by Kyle Parmley
For the returning linebackers, every practice sounds like a position meeting.
They hear the same voice ringing in their ears after every play, except now, all the encouragement and instruction is not only directed toward them.
That’s because Drew Gilmer, who has spent the past seven seasons at Clay-Chalkville High School and the last five as the linebackers coach, was promoted to the head coaching position in March following the retirement of Jerry Hood.
“It still feels the same,” linebacker Derrick Bean said. “I’m still hearing his voice, because I had him as a coach at linebacker. He still does the same things, they just turned it up a little more.”
Gilmer saw firsthand the success the Clay- Chalkville football program had under Hood — including an undefeated season in 2011, a state title in 2014 and another state championship appearance in 2015 — and now he has a chance to continue that great run.
“It’s just being in a great program like Clay- Chalkville has been,” Gilmer said. “With Coach Hood, you see a successful way to do things, you’ve just got to put your own little spin on it. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Cougars’ head coach has a leg up compared to many incoming coaches. He already has an in-depth knowledge of the team, coaching staff and student-athletes in the program.
“We knew all the guys, we knew where they were at, we knew their capabilities and all that,” Gilmer said.
Gilmer calls Hood one of his mentors, and his experience at Clay-Chalkville and previously at Pinson Valley has prepared him for his new role.
“It’s just little bits and pieces from everywhere that you kind of put together,” Gilmer said. “Along the way you see things that you like and you see some things that you don’t like.”
This fall, the Cougars open up at Florence and host Bessemer City before jumping into region play. Clay-Chalkville will host Pinson Valley, Gardendale and Minor and travel to Jasper (formerly Walker), Center Point and Carver-Birmingham. Other non-region games include a road trip to James Clemens and a home game against Park Crossing to fi nish the regular season.
After the back-to-back state championship appearances, the Cougars were left with many a gap to fill last fall. They struggled at times to gain their footing on both sides of the ball, but the offense returns quarterback Willie Miller, who admittedly was a little wet behind the ears last fall.
Miller was thrown into the fi re as a sophomore, experience that Gilmer said has helped him “a ton” as he prepares for his second year under center.
“It helped me a lot, because last year I was a sophomore and it was my first time playing varsity,” Miller said. “This year should be easier, because I know what to expect now.”
Demetrius Davis has a unique skill set that has allowed him to serve as the backup quarterback that will be featured in certain packages.
Quentin Young is back and healthy, Gilmer said, at the running back spot, and Curtis Blakely impressed coaches during the spring.
A gaping hole at receiver will be the departure of Nico Collins, who is now at the University of Michigan. The Cougars will no longer have that target to simply throw it up to, but Gilmer is as excited about who they have on the outside.
“You don’t have that big-time playmaker that we’ve had for the last three or four years,” Gilmer said. “But we’re really solid all the way across the board, and we’ve got guys that can do different things.”
Terrill Cole, Roderick McCloud, Logan Pruett, JaKendrick Lavender and Anthony Lougheed are all names that will battle for snaps and receptions.
Damon Moore and TJ Busby anchor an offensive line that has to replace three starters from last fall.
Clay-Chalkville has high hopes for a defense that brings back a number of key contributors from a season ago.
Devin Dale and L.C. Purifoy should serve as a great starting point, as they will hold down the middle of the defensive line. The Cougars have some options on the edge, with Kendall Smith on one side and Corey Lee on the other. Lee moved from linebacker and his speed could cause problems for opponents.
Sam Thomas and Skylar McClain are also looking to crack the rotation.
Two of the three linebackers are returnees, led by Bean, who is coming off a strong season. D’Markes Davis is finally healthy after battling injuries last fall and will step alongside Bean to help out.
Josh McIntosh is another name to watch there, as he has moved down from the secondary.
Everyone returns in the secondary, with JaMarlin Sewell and Drew Heller manning the corner back spots. Jaylin Mack and Andru Ransaw have plenty of experience on the back end of the defense at the safety positions, and Daunte Davis has also pushed for playing time in the secondary.
The kicking situation was a minor point of anxiety last spring, but Drennon Mayhew emerged during the summer and went on to put together a solid 2016 season. He is back and is expected to handle all the kicking duties for the team.
Two of the three linebackers are returnees, led by senior Derrick Bean (34).
Head coach: Drew Gilmer
Tenure: 1st season
Offensive Coordinator: Jon Clements
Wide Receivers: Nick Andrews
Running Backs: Kent Underwood
Offensive Line: Obed Ellis
Defensive Coordinator: Sean Talsma
Defensive Line: Curtis Coleman and Eddie Wall
Linebackers: Gene Richardson
Defensive Backs: Jake Hibbs