Of all the impressive statistics about the UMS-Wright Bulldogs, this may be the one that will never be matched: The Bulldogs enter this football season not only looking for a third straight state championship, they will do so with the leadership of two players who have already earned Most Valuable Player honors in the state championship game.
Two years ago, diminutive sophomore running back Symon Smith overcame the snowy conditions at Bryant-Denny Stadium to lead UMS-Wright to a 21-7 win over Fayette County. Last year in Auburn, junior Keyshawn Woodyard scored four touchdowns as UMS-Wright overwhelmed Deshler 52-0 for its second straight Class 4A championship.
Both players are back this season as seniors for what could be a historic run. No UMS-Wright team has ever won three straight state championships. The 2019 Bulldogs enter the season favored to do exactly that.
“We’ve got great kids who know how to work and know what’s expected of them,” said Terry Curtis, who is entering his 47th year in coaching. “So, I don’t expect anything different this year.”
Senior linebacker Will Breland was the Class 4A Lineman of the Year last season. Offensive lineman Hunter Middleton and defensive back Edwin White also return after being named all-state a year ago. In fact, of the six players who earned all-state honors last season, only linebacker Jeb Barber graduated.
“We have to replace our quarterback, tight end and a couple of linemen on offense,” Curtis said. “On defense, we’ve got three defensive backs returning and our defensive line is back. We do have to replace some linebackers. Every one of those linebackers were very good players who knew exactly what to do and how to play.”
Breland will be instrumental in bringing along that group to UMS-Wright standards. He believes the Bulldogs have the personnel to be as good or better than last year.
“People mention to us all the time about the winning streak and we’d like to keep it going,” Breland said. “Of course we want the three-peat, but we’ve got to make sure we keep our heads on straight so we can reach that goal.”
The winning streak for UMS-Wright has reached 19 games, the longest of any team in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
It’s been 21 months since UMS-Wright lost a game. That loss came in the final regular-season game of 2017, a 9-0 shutout against rival St. Paul’s. Since then, the Bulldogs have won 10 playoff games and nine regular-season games.
Last season they recorded seven shutouts and allowed only one opponent to score more than once. For the season, the Bulldogs outscored opponents by an average of 34-4.
In order to extend the winning streak to 20 games, UMS-Wright will have to beat the last team to knock them off. A strong St. Paul’s team will visit UMS-Wright for the Battle of Old Shell Road to open the season.
The Bulldogs are ready for what they will face in the opener and beyond.
“We have such a good bond and work ethic and good coaches,” Smith said. “You don’t have to have the best athletes to win a state championship.”
While UMS-Wright was the only team from Coastal Alabama to bring home a state championship last season, there is no shortage of teams that have the talent to contend for a title in 2019.
That group begins with the Saraland Spartans, who reached the Class 6A state championship game before falling to Pinson Valley and current Auburn University quarterback Bo Nix.
The only other loss, after opening the season with nine straight wins, came to Spanish Fort, which cost the Spartans the Region 1 championship.
Gone from that team are LSU signee Cordele Flott and underrated wide receiver Jay Williams, who will play this year for Southern Miss.
But there is plenty of talent to lead Saraland to what would be their first state championship. That begins with quarterback Brett Nezat, who at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds has matured into a solid college prospect and the kind of player who can help bring home a state championship.
Wide receiver D.J. Thomas (an Ole Miss commit), running back Rashawn McAlpine, linebacker Adam Chaney (a Tulane commit) and linebacker Shawn Byrd all have all-star potential as seniors.
Head coach Jeff Kelly has taken his team to two state championship games in the last five years. The 2019 Spartans have the potential to be the best yet.
The other Mobile County team that made a run all the way to the state championship game a year ago was the Vigor Wolves. The Wolves lost a heartbreaker 43-42 to Central Clay County in the title game. Making the loss even more disappointing is the fact that heading into the state championship game Vigor’s opponents were scoring less than seven points per game. During their 13-2 season, both losses came by one point.
Vigor will have to replace 23 outstanding seniors from that team, but coach Deric Scott believes the potential is still there, led by cornerback Sidney Williams.
“We have talent,” Scott said. “It’s all about the focus.”
