by Kyle Parmley
The Hoover High School football team has three main on-field goals each season: win the opening game, win the region and win the final game of the season.
Last year, the Bucs accomplished all three and will look to put the pieces together to do the same this fall.
In 2016, Hoover began the year by battling the rain and wind to knock off Central-Phenix City in the Champions Classic in Montgomery. The Bucs swept through Region 3 with a perfect 7-0 mark and also won the final game of the season, the Class 7A title tilt against McGill-Toolen.
This fall, the Bucs open with a road trip to Grayson (Georgia), a team that came to the Hoover Met last year and walked away with a win. Region 3 is always brutal and if the Bucs make the playoffs (they haven’t missed out this century), the only way to win the closer is by emerging victorious in the state title game once again.
All three will be diffi cult to accomplish, but that certainly will not keep Hoover head coach Josh Niblett from trying to do it again.
“I’m a big believer, if you’re on top of your game, you’ve got to change your game some (to stay there),” he said.
This fall’s out-of-region games include the season- opening trip to Grayson, a home game against Meridian (Mississippi) in the second week and a regular season wrap-up against IMG Academy (Florida) at the Hoover Met.
In region play, the Bucs will host Tuscaloosa County, Oak Mountain and Thompson and will travel to Huffman, Spain Park, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills.
With the kind of defense that Hoover boasted last year — one that held opponents in single digits 10 times — not a lot of pressure rested on the offense’s shoulders.
There are a few pieces to replace for a unit that averaged more than 28 points per game, but the offense will likely be asked to carry much of the load early on, as the defense requires some reassembling after graduating a chunk of its production.
The Bucs are looking for a new signal-caller to take control of the offense after the departure of Garrett Farquhar, and there are options. Senior Jalen Parker backed up Farquhar last fall and is in the mix to take over.
He will be pushed by a pair of young players, Peyton Wilson and Robby Ashford, who have received high praise throughout the offseason, and Seth Compher.
“It’s a situation where we’re going to play the best guy,” said Niblett, who also coaches the quarterbacks.
In the backfield, Larry McCammon and Vonte’ Brackett give the Bucs stability and experience from a year ago. Jacquez Allen transferred in and entered the mix to give the team a stable of three backs who could be the top rusher on any given day.
“We’ve worked hard on these guys staying healthy, working hard on the things they need to work on,” Niblett said. “I like our depth at running back. We’ve always done a really good job of playing as many guys as possible.”
Auburn commits Shedrick Jackson and George Pickens will get many targets on the outside, with Martavius Hollifi eld and Shaw Niblett to demand some passes as well. There are other receivers who can play inside and outside, such as Mark Dailey and Jack Henry Milligan. Zach Elam, Nick Davis and Timothy Booker will battle for time at the inside receiver slot, and Allen could work some there as well.
Kole Allen, Daniel Swatek, Kendall Parker and Patrick Palmore will round out the tight end portion of the depth chart.
“As high tempo as we like to be, if you’re going to take shots and you’re going to have opportunities to make plays, you’ve got to have fresh legs, so in the third and fourth quarter, we’re going to make sure we’re still explosive,” Josh Niblett said.
Along the offensive line, Mike Maye and Jacob Bodden are back, along with Sam McDaniel, who moves to center from right tackle. Harper Price played a good bit last year and is likely to hold down the right guard spot. Garrett Lepkowski is likely to hold down the right tackle spot, but Niblett likes the depth behind those guys.
“Depth is not a guy who can line up behind a guy; it’s a guy who we can put in the game and not have to change what we’re doing,” Niblett said. “I feel good about that group up front.”
For Niblett, the strength of a defense starts in the middle. Ricky Palao anchored the middle of the defensive line last year, but his graduation leaves Khamari Brown, Kaleb Gibbs and Stevie Cole to pick up where he left off. Devon Scott, Chad Tew, Noah Williams, Shaquiel Hood and Andrew Sasser are players who should see time on the line as well, as Hoover likes to rotate several players up front each game.
Outside linebacker Nick Curtis “has a chance to be really special,” according to Niblett, who compared him to former Hoover and current University of Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon.
Kam Robinson will be counted on to contribute in a big way. Josh Kissinger, Adrian Hill and Isaiah Hubbard are some other names to watch for in the middle.
Chase Brown is a strong cornerstone for the secondary at the cornerback position. Jabari Moore, Cody Martin and R.J. Nelson will battle for cornerback snaps as well, with Sam Sanford, Tyrell Goldsmith and Myles Spurling looking to fi ll a void at safety.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who we’ve got to put them in a fi re and see how they’re going to react,” Niblett said.
Most coaches count their lucky stars if they have a college-level kicker in his program. Niblett has two in Barret Pickering and Will Reichard. Pickering will take on most extra points, fi eld goals and kickoffs, while Reichard will punt and handle some kickoffs as well.
Head coach: Josh Niblett
Overall record: 183-45
At Hoover: 118-13
Tenure: 10th season
Offensive Coordinator/ Running Backs: Jason Kervin
Offensive Line: Chad Eads
Tight Ends: Josh Miller
Wide Receivers: Chris Metcalf
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers: Robert Evans
Cornerbacks: Durrell Fuqua
Defensive Line: Adrian Abrams
Safeties/Special Teams: Gabe Rodriguez
Director of Football Operations: Mike Brown
Video Coordinator: David Head
Motivational Coach: Daniel King