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August 7, 2013

PREP FOOTBALL: Offseason workouts already paying off for Raiders (WITH PHOTO GALLERY)

GOOD HOPE — Team practices officially opened for all Alabama High School Athletic Association members on Monday. Good Hope’s start toward achieving a successful season, however, began long before the fall.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in July, the Raiders flooded into the weight room, building not just muscles, but bonds, in the process.

“They all came up and lifted, sort of built team unity,” coach Chris Moss said. “The kids bought into it, and they’re working hard. We ain’t lined up and played yet, but we’re excited about what’s going to happen.”

Through two practices, Good Hope’s summer sessions already appeared to be paying off. Defensive end Zac Witcher said he’s in “10 times better shape” than he was at this point last year and that the team as a whole was displaying much-improved levels of discipline.

“We have more people showing up, so I think that’ll transfer to the game and we’ll have more wins this year,” Witcher said.

The key phrase in the senior’s statement was “more people,” not “all,” seeing as there were two glaring absences — quarterback Sebastian Fendley and offensive lineman Riley Hancock — on the practice field both Monday and Tuesday. Moss said he did not expect either player to be in attendance the remainder of the week.

Fendley is easily the most notable of the absent athletes. After being suspended indefinitely in Week 4 and not returning for the rest of the 2012 campaign, the dual-threat signal-caller was expected to take back over behind center for his senior season. Moss said the speedster and slinger worked out with the team this summer and was on hand for 7-on-7 competitions.

The Raiders were the talk of the town following a 2-1 start last year — and Fendley’s rocket arm and shifty legs were undoubtedly a big reason why. Once the superstar was out of the lineup, though, the Red and White staggered to the finish line, extending their skid to seven games before besting Class 2A West End 22-12 to close the season.

In just three contests, Fendley racked up 10 touchdowns — five passing and five rushing. He was also recognized in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s spotlight all three weeks before his suspension.

Without Fendley at practice, Moss has been splitting reps at quarterback between ninth-grader Riley Eisner and sophomore Cainan Smith, who served as the starter for much of the 2012 season.

The coach said there’s still “a chance” for Fendley and Hancock to be starters when they return. If the season started tonight, however, Moss said he’d go with the players who have been sweating it out at practice this week.

“These guys are dedicated here, and I’m going to be dedicated to them,” he said.

No matter who winds up as quarterback for Good Hope’s season-opener against county-rival Holly Pond on Aug. 29, senior offensive lineman Daniel Moss said he has faith in all three candidates.

“Always. We’ve got to trust our quarterback with what’s going on behind us because we don’t have enough time to turn around and look who’s behind us,” he said. “I’m going to go ahead and say up front, whoever they decide to go with back there, we’re behind them 110 percent.”

Aside from the question marks at signal-caller, the Raiders are returning a lot of familiar faces. Four offensive linemen — Moss, Hancock, Anthony Harland and Jonathan Grigsby — are back, as are junior running back Jared McClure and senior wide receivers Chris Raper and Austin Crumbley.

The defensive side isn’t looking too shabby, either, with Alex Cofer (linebacker) and Witcher looking to lead the way. Coach Moss expects another solid year from players like Kristen Doss, Dakota Burney, Colter Leeth and Jonathan Burnett, and added he has high hopes for freshman Matt Cofer, Alex’s brother, in the secondary.

A breakthrough campaign in 2012 helped shine a bit of the spotlight in Alex’s direction during the offseason. In July, he was one of four local players selected to the Friday Night Football magazine’s All-Rocket City Team. Cullman’s Alex Martin (defensive line) and Trey Moon (defensive back) joined Vinemont’s Marcus Clarke (offensive line) as the others.

“I love winning,” Cofer said with a smile on Tuesday. “I work hard to win. I do everything I can to make us win.”

Ethan, another one of the Cofer brothers, was the Red and White’s sack leader last season. With him out of the picture as a recent graduate, though, Witcher is dead set on taking over that title.

He very well could do it, too, based on his performance at Tuesday’s practice, at least. Witcher served as a constant presence in the backfield and had to slow up to avoid hitting the quarterback time and time again during 7-on-7 drills.

“No matter who’s in front of me, I’m trying to get around them. I want to get the guy with the ball pretty much,” he said. “The only thing I have on every lineman we play is speed. I’m not the biggest guy, so I have to try to speed around and get through.”

As he enters his ninth year at the helm of the Good Hope football program, Moss is excited just to be back on the field. From what he could tell after two days, so were the kids.

Even after Tuesday’s practice was briefly halted by a skirmish between a wide receiver and cornerback, the coach wasn’t worried in the slightest.

“At the end of the day, they like each other,” Moss said. “They hang out together. It’s just a good bunch of kids.”



% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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