Evangel Christian Academy Lions – Football

 

  There isn’t much momentum at Evangel Christian Academy.

Andy Whatley, who has 15 wins in five years at the school, is the winningest coach in the 17-year history of the program. Last year’s 4-7 team is the fourth winningest team in school history and a return to the playoffs this year would mark the first time an Evangel coach has more than one playoff appearance.

That’s because Evangel doesn’t usually keep players long enough to build a foundation. This year’s team is no different, featuring just three returning starters on offense, roughly the same on defense, and little preseason work to establish any continuity because Whatley had just nine players out for football in the latter part of July. As a result, there were no seven-on-seven drills, no preseason scrimmage and little preparation for the Aug. 18 season opener with Evangel Christian of Alabaster.

QB Aaron Alpert (left) and RB Desean Powell will provide the offense threats for the Lions

“When you don’t have but nine or 10 kids two months ago, you can’t schedule these things,” Whatley said. “We didn’t do any seven-on-seven. It’s been a weird year. The revolving door, every year, me and my headmaster try to figure out how to stop that. We don’t quite have the answer. We have some ideas and implemented them a few years ago and retained some of the players since then, but it’s all about being able to get the right kid in here.

“As far as stability, the little stuff like this (building a new foundation for the home bleachers), whether seen or unseen, is what we’ve been doing for five years. That’s what they’ve done for me. Obviously, we’ve always paid a lot of attention to this (grass on the field). We’ve got 25-second (play) clocks coming in, in case we host the playoffs. All that stuff is part of the mentality that you build it. A lot of that is the master plan to fix the revolving door.”

Offensively, he’ll build a lot around his veteran players. Ethan Johnson and Kory Gaines both return at tackle and tight end Desean Powell will move to tailback alongside sophomore Xavier Williams to give the Lions some punch. Quarterback Aaron Alpert was at Evangel as a sophomore before going to Oregon last year.

“There were about 3,500 (students) in the school and I came in about a week before the first game,” he said. “I just got in there and played backup quarterback and receiver because they had a senior quarterback, but he taught me a lot about reading the safeties and the cornerbacks, so it helped me grow a lot.”

 

Evangel Coach Andy Whatley

Alpert knows most of the seniors in school from his time there in 2015, so he’s not worried about the revolving door of talent.

“Me and a couple of other guys were here in the 10th grade,” he said, “so we started building the team. As I came back for my senior year, I tried to get a couple of the guys I had in the 10th grade because we had that chemistry and camaraderie. Now we really know how to work together because we’ve been friends for four or five years and know each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses, so we can help each other build.”

Defensively, Johnson, Gaines and Powell could give the Lions a solid defensive front, but Evangel is unproven at linebacker with Jaden Gardener and Carlos Hinson and in the secondary where Alpert will have to play.

“The safeties and the cornerbacks have to get a better feel for reading the quarterback’s eyes, knowing where he’s going,” Alpert said, “because we have a lot of first-year players (in the secondary).”

Whatley hopes his offense can be effective enough to keep the Lions’ defense from being exploited.

“That’s my concern,” he said. “I know the quarterback knows my system. We’re moving the ball this year a lot better than last year. But on defense, everybody is unproven.”

The revolving door not only includes his players but his coaching staff as well, where two of his three coaches left for other jobs, leading to new defensive coordinator Ed Dean, who was formerly at Southside-Selma, and offensive line coach Jonathan Powers joining returning coach Danny Madison.

Despite the continual rebuilding process, Evangel reached the playoffs last year and came agonizingly close to winning AA Region 1 in 2016. A fourth-quarter collapse in a pair of October games saw Cornerstone edge the Lions 27-21 to win the region title and Lakeside pull out a 22-19 win to take second place and force the Lions to travel to Escambia Academy for a first-round playoff game.

Whatley and his returning players can’t help but remember the rally on the far end of their home field coming up just short against Lakeside. Many of the new players, on the other hand, aren’t even sure of which region Evangel plays.

“We got to the playoffs last year, now their big thing is host it,” Whatley said. “Four more yards. We’ve been using (that motto) all summer. But some of the kids have never heard of the schools we’re playing.”

That’s an annual problem at Evangel Christian. Alpert and his fellow seniors hope they can reverse the trend of players leaving the school by making a return to the playoffs in 2017.

“I feel like we can take over the region,” he said. “I know the guys I’m playing with and I know my skill and their skill and feel like if we can come together, not give up the entire game and play hard every play we can win every single region game we have.”

2017 Roster

2 Xavier Williams

3 Jalen Miles

4 Sam Allen

5 Aaron Lee

6 Dre Martin

7 Desean Powell

8 Jaylen Shine

10 Aaron Alpert

11 Trevor Whatley

22 Derek Kitchens

23 Daryl Stewart

28 Jaden Gardener

54 Kam Priest

57 Carlos Hinson

62 Jamal Salter

64 EJ Johnson

74 Kory Gaines

77 Logan Temple

Trinity Wildcats – Football

 

    For the first time in 29 years, Randy Ragsdale won’t be standing on the sideline at Boykin Field on Friday night.

Barry Loyal, who played at Trinity and served as Ragsdale’s offensive coordinator for five years, views it more as a continuation of the Wildcats’ tradition than any earth-shattering event.

“I never really got that feeling,” Loyal said. “I don’t feel like I’m replacing anybody. Older (former) players that I’ve talked to, the things we’re doing they’re excited about. I’ve gone out and sought advice, what’s your perspective?”

