By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For the first time since 2007, Fairview High won’t have a quarterback named Trett Hardmann or Luke Bailey.
This fall, that familiar place behind center will instead belong to Hayden Maples, who admittedly wields a different skill set than either of his dual-threat predecessors.
What the pocket-passing junior will also freely admit is that he’s his own young man. He isn’t Trett. He isn’t Luke. He is Hayden — and that’s all George Redding is asking him to be.
“I’m going to tell you, he brings some things to the table that we’re excited about — the smarts, the competitive fire and the want to be successful,” the Aggie coach said of Maples, who’s been in his system since the eighth grade. “I’ve seen a difference in Hayden. Already, he has really taken on the leadership role as ‘I’m the man now.’”
That “man” will be the latest signal-caller in a high-powered Purple and Gold offense that has yet to average less than 30 points per game in Redding’s six years atop the program. Even after losing 18 seniors to graduation following a 7-4 showing last season, Ethan Widner is confident the latest version of the Fairview football team can be just as dynamic.
The senior’s veteran leadership and three years of starting experience at H-back will be put to good use, as will the return of four offensive lineman — C.J. Waters, Christian Seals, Riley Howse and Cody Nichols. Those hosses are expected to give Maples plenty of time in the pocket to pinpoint a seasoned target in Widner and wide-receiving newbies like Bailey Strong and Hunter Brewer.
With Marco Rodriguez and Trent Shoemaker among the recently departed, it’s Austin Harris’ time to shine in the Aggie backfield. Redding made it clear early in the fall the 195-pound sophomore, who “eats and breathes this stuff,” will assume starting duties at running back.
Throughout Redding’s reign, the Purple and Gold offense has often served as the squad’s best defense, too, a trend Waters, a senior linebacker, is hoping this year’s unit can buck. Fairview has allowed a smidgen more than 25 points the past two seasons and no less than 21 since 2007.
“We try to turn that around a lot and get our defense to step up,” Waters said. “We want to lower their points so we don’t have to score as much.”
The 2012 Aggies managed to traverse a treacherous Class 4A, Region 6 schedule en route to a second-place finish and hosting rights in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, Redding acknowledged the region hasn’t gotten any easier, not with Oneonta roaming around as the two-time reigning 4A runner-up or Guntersville, Sardis and St. Clair County all poised to challenge for a postseason spot. The coach also brought up Douglas, a rival he said the Purple and Gold “have had some wars with the last couple years.”
“You’ve got about four or five teams there trying to get in those top-four slots,” Redding said. “Somebody is going to be left at home. To us, it’s a rat race from the get-go. We’ve got Douglas Week 2 and Guntersville Week 3.
“It’s kind of hard to say where we’re at without a doubt. We’re fighting for a playoff spot. We want to get in, and we want to get it home, so we want to get in the top one or two. That’s just the way it is. It’s where we want to be.”
Region contests are certainly important, but at Fairview, so are its three annual county games. For the second-straight campaign, the Aggies will open against Hanceville, hit the midway point against Holly Pond and close up shop with revenge in mind for 5A West Point.
The Broncos and Warriors will have to take a back seat for now, however, because Redding said his squad’s full focus has been on the Bulldogs this fall.
Although his Purple and Gold blanked Hanceville 32-0 last August, the coach expects this season’s opener to be a much different ballgame. Reason No. 1 is the return of big-boy Torrey Green at running back. The second was the Dawgs’ reversal of a three-game slide to start 2012 with a seven-game streak in the opposite direction that concluded their regular season on a high note.
“The Hanceville game right out of the gate is crucial. I’m not saying that if you don’t win, you can’t be successful, but it really sets the tone for how things can be,” Redding said. “It’s a county game, and they’ve got some tremendous talent over there. Those guys went on an outstanding run at the end of last year, so I’m sure they’re still feeding off that. And it’s at their place.”
Considering its 4-0 road record last season, that last morsel shouldn’t have Fairview sweating too much. Redding chalked up the unblemished mark simply to scheduling, though, because to the coach, there’s no way his team’s 3-4 mark at home could’ve had anything to do with the Aggies’ faithful followers.
After playing six regular season games at Dafford Smith Stadium in 2012, the Purple and Gold will only host four this fall.
“I’ll be honest, there’s no better place to play than here at Fairview on Friday night. We have as good as an atmosphere as there is around,” Redding said. “It’s tough playing on the road, but we’re going to have to learn to play in a hostile environment and still be successful. It isn’t always going to be easy for you.”
% Redding with a bit of entertaining coach speak on the Aggies’ 2013 schedule: “It’s one of those deals you want to win them all, every one of them. If you’re not trying to win them all, then I’m not sure why we’re in this business.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.