Vestavia Hills first-year head coach Robert Evans comes into this match-up with Mountain Brook, going against his former school and former coach as the Rebels kick off the 2022 season this Thursday night at Vestavia High School.
Evans was the defensive coordinator for Chris Yeager and the Spartans these past four years and will face the Spartans in the first game of his head coaching career. "I love Rob Evans, and he is a great friend of mine," said Spartans head coach Chris Yeager. "I hope he wins nine regular season games this season. I'm a big fan of his. He is a talented coach. I hope he has great success at Vestavia Hills. I'm pulling for him."
Mountain Brook is coming off a 24-18 loss to Clay-Chalkville in the 2021 6A semi-finals game last season and will try to go a couple of steps further to get that 6A blue map.
Mountain Brook is returning a lot of skilled guys this season. Quarterback John Colvin leads the Spartans offense and is more than just a game manager. "I think this fall camp for him has been unbelievable," Yeager added. "He is very comfortable in his element. Instead of just being a piece of the offense, he runs the offense, which has been good for us." Quarterback sophomore Charlie Johnson will be a solid player when his turn comes up for the Spartans.
Mountain Brook has three outstanding running backs that they will use in this game. Cole Gamble, Will Waldrop, and Jack King will play a significant role in the Spartans run game. "Jack is going to be the biggest surprise of the season at Mountain Brook," said Yeager. "Last year, I saw him on the scout team, and I knew then he would be good. He has worked so hard. He is very determined. Jack is an explosive runner."
At wide receiver, the Spartans have experience. Jackson Beatty, Clark Sanderson, and Rob Gillespie have game day experience. "The thing that makes Jackson so unique is his offensive lineman mentality," added Yeager. "He enjoys blocking as he does catching a ball. He has a servant's heart and is very unselfish. He is very tenacious with his blocking. Clark Sanderson has great speed and is one of the best perimeter blocking groups I have ever had." Tight end Carter Kelley returns for his senior season.
The Spartans offensive line returns three starters. Davis Peterson, Mac Smith, and William Courtenay started games last season. The Spartans will add Watts Alexander, William Tomlin, and Henry Boehme to the mix in 2022.
Kicker/punter Reed Harradine returns for his senior season and is a massive advantage in the Spartans special teams. "When Reed lines up on the field, he looks like a tight end for us," said Yeager. "I need him not to overwork and kick that energy out of his leg because he is such a big asset for us. The rain falls when he punts or kicks the ball in the clouds. He is one of the better ones that I have been around. He has such a high ceiling and a great future if he wants it."
The Spartans defense will be critical to making a championship run this season. Mountain Brook only gave up two touchdowns a game last season and will need the same type of effort this season. Defensive lineman Sam Hunt, Parker Avery, and Ethan Wint lead the Spartans front line.
At linebacker, the Spartans have their guy in Trent Wright, who makes plays all over the field. "Trent gets the guys lined up and is the cornerstone of the defense," said Yeager. "He is the heartbeat of the defense. His leadership skills bring a lot to the table. Those guys know they can follow him. Trent wants to compete. You are not going to out-hustle or outwork him. He knows the people around him on both sides of the ball. He has the whole team in mind." Along with Wright, Vaughn Frost, Billy Radney, Pete Fruin, and Drew Widener will get playing time at linebacker.
The secondary has Tucker Crawford, Mac Palmer, Braxton Dean, Clyde Beavers, Hampton King, and Benjamin Payne looking for playing time. "Braxton has similar leadership quality as Trent does," said Yeager. "He is the quarterback of the secondary. He gets everyone lined up. He does a great job on coverage."
Vestavia Hills comes into this game, adding a lot of improvements to the program. Athletic Director Myra Miles gave Evans his first head coaching job along with some other assistant coaches that were needed. In comes new offensive coordinator Josh Franklin from high power Hueytown offense from last season and Spain Park former head coach Shawn Raney. Also added this week is a new video board should be ready during game time and a new broadcast crew for football games.
Vestavia Hills comes into the game with excitement and are ready to get the 2022 season on the way. "We are excited to hit someone else, and it been a long process since February, and we think we are ready to play," said Rebels coach Evans. "We are playing an outstanding opponent and will have to play well to have a chance to win. This is a rival game, and a lot of energy and enthusiasm to start the season. We hope to put a good show on. We want to play at a high tempo on both sides of the ball. I think our guys understand what this region is about, and we have to play a different style to compete in this region and make the playoffs; that is where we want to wind up."
On offense, quarterback John Paul Head will get the first look with QB Luke Turner right behind him. "John Paul is having a great fall," added Evans. "He had to catch up this summer coming from baseball. He is a natural runner in football and has improved his throwing. He can throw the deep ball. We have some weapons that we can use."
William Tonsmeire and Tucker Smitha will be used at running back. Tonsmeire can run the ball with good power, while Smitha does a great job of lead blocking from the H-back spot and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
At the receiver position, the Rebels have some good ones that are very athletic. Keown Richardson, Jay Daniels, and big target Brady Johnson. They can make the big play any time, along with big target tight end Warren Ainsworth. "Keown is a very natural athlete, while Jay puts more time into studying the game than anybody on the team," said Evans. "We look for Brady to make big plays for us this first game." Cooper Mollison will see playing time at the wide receiver spot.
The offensive line with Glen Porter, Hudson Hager, Jack McMurray, JD Livingston, and Riggs Manown will need to be in excellent condition to start the season with the new fast, high, octane offense. These guys will run to the ball after every play to get ready for the snap of the ball and run the next play. "We are senior heavy with a collection of guys, which is good for us," added Evans. "They have grown up together playing middle school together as a group. They enjoy being around each other."
The defense will need to hold their own, especially if the offense plays fast and gives the other teams more opportunities with the ball. Defensive lineman Andrew Sykes, Lane Whisenhunt, and Wheeler Smith will lead the charge upfront.
Linebackers Jordan Ross, Houston Owen, Sam Hansen, Gaines Johnson, and John Richter will see playing time against the Spartans. "Jordan is a work in progress," said Evans. "Jordan is a raw prospect but can get in the other team's backfield. He needs to refine the technical part of the game, but he is a very natural athlete. He is very gifted at rushing the passer, being very difficult to block. That is why he is getting SEC offers with his frame and is a very talented and gifted player. When he is fresh, he is a handful." Owen is one of the key guys on this defense and will ensure they are playing at a high level.
The secondary of Will Cox, Michael Dobbs, John Martin Richter, Grant Downey, and Kohen Nelson play an essential role in the Rebels secondary. Cox is one of the defensive leaders on the team. "Everything is new on our end," said Evans. "We are excited to play and want to play. The defense has a lot on its plate. We are going to push the envelope with our defensive scheme. We have to do a good job of putting our guys in a position where they do not think where they can go out and play. Sometimes easier said than done due to playing a team like Mountain Brook."
However, as this game turns out, seeing the new look Vestavia Hills football team will be exciting.