Episode 14 of On the Road with Olivia and Claudia was all Wildcats.
Starting with the Wildcats from Fort Payne, who finished 8-3 in 2022. Head coach Chris Elmore describes their attitude so far as “cautiously optimistic,” meaning he likes the team they have but he also knows they have a lot of work to do before kickoff.
Despite graduating 24 seniors last year, Fort Payne has lots of returners who played a decent amount of football for them in 2022 which is a huge positive.
So what does Coach Elmore view as the biggest strength of this year’s team?
“This group is pretty close. They really seem to enjoy being around each other. They enjoyed playing together when they were in 7th grade all the way up through now, so I just think just the comradery, how much they care for each other and how much they like being around each other,” Elmore said. “I always feel like that’s sometimes more important than some other things. We have some really good players too, but I think the most important thing is they enjoy being around each other and they enjoy going out each day and competing with each other and trying to get better.”
Looking ahead to 2023, Fort Payne has some tough opponents week in and week out and Elmore says they just have to focus on being the best they can be.
“Handling our business day to day and week to week,” Elmore said. “We’re going to go into every game expecting to win. Whether or not we win all 10 of them I have no idea… we might lose all 10 for all I know but our players and coaches will expect to win every game we play and really that’s all you can ask for.”
Onto the next pack of cats: the Scottsboro Wildcats led by third-year head coach Cris Bell. Their 2022 season ended with a 7-5 overall record and a second-round playoff appearance for Scottsboro, their first playoff appearance since 2019.
One of their big wins last season was against another Wildcats team; Scottsboro snapped Guntersville’s undefeated record with an upset victory, but Coach Bell says the three wins that came after the Guntersville game left more of an impact on the program.
“You’ve seen teams have big upsets and then they don’t follow it up. I think the best thing we did was the way we followed up after that ballgame,” Bell said. “We certainly used that as a springboard. We could’ve come out and just laid an egg the next couple of weeks and that game wouldn’t have meant anything – it would’ve just been a blip on the radar. I think our kids knew they had confidence they could win and it was one of those deals that once you do it, the kids said okay.”
Just like Fort Payne, there really isn’t much room for error on Scottsboro’s schedule – and Bell and Elmore are on the same wavelength with their thoughts on that.’
“You really have to play to your standard and you can’t get so caught up in who you play,” Bell said. “If you do and you’re playing somebody that maybe the kids view as a lesser opponent, then they’re not going to show up that week. What we really try to stress is there’s a standard that we’ve set and the only thing we want to do is raise that standard, and we don’t ever want to lower it. I think you have to wake up each day, clap your hands and say let’s get after it today and today’s the first day of the rest of your life kind of deal. Let’s make it happen.”
We get to see the battle for the ‘Topcat Trophy’ to open the season; Fort Payne will host Scottsboro Friday, August 25 to kick off the 2023 campaign.