When you finish just one or two plays short of playing for a state championship, the offseason can be a long and agonizing grind.

“I was looking forward to the next year, seeing how close we were,” Montgomery Academy senior Jamal Cooper said. “This year, everybody saw if we put in the work we could get to that spot, so it was just a little motivation to get farther this year.”

The Eagles fell to region rival Catholic in overtime in the semifinals of the 3A playoffs, but return most of the familiar faces. Gone are offensive linemen Thomas Kirkham, Jackson Kelly and James Snead, along with multi-purpose talent Carter Wallis and quarterback Britton Kohn, but the rest of the cast returns with more experience in head coach Robert Johnson’s wing-T attack.

“My sophomore year, we threw the ball over 50 percent of the time,” offensive lineman Hudson Whitt said. “It’s kick-slide, drop back. It’s completely different now, but I feel like we’ve found an identity on the offensive line. We used to not have an identity, but now that’s where we feel like we win games. The adjustment was tough that first summer, but we are so far ahead of where we were last summer.”

The Eagles, as they were a year ago, will be oversized on the offensive line and Cooper and younger brother Jashawn Cooper will return in the backfield along with Judson Lindsey at quarterback.

“For me, I know the system,” Lindsey said. “For Britton last year, it was brand new. We know all the plays and we’ve been running them for a year. I like the wing-T. I think it fits me well.”

Defensively, there are holes to fill but most of the big names return. Jamal Cooper will be the nickel back who can play at linebacker or safety and Jashawn Cooper will be the jack linebacker who can play back or on the line. With Arch Lee and Nigel Walker at linebacker, the biggest concern is in the secondary with some very talented, but very youthful players in Chance Wilson, Thomas Woodward and Rick McBride.

“I think we can definitely be better,” Whitt said. “You lose some key guys that aren’t replaceable, but you’ve got so much experience in this new defense. We trust Coach (Ethan) McBride. He has a great plan for us every week and he’s got us in the place we want to be. Our secondary will be better this year and I think everything is going to work towards being better than last year.”

Throw in long-range threat Alex Kohn at placekicker (who is getting a preseason battle for the starting position from Carson Springer) and the Eagles will be a contender to repeat as region champions. And while winning the region is the primary objective, the non-region slate of St. James, Trinity, Catholic and Alabama Christian will make sure there’s never a dull moment at McLemore Field.

“Now, (playing Capital City Conference rivals) prepares you for the playoffs,” Johnson noted. “It used to be the other way around, you’d better go find somebody else to play to get you ready for the playoffs. And I anticipate them all to be very strong again.”

Last year, a team with just two returning starters on defense had to adjust to a new coordinator, a new offense and a new head coach and rolled into the semifinals unbeaten. It’s hard to imagine a team doing any better, but that is the expectation of the players.

“Last year, we felt like we were the underdogs throughout the whole season, so this season we just have to play that same way,” Whitt said. “All these teams think they’re better than us, but in reality we just have to treat every day like we’re an underdog in practice and in the games.”

There are new packages that will utilize Jamal Cooper at quarterback and new schemes on defense. The Eagles expect to be more efficient on both sides of the ball this season.

“It feels like home now,” Walker said. “Last year, there was a new coach, I was nervous, I didn’t know how to feel about a new offense, a new defense. But after that first game, I felt really comfortable. I knew we were going to go far after that.”

MONTGOMERY ACADEMY 2021 SCHEDULE

MONTGOMERY ACADEMY

Eagles

Coach: Robert Johnson (2nd year)

(CLASS 3A) Eagles (Region 3)

DATE              OPPONENT                             SITE 

Aug-20                         St. James (4A)                          Home

Aug-27                         Trinity Presbyterian (3A)                      Away

Sep-03             *Hale County                           Home 

Sep-10             *Southside-Selma                     Home

Sep-17             *Prattville Christian                  Away

Sep-24             Montgomery Catholic (3A)       Away 

Oct-01              OPEN

Oct-08              *Greensboro                             Away    

Oct-15              *Thomasville                           Away    

Oct-22              *Monroe County                                  Home    

Oct-28              Alabama Christian (4A)                        Home

MONTGOMERY ACADEMY 2020 SEASON REVIEW

Montgomery Academy

Coach Robert Johnson

Record: 13-1, lost in 3A semifinals

24        St. James          0          W         Away

13        Trinity  3          W         Home

40        Hale County     14        W         Away

1          Southside-Selma           0          W         Away

38        Prattville Christian        7          W         Home

32        Catholic           21        W         Home

31        Greensboro      20        W         Home

20        Thomasville     17        W         Home

36        Monroe County 6          W         Away

31        Alabama Christian        7          W         Away

PLAYOFFS

24        Providence Christian     9          W         Home

28        Pike County     6          W         Away

42        Trinity  21        W         Home

28        Catholic           35        L          Home