The black clouds that hung over the Fairview football team this offseason weren’t going anywhere on Tuesday morning.
As if losing an overwhelming 18 seniors wasn’t enough, the Aggies were welcomed to their second day of fall practice by a steady dose of drizzle.
But storms — as small as they may be — cannot last forever. Clouds eventually clear. The sun eventually shines. Life goes on as normal.
Roster overhaul or not, coach George Redding is confident there is still plenty of sun to be shone on the Purple and Gold football program.
“I definitely do. I think we’ve got a really good group of seniors, and I like where those guys are at in their leadership abilities right now,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new faces, but what I like is those older guys have taken them under their wing. They’re kind of saying, ‘Here’s where we’ve got to be. Here’s at what level we’ve got to play at. This is how you’ve got to produce in order for us to compete.’ I think they’ve done a great job of that in the last couple of days at camp.”
Some of the seniors Redding was referring to were C.J. Waters, Christian Seals, Riley Howse, Ethan Widner and Adam Johnson. Coincidentally, those first three names are staples on the offensive line. Throw junior Cody Nichols into the mix, and Fairview is returning four of five starters to the unit.
Those hosses up front will have a new man to protect behind center in Hayden Maples, a junior faced with the tall task of replacing All-State stud Luke Bailey. Before Bailey, the position was owned by Trett Hardman, now a tight end at Samford, leaving Maples two pretty big pairs of shoes to fill at quarterback.
“It feels great. I’ve been waiting a long time for it,” Maples said of taking over the Aggie offense. “Everybody is going to expect a lot of you no matter who comes before you. You just gotta do what you gotta do and do what you’re supposed to do.”
Compared to his dual-threat predecessors, Maples is clearly more comfortable passing in the pocket. In Fairview’s spring jamboree versus Madison County, he was an impressive 16 of 21 with 139 yards. Maples has been in the Aggies’ system since the eighth grade, longer even than Bailey and Hardman.
At this point in Maples’ progression, Redding feels his incoming signal-caller “is right where he needs to be.”
“He’s had a great mini-camp, he had a great summer and his reads are coming along,” the coach said. “To be honest, we have put a lot of things in concept-wise, and he’s done a great job of picking up on everything.”
With Dexton Gregory, Bryant Powers and Jake Chandler all lost to graduation, Widner will provide a much-needed veteran presence at wide receiver. The senior has been working tirelessly with all the newbies, as well as Maples, to make sure all the pieces of Fairview’s typically high-powered offense are on the same page as the season quickly approaches.
“I think he’s stepping up,” Widner said of his new quarterback. “He’s starting to be more of a leader and starting to bring a better attitude to the field.”
According to Waters, Widner and Maples, a few new players to keep an eye on at Dafford Smith Stadium this year are Bailey Strong (WR/CB) and Hunter Brewer, a senior spreading his wings away from the basketball court for the first time in order to bolster the Purple and Gold’s receiving corps.
Redding and Co. are also big on freshman Sambo Woods, as well as Austin Harris, who is taking over at running back following the departure of Marco Rodriguez and Trent Shoemaker.
“He’s going to be a sophomore, but he’s sitting at 195 pounds right now. He looks like he’s fixing to start his senior year, that’s just kind of where he’s at physically,” Redding said of Harris, who will double as an outside linebacker. “He eats and breathes this stuff. He studies the game and wants to compete. Austin is going to be a guy we’re going to lean on and really try to get things done with for sure.”
The Aggies were plagued by turnovers against the Tigers in their spring jamboree, so Redding and his staff placed an added emphasis on ball security at the outset of fall practice. If the coaches’ designated ball somehow dropped to the ground, so did the players, who were relegated to a handful of up-downs in each instance. The squad’s running backs and wide receivers also had to pay up for a few botched plays in the form of 20 push-ups.
“We’re going to take care of the football. We’re going to eliminate turnovers, eliminate mistakes and eliminate our sacks,” Redding said. “The other team is going to get theirs, but we’re not going to give them ours. That’s been a big focus for us in mini-camp, and the guys have really taken to it.”
Before Tuesday morning’s practice could officially come to a close, the coach and his coordinators subjected their players to hill sprints. The Aggies were expected to run full speed for all 10 reps or suffer the consequences of starting all over at zero.
In the middle of the drill, Redding asked Ethan Waddell how he was holding up. To the delight of the seventh-year coach, the big man quipped he was “privileged to be getting into shape.”
“Right now, he’s taking it all in. Even when it’s tough and you’re running hills, you’ve got to love that because there’ll be a day you could run one more. He’ll blink, and then he’ll be a senior,” Redding said of Waddell, who is expected to compete for the fifth spot on the offensive line. “I think his character, the type of kids he is and his willingness to be successful, that’s the kind of kids we want.”
Fairview, which finished 7-4 in 2012 and made the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, will get its season started on the road Aug. 30 against Hanceville. The Aggies are 9-22 in the all-time series versus their county rivals but handily defeated the Bulldogs 32-0 in last year’s season-opener.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.