By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Following a sensational 10-1 campaign in 2011, the Hanceville football team was locked and loaded for an encore performance last season.
Then came the Bulldogs’ opening game of 2012.
The Purple and Gold were trounced by county-rival Fairview 32-0 before falling to Good Hope 34-27 in Week 2. Things didn’t get much better for Danny Miller’s squad the following Friday, either, as the Bulldogs were once again thwarted in grand fashion — a 48-13 loss at the hands of Hamilton.
Although Hanceville was able to reel off seven straight wins before eventually falling to Deshler in the Class 3A playoffs, it was certainly not the start Miller and his squad envisioned when they were going about their business in preseason practice.
So it’s hardly a surprise the fifth-year coach has made it a point to his team this time around that an 0-3 start is, quite simply, unacceptable.
“Last year was tough,” Miller said. “And we’d rather not start like that this year, either. We’ve got a lot of kids back from that team, and they saw the hole we got in. We’d like to start fast and not put ourselves in that position this time around. Because it makes it a lot tougher down the road.”
One key factor the Bulldogs have going their way entering the season is the amount of experience they’ll bring to the table against each of their respective opponents.
Returning are key offensive cogs Caleb Hurst, Torrey Green, Dant’e Reese, Brontae Harris and Carlos Chacon. The Purple and Gold will also field a defense that got progressively better as the season wore on a year ago. Seasoned position players on the defensive line, in the linebacker corps and in the secondary will need to play an integral part for the Bulldogs if they have hopes of returning to the postseason.
In order to meet that goal, however, Hanceville will need to shake off last season’s bitter start and head into its schedule with a more humble mindset.
“Last year, I felt we were too excited about the year before,” said Green, the team’s leading returning rusher. “We thought we’d run through everybody, but it didn’t happen, so we decided to buckle down and do better.”
Green’s backfield counterpart, Hurst, couldn’t have agreed more with his senior teammate.
“It was definitely a slow start for us,” the Bulldog signal-caller said. “I think we’ve come together a lot quicker this time, though. We’ve got our system down before we start, so hopefully we can win all 10 games again this season.”
Whether or not Hanceville reaches that lofty goal remains to be seen; however, there’s one particular matchup the Bulldogs have had circled on their calendar since suiting up for their first practice back in the spring.
According to several of the players, it’s a must-win for the program — especially the seniors.
That game just happens to be against Fairview.
Hanceville traveled to Dafford Smith Stadium last August to kick off the season against the Aggies, one of its most-heated county-rivals.
It was all Fairview on that particular night, as the Luke Bailey-led squad gashed the Bulldog defense for more than 450 total yards, while its defense was a brick wall to the rushing attack of Sheldon Lewis and Green, limiting the fearsome duo to just 19 yards on 12 combined carries.
Although it’s been almost a year, the wound hasn’t shown any signs of closing. And it won’t. At least, not until Hanceville earns its redemption.
“It’s something serious,” Green said. “Words don’t even express how I feel about it. Since we took that loss, I’ve been pushing the team and myself to get better and better.”
Green isn’t the only one, either.
Added Hurst: “That’s all we’ve been talking about. We get them at our house this year. People all over the community have been asking, ‘Are y’all ready for Fairview?’ Coaches have been beating it into our heads. It’s been crazy, but I think we’ll definitely be ready for them this time.”
Although the Bulldogs were triumphant in seven contests a season ago — one of the highest marks in the county — Hurst, as well as his teammates, are hungry for even more.
“That feeling of winning is great,” he said. “Coming off the field after giving it your all is awesome. I really hope we make it in the playoffs this year and give this thing a run.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at email@example.com.