Public schools set to open football practice

Bryant players practice in this Aug. 3, 2011 file photo. Local public schools are gearing up for fall football practice this week.

TUSCALOOSA | Hired during the summer, Errol Jones might be a little bit behind his coaching peers in the AHSAA, but he plans to start catching up.

Jones, the first-year head football coach at Paul W. Bryant High School, can watch his players in their first official practice today. According to AHSAA rules, teams are required to practice three days in shorts and can put on full pads for the first time Thursday.

"I can’t wait," said Jones, a Tuscaloosa County High School graduate who earned a football scholarship to Alabama A&M. "I want to see what we have retained in the last two weeks. I want to see exactly where we are as far as strength and conditioning.

"It’s going to be a lot of mental work, considering that I’m still installing the offense and installing the defense and how we want to run it. We’re going to be auditioning every day we step on the field."

Jones, who was an assistant football coach at Deshler last season, arrived in time to see his team win four games and lose four in a 7-on-7 competition at Northridge.

"I was pleased with our effort," he said. "We did some good things and some not so good things. It’s still going to be a matter of us learning, but I saw some progress. They showed me that they’re going to compete."

Coach Lee Gibson planned a morning session for the Tuscaloosa County Wildcats and expected to see around 97 players in grades 10 through 12, including 30 seniors.

In the old days, coaches conducted spring practice and the players were pretty much on their own until the start of fall drills. Football is a year-round operation now because the AHSAA allows summer conditioning programs as well as 7-on-7 events.

"It’s going to be a regular practice for us," Gibson said. "We’ll have to wait until we get in pads to see who’ll hit somebody, but at least the kids will know where to line up and what to do. We’re able to do so much in the summer that the kids kind of already have an idea what’s expected of them. It just makes the transition easier."

TCHS made the Class 6A playoffs last year but finished with a 5-6 record.

"The biggest thing for us is to stay healthy get a little bit of the swagger back that we lost last year and play the kind of football County High fans are used to seeing," Gibson said.

Ricky Bush coached the Brookwood Panthers to a 4-7 record and a Class 5A playoff appearance last season.

"I’m expecting it to be hot, and I’m expecting the kids to come out and work hard," said Bush, who plans to work with 55 players. "I’m very excited about the upcoming season. We’ve got a lot of kids coming back. We have a lot of kids who know what to do."

Bush said he’s excited about Seth Franks’ future as a sophomore quarterback. Nate Craft, a junior, is a defensive back, wide receiver and kicker. Justin Carter, a senior, will be a middle linebacker and running back for the Panthers.

AHSAA teams can begin play on Aug. 30. Tuscaloosa Academy, an AISA school, opens on Aug. 24. Coach Robert Johnson said his team started practice on July 26 and put on the pads last Wednesday.

"I like the way our kids are working," he said. "I feel like we’re in really good shape. We still have a couple of more weeks to go to get in true game shape, but I like the way they’re responding. We’re trying to build some depth and work on fundamentals."

Johnson, who coached the Knights to a 9-2 record in his first season, has been working with 30 varsity candidates.

"Usually in your second year you’re a little bit better because you’ve installed your system," Johnson said. "We’ve made a few modifications, but we’re basically doing the same stuff offensively, defensively and special teams-wise. The kids know what’s expected of them."

Johnson said he feels like "we have a lot of standout players," including Terrell Bush, defensive end and offensive lineman; Jaevon Walton, fullback and middle linebacker; and Torrence Brown, an outside linebacker, running back, tight end and split end."

Tuscaloosa Christian, which plays eight-man football in the Christian Football Association, starts its season on Aug. 17 against defending champion Tabernacle Christian of Gardendale.

Tuscaloosa Christian coach Hunter Christian said his team will start its second week in full pads today. The Warriors began fall camp with conditioning sessions at Camp Horne.

"We took them out there and put them through the wringer," Christian said. "I think we’re pretty well acclimated to the heat. We had two real hot days last week. It may be in the 90s at kickoff for our first game. We’re going to be real careful with them, but if you don’t get them out in the heat before the first game you could be in for a rough night.

"We had 22 players to stay with us. Out of that 22, I’m expecting 18 to contribute in a big way for us. We have a real strong senior class, anchored by Michael Bennett (fullback) and Chase Cronan (offensive lineman)."


Reach Andrew Carroll at or at 205-722-0223.