As we gear up for the high school football season, News 19 will be previewing more than 40 of our Tennessee Valley programs in On the Road with Olivia and Claudia.
Episode two features Athens and Decatur Heritage.
The Athens Golden Eagles found themselves in unfamiliar territory last season, finishing with a 4-6 record and missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
“We were coming off of some pretty good seasons and played with some guys that had not played much and had a hard time finishing some games,” Athens football head coach Cody Gross said.
Entering this year with again a younger roster, the Golden Eagles are seeing how quickly guys can get accustomed.
“This year we’ll also play with some guys who haven’t played a whole lot, don’t have a whole lot of Friday night experience. You get thrown in the fire a little bit and if you can mentally handle it. I think our guys will respond. It’s a tough schedule, so getting guys thrown in early is a good idea,” Gross said.
While they have a lot of pieces to fill in, Gross says he feels pretty good on special teams.
“There’s so many question marks. I’ll be honest with you, probably our punter and kicker. We’ve got Nelson Brown back. He did it as a sophomore and is a junior now, big strong kid with a lot of potential so I really think he can make a difference for us in the kicking game,” Gross added.
Our next stop takes us over to Decatur Heritage which has a new head coach for just the third time in program history in Alabama alum Nikita Stover. He isn’t totally new to the program as he coached the middle school team last year.
“They know last year as far as middle school what I’m expecting and a lot of my middle school guys from last year had to play varsity this year so it will be a smooth transition,” Stover said.
That’s a benefit for Stover as he’ll have a younger roster, returning only two starters on each side of the ball.
“I’m going to have 8th graders out there playing so we’re going to see who can do what as far as the young guys. If they limit the mistakes, I know they’ll make mistakes because they’re young, but if they can limit their mistakes I think we’ll be pretty good. It helps with Bo being confident in our guys, he’s our quarterback and he’s confident in our younger guys and helping them,” Stover added.
He’s got big shoes to fill following Steve Meek. The Eagles went 10-3 last season, have won three straight region titles and are just two years removed from their undefeated regular season. For Stover, he’s making sure to carry over those same values and beliefs within the program.
“Getting the guys to be more intense but doing it the right way and feeling out every guy and the way you can approach, guys are different so the way you approach it by being a Christian school,” Stover said.
Athens will host East Limestone on August 18 while Decatur Heritage will host Section that Friday, August 19.