Loyal knew the veteran assistant coaches from his time as an offensive coordinator (2000-05) but his perspective of the current players came after three days of spring practice and dissecting every piece of 2016 video of a 3-7 season, the first losing regular season at Trinity since 1981 that came as a result of the worst start (0-5) in school history.

“I think (the major difference is) just the overall intensity level of every single thing that we do,” Loyal said. “It’s not where we want it to be but on the practice field you’re holding everybody accountable on what to do. So hopefully that has elevated the attention to detail. That’s the thing I’ve tried to focus on. Whether it was lacking or not, I really don’t know but that’s what we’ve tried to focus on.”

Senior receiver Sage Clingan, a running back last year, said this year’s August practice was a far cry from 2016.

Wide receiver Luke Hufham (gloves on) practices coming
off the line of scrimmage

“It’s totally different out there,” he said. “You start, of course, with Coach Loyal. Honestly, from my perspective, it’s just gotten a lot more physical out there, really getting after it with each other. Everything has just been a lot more up-pace.

“And we’re changing a lot. We’re passing a lot more and I think the passing is going to be a lot more successful this year. “

Loyal worked all four quarterbacks – juniors Trace Bright and Rob Chandler and sophomore Jack Collett and John David Richards – throughout the early part of August but was expected to choose between Bright and Chandler as the starter. That was the head coach’s idea, trying to put his players in drills where the competition would determine the most suitable starter.

Of course, Trinity’s success will be determined in the trenches. While the defensive front held its own for the most part last season, the offense had trouble moving the ball.

“It’s almost like we’d choke sometimes,” Clingan said. “We would sometimes drive all the way down to the goal line and just literally choke. We’d run the ball and just get stuffed. Our defense has always been good and I think this year will be very, very good with … those two safeties (Jackson Davis and Max Williams) and the linebackers (Tyler Britton and Caleb Kreitz) right now. The linebackers are just stacked, so hopefully we’ll be able to stop (opponents) but the offense just had no momentum last year.

“But now, new coach, new year and everything, we’ve got that going. I think it’s going to be great.”

Trinity first year head coach Barry Loyal watches QB Rob Chandler during an afternoon drill.

Loyal admits a tough schedule will find the Wildcats overmatched at times, but blocking schemes can help and finding enough depth to rest players will be crucial.

“That focus has been there to develop that all summer,” Loyal said. “Developing the guys that may not be two-way players and developing the conditioning for some of those guys that have to play on both sides multiple snaps.”

Defensively, Loyal feels his team has demonstrated in practice a determination to be more physical this fall.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the intensity from that side of the ball will be different, even more so than it has in the past,” he said, “just because a couple of those guys over there are strikers, especially our two safeties (Jackson Davis and Max Williams).”

The Wildcats’ 0-5 start last year matched a similar start in 1974. Only once (1974) has a Trinity team posted fewer wins than in 2016. The Wildcats went 1-3 against Capital City Conference teams, losing to Alabama Christian for the first time since 1998, to Catholic for the first time since 1989 and to St. James for the first time since 2005.

That unexpected view of looking up at the other teams in the city – and the region – gives the Wildcats a little more of a carefree attitude.

“I think we’re going to take some chances,” Clingan said. “We’ve been really focusing on our routes a lot harder than last year, like really getting our technique down, and I think that’s been helping with our throwing a lot.”

Carefree or not, the Wildcats face the same challenges as 2016 with a rugged schedule that includes the season opener at Jacksonville, the home opener with Andalusia and the region opener at Dale County in a three-week span.

“I think playing two of the best teams at first, it’s going to be a tough game,” Clingan said, “but if we get out there and get working and try to get better and not let the mindset that these teams are better than us, just do what we do, it’s going to be an interesting game. It’s going to be good.”

 

2017 Roster

2  Rob Chandler

3  McKay Taylor

4  Trace Bright

5  John David Richards

6  Luke Hufham

7  Edward Rutland

8  Sam Farris

9  Jack Collett

10  Jon Everett Dennis

11  Camden Lovrich

12  John David Bonner

13  James Davis

14  Jack Singletary

15  Nexton Marshall

16  Davis Ladner

17  Tate Holley

18  Max Williams

19  Sage Clingan

20  Thomas Hargrove

21  Mac Parsons

23  Coleman Ellis

24  Jim Portis

25  Thomas Ladner

26  Jackson Davis

27  James Handey

28  Chase Bulmer

29  Griffin Sanders

30  Jonathon Green

31  Nolan Sasser

32  Coleman Morris

33  Tyler Britton

35  Bryce Kelly

36  Jake Hufham

38  Chapman Gregory

39  Jackson Windham

40  Coleman Ingram

41  Graves Aughtman

42  Will Eagerton

43  Bodie Blissitte

44  Josh Hynniman

45  Connor Hayes

46  Scott Chesnutt

47  Ben Martin

48  Mays McMillan

49  William Roberson

50  Bracken Osmer

51  Coston Stricklin

52  Chad Norris

53  Caleb Kreitz

54  Jackson Younger

55  Kylar Williamson

56  Walton Cherry

57  Hampton Bopp

58  Sam Rowell

59  Paul Bishop

60  Colton Fuller

62  Will Chandler

63  Andrew McNees

64  Reese Lynch

65  Trace Patterson

67  Bryson Byrne

68  Porter Birmingham

70  Will Merrill

71  Ben Loftis

72  Will Meany

73  Carter Grice

77  Watkins Johnston

79  Hampton McDuffee

80  Peyton Parkman

81  Sam Worthington

82  John Wesley Loard

83  Preston Berry

88  Jay Tymes

89  Parker Patterson