The Clay-Chalkville Cougars will take the high-flying offense to Hueytown to play the Golden Gophers in a big Class 6A non-region game. Clay-Chalkville has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and wants to return to redeem their early exit in the 2022 playoffs with a first-round loss to Parker.
Clay-Chalkville won their first game of the season against Briarwood Christian, while Hueytown lost to 5A power Ramsey. The Cougars offense has been turned to 5-star defensive back/wide receiver Jaylen Mbakwe. Mbakwe has played quarterback in the past but now will play it full-time in his senior season.
The Alabama commit completed 12-of-18 for 116 yards and a touchdown through the air while running six times for 64 yards and another touchdown last week against Briarwood Christian in his first start at quarterback. Last year's starter, quarterback Kamari McClellan is still at Clay-Chalkville and played a limited role last week.
The Cougars run game is in great shape with three good running backs. Taurus Chambers, Aaron Osley, and Bravis Cave can break the big run anytime they touch the football.
The wide receiving group is talented, with Mario Craver leading the way. Craver is the big home run threat with good hands and a solid route runner. Jabari Staples, Marlon Compton, and Corey Barber fill out the receiving core for the Cougars.
The offensive line has AJ Williams, JacQuan McRoy, Adrian Spivey, and Jayden Jones. Williams has been a starter since his freshman season. McRoy has verbally committed to Oregon and has a huge presence on the Cougars front line.
The Cougars defense doesn't get the glory like the offense but is very salty. Linebacker DJ Barber is one of the best in the state. The verbal commitment to Auburn plays with a high motor all over the field. With Barber, linebackers Carlos Ivy and Rob Ivey play a big role.
The defensive linemen Pat Smith, Randell Cole, and Avion Pickett will get plenty of playing time for the Cougars.
The secondary comprises Tevis Metcalf, Dion Gunn, Jarmarqus Jones, and Xavier Starks. Metcalf is a verbal commitment to Arkansas and is one of the best defensive corners in the state. Gunn had an interception last week against Briarwood Christian.
Hueytown comes into the game with a few questions. A few of their key players have been injured and sick while they are looking for some younger guys to step up going into this matchup with Clay-Chalkville. "Our defense played well enough to win last week," said Gophers head coach Greg Patterson. "We are still searching for that identity on offense. We didn't find the right combination of players, but it has been our focus this week. We need to get the guys we have available in the right spots to get our offense going."
One bright spot for the Hueytown offense is Jebron Ellington. Ellington has tremendous speed and can get big chucks of gains when he finds that hole. "He didn't give Jebron great protection, but he took it in stride and didn't complain," added Patterson. "We dropped some of his balls, tucked and ran it when he had to, he was pounded a few times, but he is not the position we are concerned about Friday night. When Jabron commits to run the ball, he has high-level speed."
Running back Ja'Khael Rowser is one of the best versatile backs in Class 6A and is currently injured and hasn't played this season. He can catch it out of the backfield or in the slot and run it out of those two positions. He has speed and quickness with great pass-catching hands. "I don't think he will play Friday," said Patterson. "He gives us so many more options when he is on the field. We want to get the ball in the playmakers' hands. Most people don't understand his leadership quality to our team. We miss that, a four-year starter, and we are very inexperienced on that side of the ball." Elijia Hudson filled on for Rowser last week and received some good playing time with Ellington in the backfield.
Wide receiver Dacorion "Peanut" Thomas is another solid weapon for the Gophers. Thomas has unbelievable speed on the outside. "Peanut is very fast and is another senior that played a good bit last year," said Patterson. "He has to take over that leadership role when Rowser is out of the game. That is a little new territory for him, but the sky is his limit. He runs really good routes and can catch the ball most of the time for us. We have challenged him to step into that leadership role with Jabron this week."
The offensive line is where the inexperience showed up against Ramsay last week and will be tested against Clay-Chalkville on Friday. Gerald Owens is the only returning starter. Jordan Groom only played half of a game last season before getting hurt in his first game and didn't return in 2022. Micah Hatcher, Brian Youngblood, and Don Roller will need to play big this week for the Hueytown offense.
The defense played pretty well last week, but they will get tested against Mbakwe and company. One player that will make a difference for the Gophers defense is defensive lineman Keith Green. "Keith is an outstanding high school football player," added Patterson. "He is one of those kids that comes in a great mood every day, plays hard, does his job, and has grown up taking young guys under his wing. Will talk to these young guys and tell them this is not how we do things here. Great leader. That has been good for us.
With Green, Kole Caldwell, Jordyn Jackson, Christian Williams, and Kelvin Cook will get playing time. Linebackers Jacob Hanberry, Xander Scott, and Alex Vassar lead the way for the Cougars.
The secondary has some experience with OJ Sealie and Kam Kynard. "They have made us so much better on the back end," said Patterson. "Can make the necessary adjustments, calls, and checks, which is valuable for us. They are coaches on the field. Juqarious Brooks had eight or nine games last year, and it was obvious in the spring and summer, and it was so valuable to him this fall. It is good to have those guys in the back end and have Keith in the box in the front end."
Hueytown started the season at 1-3 last year but knows how valuable these games are for their young players before the region starts next week.