by Gary Lloyd
The Vestavia Hills High School football team missed the playoffs in 2016 for just the ninth time in head coach Buddy Anderson’s 39th season as the head coach. The Rebels are looking to change that in 2017.
“The goals for this year would defi nitely be to make the playoffs,” senior quarterback Coleman Petway said. “Vestavia has had very few teams not make the playoffs in Coach Anderson’s time as head coach, and now we’ve seen two of the last three teams not make it, and we want to make sure that trend doesn’t continue. We’re going to accomplish this goal by doing the little things right and not wasting a day. We’re going to need to make every day count.”
The Rebels will need to make every day count in Class 7A, Region 3, which Anderson calls “brutal.” Vestavia Hills will host Spain Park, Oak Mountain, Thompson and Hoover from the region. It will travel for region games to Huffman, Mountain Brook and Tuscaloosa County. Non-region games include traveling to Homewood and Helena, and hosting Shades Valley in the season fi nale.
“In our region, you better strap it on every Friday night because anybody can beat anybody,” Anderson said.
Standing on the field at Frank Nix Stadium after a 28-13 loss last October, Patrick Nuss was encouraged.
The senior offensive lineman, now at UAB, saw his career come to a close that night at Shades Valley, falling short of the Class 7A playoffs. Standing near the 30-yard line, he smiled as he talked about his younger teammates, players he said he believed would contribute in a big way in the future.
“I’m going to come back and see these guys every chance I get,” Nuss said at the time.
Now is his chance.
There are not many returning starters for Vestavia Hills’ offense, which last year averaged a shade under 20 points per game. Petway is back for his senior season at quarterback. William Schaffeld looks to be the featured running back with the graduation of Cooper Jones and Toliver Chatwood. Nuss no longer anchoring the offensive line also leaves a big hole.
Drew Gurosky, a senior, returns to the offensive line, as does Tucker Smith. John David Adams, who notched a couple starts last year, also returns to the offensive line.
“On offense we don’t have many returning starters, but we had lots of guys who contributed and played well for the team,” Petway said.
A player to keep an eye on is junior tight end Michael Vice, a big target who hauled in a couple touchdown receptions last season.
“He’s got great size and hands, and the ability to make it to the next level,” Petway said.
Developing chemistry on the offensive side of the ball is what Petway is looking forward to the most.
“Strengths of the team are the young talent we have and how many sophomores can contribute this year,” he said. “Our weakness will be we won’t have near as many seniors as last year, and we need as many senior leaders as we can to have good leadership.”
Vestavia Hills fans should feel good about its defense. It returns several key starters and contributors from a squad that allowed just 19.5 points per game last season.
Jonathan Hess returns at the defensive star position, a hybrid and outside linebacker mix. His recruitment intensifi ed over the offseason, and he committed to Ole Miss in June.
“Our defense will be our strength because we have a lot of returning starters,” Hess said. Seniors Spencer Lawson and Andrew Knight are names to watch at safety and cornerback, respectively. Jaimel Foy, also a senior, looks to see a lot of time at defensive tackle. Junior Rob Barrentine at inside linebacker looks to contribute in the middle of the defense.
Senior Cam Blake should also see a lot more time at linebacker, along with Cooper Bishop, who started last season.
“Last year we had a lot of young leadership coming out of my grade, and it will help that we are in the senior leadership positions now,” Hess said.
Manraj Singh, the hero kicker from last season’s double-overtime 17-14 win over Mountain Brook, has graduated. He was a clutch kicker all season. Junior Caleb Huber, who has served as the team’s punter, will fill the roles of punter and place-kicker in 2017.
“We will be solid on special teams, as we always are,” Hess said.
The Rebels hope the chemistry and execution come together and add up to a state championship.
“Our goal is to win state, and we plan to accomplish that by working hard and being at every workout and working hard at camp and every day at practice,” Hess said. “I’m most looking forward to strapping the pads on one more time with the guys I’ve grown up with, and also just being able to represent the city one more time.”