Saraland Head Coach Jeff Kelly
Photo | Mike Kittrell
When Saraland topped Gulf Shores 41-16 last Friday night on the Spartans’ home field, it marked a milestone victory for head coach Jeff Kelly.
The former Southern Miss quarterback, who is in his 11th season at Saraland and his 18th season as a head coach, has put together one of the most successful programs in the area. The win over Gulf Shores marked Kelly’s 100th victory at the school.
School officials and supporters noted the accomplishment following the game, presenting Kelly with a plaque commemorating the achievement. The Saraland team surrounded its head coach and fans stayed in their seats at the stadium for the ceremony.
“That was surprising they did something like that for my 100th at Saraland,” Kelly said the next day in a telephone interview. “But I hate they kind of made it about that, but it was very nice.”
Kelly is now 100-33 in his 11th season at Saraland. He has never had a losing season with the Spartans. He has led the program to five seasons with at least 10 victories and twice the Spartans have advanced to the Class 6A state championship game — in 2014 and 2018.
He is only the second head coach in school history. The school fielded its first team in 2010, led by John Holman. The Spartans were 3-7 that season.
“I think it’s a tribute to all of the players who have come through the program over the years and the big games we’ve been fortunate to be a part of and all the relationships that you have with all the coaches that I’ve had the privilege to work with,” Kelly said of his 100th win at Saraland. “It’s a team award, it’s not an individual thing. I was really proud because it’s something that I can share with all the players who I have been fortunate to coach and to have had the honor to work with over the years.”
Kelly started his head coaching career at Satsuma, where he led the Gators to a 15-26 record in four seasons (2004-07). He was then hired as head coach at Jackson, where in three seasons (2008-10) he posted a record of 32-8. He joined the Spartans in 2011.
He now has a career record of 147-67, which places him just three wins away from another milestone — 150 career victories.
“I hope we get that this year because it means we’ll be in the second round [of the Class 6A state playoffs],” Kelly said. “You don’t think about that kind of stuff very much. I think it’s a correlation of getting older and coaching a bunch of good football players. To be able to be at a place, going on finishing up my 11th year here at Saraland, you don’t see that a whole lot.
“So, I’m proud of that and I’m really thankful for the great administration and the support we get from them. And also the parents and everyone; they’ve really been behind the program over the years and made it a great place to work.”
Saraland plays at Robertsdale Friday and will close out the regular season on Friday, Oct. 22 at home against Citronelle. The Spartans have an open date on Oct. 29 before beginning the state playoffs the following week. They currently hold the No. 1 spot in the Class 6A, Region 1 standings with a 5-0 record. Both the Robertsdale and Citronelle games are region games.
Key region matchups set this week
As the regular season nears a close there are several key matchups taking place that will have a bearing on which teams make the playoffs and their seedings when the playoff schedules are set at the end of the month.
There are also teams riding streaks into this week’s games — some are winning streaks and others are losing skids. Theodore’s Kierstan Rogers is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards and he is expected to reach that mark — if not go well past it — this week when the Bobcats play winless LeFlore. Three schools have reached the 700 career wins plateau this season, but none of those schools are from the Lagniappe coverage area. Which local teams are closest to reaching the mark? We’ll answer that for you as part of this week’s Five Things.
Key region games: The overall schedule of games this week isn’t like other weeks in the season, but there are a handful of impactful games; the results relate to playoff considerations or seedings. Four such games stand out among the crowd — Baldwin County at Gulf Shores, Baker at Fairhope, Vigor vs. Williamson at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, and B.C. Rain at UMS-Wright.
Baldwin County and Gulf Shores are currently tied for fourth place in the Class 6A, Region 1 standings along with Blount. The top four teams earn a spot in the playoffs. The winner gets a leg up on that position. Fairhope knocked off Theodore to take the top spot in 7A, Region 1 last week, but to hold it, the Pirates need to beat Baker, which is 4-1 in the standings behind Fairhope (5-0) and Theodore (5-1). A Baker win could shake things up.
Vigor is unbeaten (4-0) in 4A, Region 1 play, but Williamson is tied with Mobile Christian at 3-1 and in second place. A Williamson win could make things interesting. B.C. Rain is tied with St. Paul’s for second in the 5A, Region 1 standings at 3-1, behind UMS-Wright at 4-0. A Red Raiders win could shuffle the race a bit.
Win streaks: As this week’s games approach there are teams riding some momentum. Vigor has won all seven of its games this season, while Saraland, Fairhope and UMS-Wright are on six-game win streaks. McGill-Toolen bounced back from a slow start and has now won five straight, while Daphne, Orange Beach, St. Paul’s, Bayside Academy and Chickasaw have each won three straight. At least one streak will end as Bayside plays at Chickasaw Friday.
Losing skids: On the other end of the spectrum, LeFlore and Mary G. Montgomery have lost all seven of their games thus far. Davidson and Alma Bryant, who play each other this week, have both lost their past five games. Satsuma and Faith Academy have lost their past three games.
Rogers nears 3,000 yards: Many expected Theodore running back Kierstan Rogers to top the 3,000-yard mark in career rushing yards last week against Fairhope. After all, he’s been piling up yards all season long, averaging more than 100 yards per game. Instead, the Pirates’ defense held him to 44 yards. As such, he sits at 2,964 yards, needing 36 more to reach the milestone. He should pass that mark and then some against winless LeFlore Thursday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. He has 36 career rushing touchdowns.
The 700 Club: This season three schools have reached the 700-win mark, the first schools to achieve the mark in Alabama High School Athletic Association play. T.R. Miller was the first and now has 704 all-time wins, with Fayette County at 703 and Oneonta at 700. The closest team in the Lagniappe coverage area to close in on the mark is UMS-Wright, which ranks 10th all-time with 656 wins. Next in line locally is No. 44 Murphy (579), followed by No. 47 Foley (574).
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