By John Goolsby, For the Tribune
IRONDALE – Coach Rueben Nelson enters his third year at Shades Valley with the expectation that his Mountie team will improve on last season’s 5-4 record.
Nelson knows one style of football is the only way to win a championship. “We are looking to play a hard nose brand of football, and we practiced that way in the spring, and we will continue practicing that way once we get into camp,” said Nelson.
The Mounties had to overcome a lack of depth this spring because player numbers were down. Nelson is looking to offset the lack of numbers with the strenuous strength and conditioning program he implemented when he arrived.
The number of students not playing football or leaving Valley for other programs has been problematic for several years. “We have got to be able to keep kids at Shades Valley,” said Nelson. “If we can do that, we will be successful.”
“We know we are doing things the right way, and we aren’t going to stop,” said Nelson. “We hope that high school football stops mimicking the college game and kids will learn to bond with the kids who they started playing with and hopefully finish with them.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Mounties return senior quarterback Steve Brown who accounted for 23 TDS and over 2,000 yards last year. “We have got to get a lot out of Steve at quarterback,” said Nelson. “I think he’s one of the most talented guys in the metro and has a chance to have a really good year.”
Brown is looking forward to having the opportunity to lead Valley’s resurgence. “I want to elevate my game to the next level,” said Brown. “We want to do things that Shades Valley hasn’t accomplished in a long time.”
Defensively, All-State linebacker Ethan Johnson will lead the Mounties. As a junior last year, Johnson recorded 153 tackles in only nine games. “If Ethan has the same type of year that he had last year, he’ll go down as one of the best linebackers to ever come through Shades Valley,” said Nelson.
Johnson, who has nine offers including Army, Coastal Carolina, and Appalachian State, is looking to elevate his play on the field and his role in the locker room. “I want to play fast and be very explosive this year,” said Johnson. “I also accept the role of being the leader of the defense.”
The old adage, “games are won in the trenches” applies to every level of football. Nelson is keenly aware of the shortcomings of his line last year but is encouraged by what he has seen through spring camp. “Up front, defensively, we knew we would have to continue to get better,” he said. “I think we have done that.” Zion Cathey, Terrance James, Kyle Deramus, Justin Miller, and Carlos Ford will see action on the front.
The Mounties were extremely young on the offensive line last year. “We started two freshmen and two sophomores,” Nelson said. “Now they are a year older and stronger.” Julian Maddox, Ajari Jones, Johnny Steele, Peyton Kid and Will Looney are potential starters.
Maddox, a junior, will be returning as the center. “What we want to accomplish as a line is to help the team make it to the playoffs,” hehe, he said.
The Mounties will be looking to replace “Mr. Everything” Christian Thomas. Juniors Ji’Quez Daniels and Quincy Crawford will be stepping up to lead the Mounties at the wide receiver position.
Daniels, who had 25 receptions for 256 yards and 3 TDs last season, has been working hard in the off-season and wants to help the Mountie offense. “I want to be a player that can help us get to the playoffs,” said Daniels. “I want to be the guy that can make a statement and be counted on.”
Crawford, who missed last season due to an injury, is expected to make an impact. “He will add a big punch to what we do,” said Nelson. “He’s a guy that can make plays on the ball real fast.”
Senior Torez McCall returns after seeing playing time at wideout as well.
The secondary is perhaps the part of the team that took the biggest hit due to graduation and transfers. Sophomores Jamie Smalls and junior Jacaryous Burrow return after seeing playing time last year.
Senior David Ware, sophomore Geordan Clarke, and Johnson saw considerable time at running back last year and will be returning to the backfield for the Mounties this fall.
Senior Jair Aguilar will return as a kicker.
“We can’t make excuses; we have to get it done,” said Nelson. “We have to live up to a standard of excellence that was established here years ago. We have to get back to where wearing the black helmets means something.”