By Joshua Huff, sports editor
CENTER POINT – The early morning summer breeze carried with it the sounds of shouting and the burst of whistles during Center Point High School football’s first official team session on the 2020 season at the team’s practice facility on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
Clad in the mandated face mask that has so far been the symbol of what has been a peculiar year to say the least, the players took to the field for conditioning drills under the watchful gaze of head coach George Bates.
“We’re going to be young and very exciting,” Bates said as he watched his players break off into groups after opening sprints, following mandated social distancing guidelines, of course. “We’re going to be very, very competitive. Though we’re in a new region, I don’t see it as a drop off. This will be a closer-knit team.”
Despite the loss of a whole host of seniors – Jayson Jones, Roderick Orr, Anterrius Craig, Gerry Marshall, Quinterrius Tanksley, DeCarius Hawthorne, among others – the Eagles will enter this season with a team that Bates believes will be even better than this past year’s squad, which fell just short of advancing into the Class 5A state semifinals for the first time in program history.
“I don’t see a drop off,” Bates reiterated.
There does not appear to be any indicators that Bates is effusing false optimism. His career as a head coach points to a continued rise in the standings the longer he remains with a program. At Parker, he guided a 2013 team to an 8-4 record following a 4-6 first season, and at Minor, Bates’ 2016 team went 11-2 in his third season after records of 7-4 and 8-5.
In his two seasons at Center Point, Bates has gone 15-10 and 10-4 in region play.
The Eagles’ new region, Class 5A, Region 6, now includes the likes of Alexandria, Corner, Hayden, Leeds and Lincoln. Gone are Mortimer Jordan, Central Clay County, Sylacauga and Munford.
“I’ve never played Lincoln,” Bates said. “Alexandria, I’ve never beat them as a player. It’s good to play those guys.”
The reclassification serves as halt to the monotony of playing the same teams each season. But with that, comes the end of particular rivalries, like Central Clay County or Mortimer Jordan.
“We’ve got to figure out who is going to be our rival in the region,” Bates said. “Proximity-wise, it’s going to be kind of tough. It may be best that Leeds turns into that rival. We’re probably closest in proximity.”
With Monday’s practice being the first of the season, it is too early for Bates to have a good pulse on who will stand out and what alterations will be needed to be ready for the season opener. However, his team’s ability to whether the adversity of the coronavirus pandemic has Bates hopeful that all will be well come this fall.
“I kind of appreciate what’s been going on,” Bates said. “I learned that they are going to be a close-knit team. I know that this is important to them. We always had great attendance when we did our team Zoom meetings and when we did our character ed; everybody was online. I didn’t see them physically, but I picked up on the mental vibe and the importance.”