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August 5, 2013

PREP FOOTBALL: Cats open fall practice with wide-open depth chart

CULLMAN — The 2013 Bearcats aren’t the same football team your grandaddy once knew.

The name’s the same, but the game has drastically changed, even from a year ago, when Cullman finished 10-3 and advanced all the way to the third round of the playoffs.

These days, there’s a new quarterback in charge, the secondary is drastically depleted and competitions are budding at basically every position.

Think all signs point to a down year for the Black and Gold?

Incoming signal-caller Tyler Glenn certainly doesn’t think so, and Mason Jones, the only returning wide receiver, is saying not to listen to any of that kind of talk.

All-State defender Trey Moon tends to agree with the both of them.

 “Compared to last year, our strong points are probably our weak points because we lost a lot of people,” said Moon, Cullman’s lone incumbent in the secondary. “We have to make new strong points. We’ll have to learn a whole different scheme. I’m looking forward to it all coming together and winning games. That’s what it’s all about.”

It all began for the Bearcats with their first practice of the fall on Monday morning, and by Mark Britton’s assessment, his boys were off to a good start. The legendary coach focused heavily on getting the young guys up to speed on the complexities of a Black and Gold practice before concentrating on conditioning by making all 92 players run 27 sprints from sideline to sideline to close out the session.

“We expect them to be sore for the next couple of days,” Britton said. “We’re going to try to get that out of them before we get in pads on Thursday.”

Sore seemed to be the perfect descriptor for many of the players as they trudged back and forth across the field. Britton was pleased with the way his seniors led by example, though, with boys like Glenn, Jones and Joseph Gable going full-speed ahead the entire time and harping on teammates who bent over between sprints.

“We’ve all been in that position,” Jones said. “We know it’s hard, but then again, this season is not just for us seniors. It’s for all of us, and we’re trying to get all of them mentally prepared, as well as physically, for the year to come.”

The first time Cullman ran through its high-octane NASCAR drill, Britton was none too impressed. The second go-round, however, was much more to his liking — and Gable was a big reason why.

The versatile defender stole the spotlight throughout the drill, swatting away several passes and even pulling down a pick at one point.

Britton expected nothing less from “one of those veteran guys.”

“He’s a step ahead of a lot of folks around him just because of his experience,” the coach said of Gable. “He’s anticipating the quarterback’s movement, and that’s exactly what you need in a veteran defensive back and linebacker. It’s second nature, and we want to get all our guys at that speed. That’s something we’re looking forward to.”

Other than the interception, Glenn’s first day at the helm of the Bearcat offense went fairly smoothly. His passes came in hot, he didn’t hone in on just one target and most of his reads were made to Britton’s satisfaction.

Glenn only has one start under his belt after serving two years as Zac Crocker’s backup but has already earned the label of leader from his teammates.

“Just because he’s first-year, nobody is looking at him as somebody who is just starting,” Jones said. “He’s been in this program. He knows it. We’re just trying to get on his page, and he’s trying to get used to us. He’s a leader to us, and he’ll be a leader to this whole team.”

The return of Jones, bruising running back Garrett Crider and four of five starters from last year’s offensive line — Ben Johnson, Jesse Allredge, Daniel Hunter and Chaz Brouillette — should make Glenn’s life behind center a whole lot easier this season. Hunter was a full participant at Monday’s practice after breaking a bone in his foot during the spring.

“That’s one of the few places we have on the team we feel like we have some depth,” Britton said of the O-line. “We’ve got about eight guy we feel pretty good about that can fit and back each other up.”

Gone are the likes of tall targets Houston Turner and Troy Forrest, leaving newcomers Zack Kane, Seth Donaldson, Maison Goodwin, L.J. Patterson and others to pick up the slack. Will Crenshaw, who Britton touted as a “tough runner,” will be counted on to work alongside Crider in the backfield.

“Last year, we felt like our wide receivers could really dominate a game,” the coach said. “This year, we’ve got to go in confident we can run the football. We’ve got a pretty-good-sized veteran offensive line that needs to come off the ball and establish the line of scrimmage. I think we need to put more emphasis on the run game and then be very patient with our passing game.”

The 2013 campaign won’t officially start until three weeks from this Friday, but many of the Bearcats were already looking ahead to their opening contest versus Walker on Day 1.

“We shut them out in the playoffs and had to leave the field early because of a little scuffle on the field,” Moon said referring to the Black and Gold’s 30-0 road romp last Novemeber. “But I can’t wait. That’s the game I’ve been looking forward to more than any.”

Added Jones: “They’ve got some revenge coming up for us they think. We beat them twice last year. Of course they beat us the first game here on this turf, but from then on, they haven’t won again. It should be good.”

A victory against the Vikings would give Britton, entering his 13th season with the Cullman football team, the same amount of wins (106) as Oliver Woodard, the program’s current all-time leader.

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

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