The 17th annual Kickoff Classic features two of the best teams in Class 7A, with Hoover and Auburn squaring off Friday at 7:00 pm at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. First-year Hoover head coach Wade Waldrop starts his tenure with the Bucs and is ready for the start of the 2022 season.
"It's the biggest stage you can have this week," said Bucs Waldrop during Tuesday's annual AHSAA Media Day and Kickoff Classic press conference in Montgomery. "It's what every team should want. The Bucs come into this season coming off a 7A playoff loss to Thompson and hope to make a deeper run in the playoffs in 2022.
"We had a good fall camp, and our players are trying to figure out expectations daily along with how to practice on different days," added Waldrop. "Getting them to understand what we need them to do on different days has been a learning process for our players."
Hoover has a lot of skilled guys returning this season. The one area where they lack experience is the quarterback position. Senior Brewer Smith took off football last season to concentrate on baseball but returns for his senior season to lead the Bucs offense. Jonah Winston will be his backup to start the year. "Brewer has a little more confidence in his game," said Waldrop. "He is confident; he has a calmness about him. He handles the football well. We will love to play both guys if the opportunity arises. As a freshman, Winston only stands at 5-foot-9 and 145-pounds but has unbelievable quickness running the football and will be a better precise passer as the year goes on.
Hoover has a lot of different running backs they can turn to if needed. Senior Ahamari Williams will get the load of the carries. "He had an outstanding summer and fall camp," said Waldrop. "He was fighting an injury in the offseason that made it difficult for him to get plugged in early. I thought the last two weeks; he has been really good. He has great effort and energy and can produce at a high level." Jack Laney had an excellent spring for the Bucs and is very versatile in his game. LaMarion McCammon is another back that can run it or catch it out of the backfield or the slot position. Kamal Amerson is another good running back that will see action Friday night for the Bucs.
Hoover has a lot of guys at wide receiver. K.J. Law, Fred Dunson, Jordan Woolen, and Jeremy Cook have tremendous speed and will pressure opposing secondaries. Jeremy Cook is a big target at 6-foot-4, with speed and quickness for his size. Woolen will probably be used returning kicks due to his tremendous speed at receiver. "I think as a group, we are looking pretty good in fall camp and are excited about playing in our first game on Friday," said Bucs wide receiver Law. "I think we can make plays in the passing game. We need to help in the run game, but we will be ready when we get our chance in the passing game."
The offensive has some good ones. Ethan Hubbard, Duke verbal commitment, A.J. Franklin, Grant Bonner, Rashad Smith, and sophomore Toby Richard will lead the front line for the Bucs offense. Look for T.J. Fields to get some playing time on the offensive line this season. "We will be ready to play Friday and looking forward to our first game," said Bucs offensive lineman Franklin. "I think the line is a bigger and a little more athletic than the past couple of seasons. We think that will make a difference in our play. We know we have to play physically against Auburn. We know they have a great defensive line."
The Hoover defense seems like they always have solid linebackers, and this year is no exception. Kaleb Jackson and Bradley Shaw can go sideline to sideline with speed and quickness and can fly to the football. "I like both of these guys a lot," said Waldrop. "They make the second level go. They run sideline to sideline. They play physical and do it all on the field."
The defensive front line has Chaleb Powell, Andrew Parrish, and Jordan Norman, seniors on the team. Micah Hampton, Tyson Batchelor, Micahel Nixon, and Pa Drammeh will round out the defensive line for the Bucs.
The secondary of Jay Avery and Keith Christein are solid in the back end of the Bucs defense. Davan Carlisle, Garian Denson, Tre Darden, and Jamar Moultrie will play corner for Hoover. "These guys do a great job on the back end of our coverage," added Waldrop. "They know everything that is going on back there. They play very hard. Communicate exceptionally well and our leaders in the secondary."
One of the best kickers in the nation is Peyton Argent. He will handle punting and kicking duties for the Bucs. "Looking forward to seeing him in live action for us," said Waldrop. "Having the availability to take those points in critical situations is a positive for us."
The Auburn Tigers also made a run in the playoffs, as they were knocked out by Central-Phenix City in the semi-finals game and hoped to go further this season. The Tigers have 41 seniors on the team this season and hope they make a deeper run in the 7A playoffs.
"We're very excited for our kids to have this experience in playing this game," said Tigers head coach Keith Etheredge. "The AHSAA does a great job of putting this game on. Fall practice has been good, but we are still trying to work out some issues and improve daily."
The Tigers have experience at quarterback this season. Clyde Pittman and Davis Harsin will lead the Tigers offense, and Harsin played a lot in the spring with Pittman out due to recovering from an injury. "These guys understand we do what is best for the team," added Etheredge. "Clyde broke the school record in touchdowns, completing 73 percent of his passes last year. Davis has earned the right to play, and that is good. We feel comfortable with both of them. We think that both can lead our team. Clyde can make every throw; smart kid and has some big game experience. Davis stepped in the spring game and did an unbelievable job for us."
Running back D.V. Williams will get his chance in the Tigers run game. Anthony Wheat should get some time in that running back rotation. The wide receivers have Griffin McLean, Andrew King, Ean Nation, Marcellus Josephson, Cody Palmer, Logan Blomeyer, and Amarion Warren this season.
The Tigers offensive line is big and good. Bradyn Joiner makes the transition back to offense but will continue to play a few series on the defensive front. "This is just another game for us; we want to get the W and move on to the next," said Tigers offensive lineman Joiner. "I'm excited to help out on the offense, but I will continue to get snaps on the defensive side. I want to help my team, get a big push in the middle, and make plays. I am a playmaker, and I love the defensive side of the ball because I hear my name being called out after a tackle." Joiner has made a verbal commitment to Auburn.
With Joiner on the offensive line are Avery Ferris, Hugh Bodiford, Eric Patrick, and Will Ward. The Tigers will try to run behind that talented offensive line and then take their shots down the field in the passing game.
The Tigers defense has some big-time players that moved on from last season, but linebacker Klark Cleveland is back. Defensive lineman Kyle King, linebacker Coleman Granberry, safety Graham Young, and defensive lineman Adam Al-Riyami lead the way for the Tigers defense.
This will be an excellent test for both teams before they get into region play in a couple of weeks.