GOOD HOPE —
Chris Moss is fielding more senior football players than he's had in quite some time, and the Good Hope coach wants nothing more than for all 14 to go out with a bang.
Because, you see, this particular group was freshmen when the Raiders began their brief foray into Class 4A football in 2010. For two seasons, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed underclassmen were able to beat county-rival Holly Pond in Week 1, only to lose their next nine games on the schedule, which included region bullies like Fayette County, Dora and Midfield.
“These seniors have gone through heck, literally,” Moss said. “It was men among boys, and we were the boys. It was bad. We were playing kids on Friday nights that should've been playing on Monday nights.”
Finally freed of their 4A status last season, the Red and White juniors played a part in the program's explosion back onto the 3A scene, equalling their previous two-year win total in a matter of two games. Only Good Hope wasn't able to ride that early wave of momentum all the way to shore, washing out with a seven-loss skid before righting the ship with a 21-12 Week 10 win versus 2A West End.
Nearly 10 months later, the Raider seniors have returned for their final go at glory, and they haven't forgotten the sweet taste of victory they gleaned from a 2-0 start in 2012. This time around, however, they're determined to keep the savory feast going well past Week 3.
Moss would love to make that happen, not for himself, but for the 15 boys who have never backed down from a battle, no matter the classification or obstacles thrown their way.
“I feel for these kids. Their attitudes have always been good, and I really admire them for sticking it out and working,” the ninth-year coach said. “We've got a good bunch of kids. I mean kids you'd want to be around.”
Alex Cofer is one of those seniors who's been around for the good, the bad and the ugly at Good Hope. The highly touted linebacker, one of four local inclusions on Friday Night Football magazine's All-Rocket City Team, felt him and his teammates made all the right moves during the spring and summer to keep the bad and the ugly away this fall.
“We're just working harder, getting better and making the right decisions,” Cofer said. “I think our hearts are upset, and we ain't going to give up.”
With hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Raiders ran rampant in the weight room this offseason, packing the place out every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in July. All the hard work appeared to pay off pretty quickly, too, not only on the field — senior defensive end Zac Witcher said he “was in 10 times better shape” than he was last fall — but also in the huddle.
“We got a lot stronger this year, but as far as moving forward in the right direction, I think the key is unity, which has been better already,” senior Daniel Moss said. “We were further apart last year. Now that we've come back closer together, I think it's more of a pride thing.”
One area the Red and White could very well be proud of in 2013 is their offense, which returns starters at four-of-five spots on the line (Moss, Riley Hancock, Anthony Harland and Jonathan Grigsby), quarterback (Sebastian Fendley), running back (Jared McClure) and two wide receiver posts (Chris Raper and Austin Crumbley).
Fendley is back behind center for his senior season after serving a seven-game suspension in 2012.
The dual-threat signal-caller was one of the state's more exciting players to watch in his brief time on the field last year. In just three games, Fendley managed to rack up 10 total touchdowns and mentions in each of the Alabama Sports Writers Association's weekly spotlights.
Just like its offensive counterparts, Good Hope's defense will feature a fair share of familiar faces. Cofer and Witcher are the obvious leaders of the unit, but coach Moss said players like Jonathan Burnett, Colter Leeth, Dakota Burney and others aren't to be overlooked, either.
Considering the Raiders' 1-6 record in Class 3A, Region 7 a season ago, Moss had no problem admitting his squad is “starting at the bottom” in 2013. That doesn't mean he believes they'll stay there for long, though.
“Hopefully we'll move up the totem pole,” the coach said with a chuckle. “Psychologically, we've got to get to the point where we carry on. We won the last one (West End), had a good spring and we've got to build on the successes we had … because they were few and far between after the third game.”
One of the Red and White's most overwhelming successes last fall came in their very first game, a 37-6 drubbing of Holly Pond. The county rivals will square off in yet another season-opener on Aug. 29 at Good Hope, a matchup Moss isn't willing to overlook just because of last year's lopsided result.
“They've got a new coach, and there's a lot of excitement over there,” Moss said of the Broncos. “Coach (Mike) Bates has done a good job wherever he's gone, so we're expecting a battle.
“We're going to respect everybody we play. We're going to play every game like it's the last one.”
% Moss on his expectations for the 2013 campaign: “We're always going to shoot for the playoffs. We expect these kids to have confidence in themselves and play and win. Hopefully, that senior leadership will carry on.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.