Winning championships is nothing foreign to the St. Paul’s Saints, although they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round last season. The Saints won state championships in 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2017, which led to them being elevated to Class 6A under the new Competitive Balance rule.
Depth may continue to be an issue, but there is talent. On offense, the line will be one of the largest and best in the state. Quarterback J Green returns for his senior year, while running back Jordan Ingram is a proven star.
On defense, linebacker Reggie Bracy is an Iowa commit, while defensive end Daniel Foster-Allen will play for Auburn.
Last season, St. Paul’s won seven games, but lost back-to-back region games to Saraland and Spanish Fort by a combined score of 57-0. Now the Saints know what to expect in Class 6A, Region 1.
“Now I know what it feels like to drive at Talladega,” said St. Paul’s coach Steve Mask. “Every play has to be wide open and you better be ready on every snap. We will be better prepared this season. And when it comes to character and intangibles, this group has that.”
Blount and B.C. Rain missed the playoffs in Class 6A last season. Blount returns perhaps the most talented junior class in the state, led by defensive lineman Lee Hunter.
In Class 7A, Theodore finally broke the stranglehold McGill-Toolen has had on Region 1 since its creation.
The Bobcats bring back perhaps the state’s best player in linebacker Demouy Kennedy, an Alabama commit. He will play alongside three-year starter Reggie Malone. Senior offensive lineman Kevin Dennis is back to anchor an offensive line that he believes has a chance to be the best in school history.
“We always live with that sense of urgency,” said coach Eric Collier. “We hung a banner last year, now we want to do that again and advance in the playoffs.”
McGill-Toolen was good in 2018, going 9-3 and losing in the second round of the state playoffs to eventual state champion Central-Phenix City. But good isn’t the standard at McGill-Toolen.
“I talked to the team after last season and told them that we under-achieved,” said coach Ernest Hill. “The message this year is that we have to have great leadership.”
Junior Spencer Arceneaux is expected to be the next in a long line of stellar quarterbacks for the Yellow Jackets. Junior wide receiver Jordan Mosley has already committed to Tennessee.
Davidson, Baker, Alma Bryant, Murphy and Mary G. Montgomery will battle for playoff spots in Class 7A, Region 1. Davidson reached the postseason a year ago and will be led by defensive end and Ole Miss commit Cedric Johhson, the brother of South Alabama quarterback Cephus Johnson.
Baker responded well to new coach Steve Normand midway through last season by winning five of its last seven games. Quarterback Nic Summerlin will take over the position full-time as a senior.
Murphy has a new coach (Rico Jackson), new uniforms and a new attitude. The Panthers are expected to rely on a strong running game.
“With this team, it’s not about me, it’s about us,” Jackson said. “We’re experiencing a mentality change.”
Mary G. Montgomery should be stingy again on defense as the Vikings look to improve on a 4-6 season.
Alma Bryant was winless a year ago but should be strong up front on defense behind seniors Franklin Nou and Tyler Womack.
In Class 6A, LeFlore, Satuma and Citronelle have the talent to contend for a playoff spot. Citronelle made the playoffs last season, while LeFlore welcomes the return of Chris Raymond after two years away from the program.
South Alabama commit Caulin Lacy is a dynamic playmaker for Faith Academy. The Rams reached the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade. This season should bring more improvement.
Williamson may have the best sophomore in the entire country in running back/linebacker Robert Woodyard. Coach Dederic Sumpter will have his most talented team yet while competing in Class 4A.
Mobile Christian won eight games last season, including a victory over eventual state 3A champion Flomaton. The Leopards return star junior defensive end Deonte Lawson and a talented roster that could compete for championships again.
In Class 2A, Cottage Hill Christian and Chickasaw reached the playoffs last season. After a 10-win season, coach Chris Brazell has established a new standard for success at Cottage Hill. Seniors RaSean Thomas, William Barbour and Matthew Nicholas are expected to help build on that success.
In Class 1A, it’s been a great two-year ride for the St. Luke’s Wildcats, who have won 21 games over that span.
“We aren’t rebuilding but we’ve got some new roles,” said St. Luke’s coach Ronn Lee, whose team must replace quarterback Jermaine Brown, now at UAB. “But we feel great about where our program is and our young men.”
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