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August 25, 2013

PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: New-look Bearcats not backing down to program’s high expectations

CULLMAN — New quarterback. New secondary. New faces everywhere you look on the field.

Oh, and same rough region.

It’s not time for the Cullman High football team to fret just yet, but the panic button is sitting idly by just in case.

Don’t expect Mark Britton to be the man who pushes it, though.

In fact, the legendary coach historically feels his Bearcats are at their best when placed behind the 8-ball. Down after one quarter? Same story after two? Britton still doesn’t break a sweat — and neither do his players.  

“We’re one of those teams that try to reel you in. If we’re close at halftime, we feel like we can catch you in the second half, and that’s been our philosophy,” he said. “We try to work on conditioning and try to get you into a pace of the game that benefits us. Those are the things that we really try to do, and our kids buy into that.”

The boys have also bought into Britton’s expansive coaching staff, which returns for yet another season with the Black and Gold. This year, the veteran unit enters the fall needing one win for Britton to pull even with Cullman coaching icon Oliver Woodard’s win total (106) and two to take over the school’s all-time mark.

But just like in 2012, when he chased his 100th win with the program, Britton is choosing to focus on the season at hand and save room for celebration somewhere down the road. He’s never been one to take all the credit, either, and isn’t about to start in his 13th campaign with the No. 9 Bearcats.

“I’ve been very blessed to be the coach here for a long time,” Britton said. “We’ve had a great coaching staff, we’ve had great administrative support and the community trusts us, which is a big thing. They know we’ve worked hard. Our community is football smart, and they’re appreciative of it.”

The first chance for Britton and the Black and Gold to tie the record will come Aug. 30 on the road against bitter-rival Walker.

The long-standing series, which is deadlocked at 33-33-2, has soured in recent years. That was no more evident than in 2012, when Cullman started and ended the Vikings’ season with a pair of blowout losses. The last matchup, a 30-0 shutout in the second round of the playoffs, got ugly fast with a near brawl in the fourth quarter and only escalated further when the Bearcats rushed straight to the visitor’s locker room following the final whistle.

Think all that will have the Black and Gold fired up for Walker in Week 1?

“I hope it does. I hope it pushes them,” Britton said. “You want your kids ready for every single game. Walker has been a big rivalry, and we have been fortunate to come out on the winning end of some very competitive games.”

The fun for Cullman will truly begin once it delves into its Class 5A, Region 8 schedule. At this time last year, Britton felt most people penciled in the Bearcats for fifth in the group. Yet,  by the end of Week 9, they finished second and made a postseason run all the way to the quarterfinals.

Despite playing in “one of the hardest regions in 5A football,” Trey Moon, the only returner in the secondary, still thought the Black and Gold “should’ve finished first.” His expectations for the 2013 campaign are no different.

“I feel like we’re up there,” the senior said. “I feel like we have a chance to win the region.”

In order to make that happen, Cullman will have to take care of business against all the usual powers, as well as East Limestone, West Point and Lawrence County, a few budding programs Britton believes could make some noise this fall.

“I look for everybody in our region to be chasing Muscle Shoals,” the coach said. “And that’s not to take away from real strong programs like Athens, Hartselle and Russellville. Those guys are consistently playoff contenders, as are we.

“There’s so many that compete for those top-four positions. It’ll be just like last year. You’re going to be fighting right down to Week 10.”

To make matters more difficult, that fight will be made for the Bearcats with a slew of fresh faces on both sides of the ball.

The most notable is Tyler Glenn, who takes over at quarterback after spending two seasons in a backup role. Though the signal-caller is new, much of his supporting cast is not, including four of five offensive lineman — Ben Johnson, Jesse Allredge, Daniel Hunter and Chaz Brouillette — and one veteran apiece at wide receiver — Mason Jones — and running back — Garrett Crider.

Glenn called that experience a “tremendous help,” and Britton agreed.

“It’s going to take a lot of pressure off of him,” the coach said. “He’s not going to have to go out there and throw for 300 yards for us to be successful.”

More than a handful of impact players are gone from a Black and Gold defense that allowed just 16 points per game in 2012.

The unit wasn’t completely gutted, though. Moon and defensive end Alex Martin are looking to end their prep careers on high notes after garnering All-State honorable mention status their junior campaigns.

Joseph Gable is one of many other players expected to fit into Cullman’s defensive plans following a strong showing in the fall.

He might be a wide receiver, but Jones feels he knows enough about his boys on the other side of the ball to think they’ll be just fine under the Friday-night lights.

“We lost a lot of starters, but then again, coach Hop, he gets them going,” the senior said of defensive coordinator Matt Hopper. “The few starters we have returning are our leaders out there. They’ve been in it, they know it game in and game out, and they’re going to get ’em going no matter what, no matter who’s in there.”

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