Some football programs are happy simply to play in an 11th game. For a perennial contender like Cullman, though, just reaching the postseason isn’t quite good enough.
Coach Mark Britton expects his Bearcats to win in the first round, and that’s precisely what they’ve been able to do the last six seasons and nine of the last 12.
The Black and Gold will have the opportunity to stretch that streak to seven when Arab makes its way to Oliver Woodard Stadium this Friday. Based on his coaching staff’s track record in the opening round, Britton likes Cullman’s chances.
“We don’t want to just get to the playoffs. We want to get in and try to make some noise,” the coach said. “We put a lot of expectations on the kids at the beginning of the year, and then we really emphasize that regardless of what your record is, you’re 0-0 right now. It’s one and done. If you have a bad night, it could be over.”
In order to avoid a letdown against an 8-2 Knights’ squad capable of making some noise of their own, Britton has the Bearcats going back to basics this week. In practice, they’ve been focusing on fundamentals like blocking, tackling and offensive line play.
After relying on a balanced offensive attack to jump out to a 7-1 record, Cullman leaned heavily on its passing game the last two games of the regular season. That’s easy to do with stud quarterback Zac Crocker and Houston Turner, Troy Forrest, Mason Jones and Wesley Hendrix at wide receiver, but Britton plans to bring Garrett Crider and Drew Johnson back into the mix against Arab.
“I want to be able to be kind of hard-nosed. Let’s make sure we can do our running game. Let’s not let the defense dictate to us just because we can take advantage,” the coach said. “I want us to get the running game going again. We’ve got two good running backs, and they’re too good of kids not to include.”
Just because Britton wants to count on the ground game a bit more doesn’t mean he’s not going to let Crocker and crew do what they do best. The coach said he believes tall targets like Forrest and Turner give the Bearcats a height advantage, while Jones and Hendrix should be able to contribute with their speed and ability to grind for maximum yardage after each catch.
“We don’t have just one receiver,” he said. “We can throw it to all those guys.”
Arab’s biggest weapon might be kicker Jason Willard. The senior boots most kickoffs deep into the end zone and has connected on his fair share of lengthy field goals this season.
Knowing Willard’s capabilities, Britton has all but decided the Bearcats won’t spend too much time working on kickoff returns this week.
“There’s a weapon right there that you don’t really see every week in high school football,” the coach said. “This young man is very talented.”
With the Knights in the first round and a possible rematch with Walker, which Cullman beat 42-14 to open the season, on the horizon, the state playoff bracket is looking very favorable for the Bearcats. Don’t tell that to Britton, who made it loud and clear no member of the Black and Gold will be looking ahead under his watch.
“Really, as far I’m concerned, we’ve got one game to worry about, and that’s the only game we can control,” he said. “For us, there’s no other team but Arab right now. That’s who we need to worry about.”
Safety Trey Moon was kept out of last week’s game versus Center Point, and defensive back Richard Poston saw limited time with a sore shoulder. Britton said he expects both starters to be back on the field this Friday night.
The coach had a heavy heart on Tuesday after learning about the death of Bryan Steele, a 2009 Cullman graduate, two days earlier. Britton acknowledged that Steele, who played safety and spent part of his final season at quarterback, was an extremely hard-working and gifted athlete throughout his prep career with the Bearcats.
“It’s a very sad situation,” he said. “These football guys are an extension of my family. He was just an outstanding young person, an outstanding teammate. It’s just unfortunate that this has happened. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Funeral services for Steele, 20, will be at 10 a.m. on Friday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.