The #1 Clay-Chalkville Cougars go on the road and play Gardendale in a key Class 6A, Region 6 game at Driver Stadium on Friday night. Driver Stadium has new turf that was just installed and this will be the first game played on it.
Clay-Chalkville has been rolling over teams in the first three games of the season and they look to keep the winning ways on Friday night. The Cougars have wins over Shades Valley (40-0), Hueytown (57-40) and Jasper (68-21). The offense is averaging 55.0 points per game and have experience skilled players on both side of the ball. "I really like the way our team has played," said Cougars head coach Drew Gilmore. "We still are working hard and have a long way to go."
Senior quarterback Khalib Johnson leads the way for the Cougars. "We want Khalib to get the ball to our playmakers," added Gilmer. "He has done a good job of keeping his eyes downfield and delivering the football." The Louisville verbal commitment has completed 34-for-47 passing for 581 yards with seven touchdowns with 38 yards on 7 carries and two touchdowns.
At running back, Ed Owsley leads the way. The Cougars running back has 384 yards on 39 carries (9.9 yard per carry) with six touchdowns along with 50 yards on four catches on the season. Also, Cam'ron Williams can be found in the backfield. Look for the senior running back play in the wildcat position where he can do anything with the ball. Throw it, hand it off or just run the football with his quickness and speed.
At receiver, Marquarious White is having a big year. With his good route running and speed, he is a problem for opposing defenses. "Squirell can stop and start along with having the top speed on the field," said Gilmer. "He runs great routes, great hands and they are such a great combination." For the season, White has 10 receptions for 197 yards and four touchdowns along with a 40 yards per average kick return average and a touchdown. White had the 65-yard touchdown kickoff return against Hueytown.
Along with White you have Jaylen Mbakwe, Amari Howell, Nate Owens and Mario Craver. Each have very good hands along with a lot of speed that can stretch the defense. Your going to need great pressure on the quarterback along with a good secondary to slow down the Cougars passing game and it has not happened so far.
On the offensive line, we have Kyrell Wiggins, Paul Lee, Corey Calvin, Pierre White and freshman AJ Williams. "The line has played hard and physical," said Gilmore. "We have to continue to get after it. They are working to get better each week." Williams has played well as a freshman and will have his hands full with the big defensive line of the Rockets. "AJ is growing up fast," added Gilmer. "He is not a freshman anymore, he has three games under his belt and needs to continue to play well."
On defense, the defensive line is not huge but brings a lot of speed to the position. Kaleb Simon, Jamon Smith, Devin Finley, Kevin Hurley and Randall Cole lead the way for the Cougars. "This group is playing hard and have done a good job of stopping the run," said Gilmer. "We have to keep putting pressure on the quarterback."
The Linebackers are Jordan Walker, Rodarius Sykes, D'Angelo Barber and Coda Cooper. The secondary has Lamar Croskey, Jayden Sweeney, Ormond Wallace, Mbakwe, Michael Yafondo, Cameron Jones and Dylan Simmons.
"Gardendale has a lot of talented players," said Gilmer. "They have a great quarterback and running back. A lot of play makers on the defensive line. They are a solid team and plays real hard under a great coach."
For Gardendale, they are coming off a tough loss to Pinson Valley (38-21) but started the season off with two wins over Bessemer City (39-0) and Sparkman (34-20). The Gardendale offense has some new faces this season and but still have a lot some experience on both sides of the ball.
At quarterback is Tyler Nelson. "Tyler did a great job of building relationships with the players," said Rockets head coach Chad Eads. "Did a great job of being part of the team. He is a great kid and excited to be at practice. He is getting better each week and gives us a little extra on running the ball. I've been well pleased with his developement." The transfer from Calera has completed 17-of-33 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns with 206 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns on the ground.
The ground game is in good hands with L.T. Sanders. "He is the running back that can make a run or a cut and see it before anyone else does," added Eads. "A very physical runner that can carry is 25 times and catch the ball out of the backfield. We need to use him more in the passing game. He is so reliable." Sanders has rushed for 492 yards on 45 carries with a 10.9 yard per average with five touchdowns on the season. Connor Hensley is the H-back along with being the backup quarterback for the Rockets. Also, he is one of the leading tacklers on special teams. Hensley prepares for quarterback each week along with his H-back position.
The receiving core doesn't have a lot of experience but they are coming along with Nelson in the passing game. Ean Nation has three receptions for 49 yards, Logan Fitzgerald has 3 receptions for 47 yards, Jecorey Craig has two receptions for 21 yards are gaining that experience each week. Nick Odom, Kedrick Storey and Maddox Padgett bring depth to the Rockets passing game.
The offensive line of Joseph Herald, Aiden Bulloch, Lawson Hughes, Cole Jenkins and Nate Wright want to play physical up front and will need to have a big game Friday. "The leadership of our team comes from our offensive line," said Eads. "These guys show up day after day and never have a bad day. The are very consistent in your style of play. Joseph, Cole and Nathan have been through so much for us. They are the leaders. Nathan is our most physical and talented player at left tackle. Joe is so steady in the middle. Cole can play every position. He can move all over the line and a very smart kid and a great player for us. His versatility on the line is so important to us."
One guy that has been a pleasant surprise for the team and loves the game is right tackle Bulloch. "We went through spring at tackle being his first time and we just tossed him in the mix," said Eads. "We saw him getting better each practice and over the summer with conditioning. He started the season as a backup but we started him against Pinson and he was one of our best guys. We thought he was always going to be a backup, but when he got his chance he made the best of it. He got to prove everyone wrong including me. A young quiet guy that comes in a works hard and doesn't get a lot of glory but works hard everyday."
The defense has a lot of talent up front. Defensive lineman Kelby Collins, Isaiah Robinson and Caleb Harrell can cause all kinds of issues for opposing defenses. They will need to play big for the Rockets on Friday night. "Kelby really played well against Pinson Valley," said Eads. "I expect for him to play well Friday night. So talented and really has a high motor on each play." Collins is the pass rusher and Robinson and Harrell can stuff the run. "These two are great in school with great families and have become great football players," said Eads. "They all look to Isaiah on the defensive end. All the kids respond to him. He has a great personality with humor but works hard in practice. Caleb moved from the offensive lineman to a great defensive player. Did a lot of extra running and worked hard at his position to get better and is really good. These guys take on a lot of double teams and take pride in it. I couldn't ask for anything more from them."
Linebackers Bryan Gilmore, Nick Rigdon and Kejuan Brown lead the way for the Rockets. In the Rockets secondary are Caden McGruder, Dallas Young, Eli Moore, Donovan Marshall and J'dyn Arrington. McGruder has a lot of versatility as he was the backup quarterback last year. He has moved to the defense and play wide receiver if he needs to fill in at that position. Young is solid in the secondary with a lot of speed and quickness that does a great job covering up receivers.
"Clay-Chalkville is very explosive on offense," said Eads. "They are very fast at receiver. They have speed on the defensive front. They do a lot of things on defense that you have to prepare for. You have to make sure we understand what they do on defense and prepare for it."