The Super Bowl marked the official end to the football season at every level — pro, college and preps alike.
Now comes the months of speculation, rumors and hope for what’s to come when the pads are strapped back on next fall.
One local team looking to start the offseason talks as soon as possible is West Point, which recently set its schedule in stone for the 2014 campaign.
The Warriors are still in Class 5A, but it’s a different 5A than before the Alabama High School Athletic Association rearranged its members to make room for a seventh class. Gone from Region 8 are perennial contenders Cullman, Muscle Shoals, Hartselle and Athens. In their place is a much more manageable slate, featuring newbies Columbia, Ardmore, Pope John Paul II, and J.O. Johnson, as well as fellow holdovers Russellville, East Limestone and Lawrence County.
Throw non-region foes Hayden, Hanceville and Priceville into the mix, and the combined winning percentage of West Point’s 10 regular season’s opponents for 2013 is a middling 42 percent. Ardmore (6-5), Hanceville (9-2) and J.O. Johnson (11-2) are the only ones in the bunch that had winning records. The latter advanced all the way to the third round, while the other two made first-round exits.
“Everybody’s first thought is that it’s automatically easier, but it’s still a competitive region,” Warrior coach Don Farley said. “We’re not approaching it like anything’s easier. We’re trying to control what we control and keep our kids motivated.
“Classification’s just a number. Our goals are going to be the same — to make the playoffs, host the playoffs and get better each week. A different schedule doesn’t change anything.”
The Maroon and White will look to punch their postseason ticket for the first time since 2008 with a whopping 18 returning starters. However, the pieces the program will be missing — linemen Chandler Nelson and Zack Tilley and two-way threat Tristan Dubberly — come graduation are rather significant.
Those departures will be offset by the return of three-year starting quarterback Bryant Farley and a hopefully fully healthy running back Kobe Smith. Trent Campbell, Ryder Jones, Will Wrenn, Levi Laney and Tristin Skinner are just a small sample of the team’s other contributors coming back with another year of experience under their belts.
Following a spring exhibition against Fairview and fall jamboree at Curry, West Point will seek to stretch its current two-game win streak Aug. 29 on the road versus Hayden. The Warriors capped off a 4-6 showing by beating East Limestone and the Aggies.
“That’s got the excitement up,” coach Farley said of the back-to-back victories. “The kids are working hard. It’s a never-ending process, whether there’s reclassification going on or not.”
Per a new AHSAA policy, squads now have 11 weeks to fit in 10 games. That leaves Aug. 22 for either non-region matchups or non-counting jamborees. Because the Maroon and White chose the latter option, their regular season won’t include a bye.
Farley said he and Cullman coach Mark Britton tried to pencil each other on their schedules but ultimately couldn’t find a date that worked for both sides. The cross-town rivals have faced off 30 times since 1974. The last break in the annual affair was from 2004-09.
“It comes and goes,” Farley said. “It’s been a good series for both schools.”
Check back with The Times as more schedules are released around the area.
See West Point’s full 2014 slate below:
May 9 or 16 @ Fairview (spring jamboree)
Aug. 21 @ Curry (fall jamboree)
Aug. 29 @ Hayden
Sept. 5 vs. Columbia*
Sept. 12 @ Ardmore*
Sept. 19 vs. Pope John Paul II*
Sept. 26 @ Hanceville
Oct. 3 @ J.O. Johnson (possibly Oct. 2)*
Oct. 10 vs. Russellville*
Oct. 17 @ East Limestone*
Oct. 24 vs. Lawrence County*
Oct. 31 vs. Priceville
* Class 5A, Region 8 game
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.