Photo | Scott Donaldson
Fifth in a series
UMS-Wright head coach Terry Curtis has seen a lot of changes over the years — and he’s seen his teams win a lot of football games. But he admits he’ll be a part of something new this season. The Bulldogs’ neighborhood has grown.
Class 5A, Region 1 is expected to be one of the most competitive regions in the area, perhaps in the state, as it has been in the past. But this year there are nine teams in the region, whereas the previous two years it had just seven members. And with some teams moving out and four new teams moving in, it’s quite a different region this time around.
“Anytime you add teams — we’re a nine-team region now and that right there means you’ve got eight region games,” Curtis said. “Anytime you have nine teams, no matter who they are, that makes for a tough region. It also means there are five teams that aren’t going to go to the playoffs. That’s just the way it fell this time in Mobile.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a nine-team region, so I really didn’t know how to do my schedule, because now you’ve got a region game in Week 10 and you only have two off weeks [non-region games] and who are you going to play? It’s been a lot different.”
A year ago, UMS posted an 11-2 overall record and won the region championship with a 6-0 record. St. Paul’s, which finished second, is no longer in the region or Class 5A for that matter, having moved up to 6A, Region 1. Faith Academy, B.C. Rain, Elberta and LeFlore remain from the region lineup of a year ago, while Gulf Shores and Citronelle move down from 6A and Vigor and Williamson move up from 4A.
It’s quite the lineup. According to the Lagniappe Prep Picks Panel — radio show hosts Pigskin Pete and Randy Kennedy, longtime sports reporter Darron Patterson and Lagniappe sports editor Tommy Hicks — UMS is the team to beat, having received the first-place vote of each of the panel members. Vigor, which won the Class 4A state championship a year ago, is picked to finish second, followed in order by Gulf Shores, Faith Academy, Williamson, B.C. Rain, Elberta, Citronelle and LeFlore.
“You bring in some new teams, which I do like,” Curtis said. “I think it’s fun to play people you haven’t played before and go to their places and see what kind of venues they’ve got, and vice versa, for them to come to your place. … That only makes for your region being even better.
“There are so many new coaches, and when I say new, I mean first-year guys. You don’t know very much about them. I think Williamson, Vigor and LeFlore … then you’ve got a new one at Gulf Shores who has only been there about a year, so you don’t know a lot about them. It makes it different. You lose St. Paul’s, who moved up, and you lose Satsuma, who moved down. And you brought in four new teams.
“I think it’s going to be competitive. I think it’s going to be tough for anybody to make the playoffs. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s a shoo-in to run away with it. Now, once we get halfway into the season I may tell you different. But there are good teams in there and you know the new guys are going to be fired up and working their kids hard this summer. It will be interesting to see. I just hope we can hang in there.”
One of the first-year head coaches is Vigor’s Markus Cook, who was recently named the Wolves’ new leader. He replaces John McKenzie, who is now the head coach at Murphy, which drops from 7A to 6A this season.
Cook said he is looking forward to the challenge of not only moving up to 5A, but of taking over a program that won a state title a year ago.
“We’ve been in 5A the whole time, except for the last two years. When I first got to Vigor we were in 5A,” Cook said. “I know it’s going to be harder trying to stay healthy in 5A. There’s a lot of good teams. In a nine-team region you’re going to play eight teams, so I’ve said all along, every game we play is going to be treated like a playoff game. That’s how you have to approach it. You can’t take any one for granted. You can’t have a letdown any week.”
Moving into 5A, Region 1 will be aided by the team’s success from a year ago, Cook said.
“When you have a championship pedigree I think it always helps,” he said. “The kids have bought in. Even if you tell a kid they’re going to run 20 gassers today, they’re good, because they know the goal. They did everything they were supposed to last year — they went 14-1 and they won the state championship. Now, the culture is there. Vigor is not a job where you build the culture. There’s a culture of winning, a culture of excellence, and my job is to keep that going.
“The kids are all in. My job is just to keep pushing them harder and harder and see how much they can take. Everybody that coaches wants to win. I got into coaching to be a head coach and to win ball games. That’s my job.”
Curtis, who has won eight state championships at UMS, said he likes his team heading into fall practice.
“I think we’re going to be OK,” Curtis said. “You’re always nervous starting a new quarterback, but we’ve done that just about every year now for the last four or five years. A guy just waits his turn. Sutton Snypes has done that. We’ve got our running back [Cole Blaylock] back. We need a couple more offensive linemen and I think we can be OK on offense. We’ve got a couple of guys, some veteran guys, that have been hurt off and on, and I think they are going to be back by the time we start fall practice.
“On defense, I think our back end, our linebackers and secondary, are going to be solid. We’ve got some defensive linemen that I think can do it, but they’ve never played, so that makes you nervous. Our defensive line is going to be completely pretty much new. Our kicking game is going to be solid and our return guys are back.
“We’ve had a good offseason and we’ve got more players than we’ve ever had, and that’s a good thing. Now, are all of them ready to play? Of course not, but they are out there working hard and learning what to do, and I think they are going to be good football players. So I’m excited with where we are.”
Next week: Class 6A, Region 1
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