by Kyle Parmley
Last year, the Mountain Brook High School football team flipped the script.
Instead of experiencing that “woe is me” feeling in a close game in the final minutes, after being on the short end of the stick so often during three-win seasons in 2014 and 2015, the Spartans turned the tide and began emerging victorious in those situations.
Reid Hogue’s late interception preserved a victory over Helena early in the season. Chandler Cox picked off a pass late to hold off Thompson. Hamp Sisson led the Spartans on a late-game drive, and Mason Dillard’s field goal knocked off Spain Park in the final seconds. The Spartans also pulled off tight wins over Huffman and Ramsay to conclude the regular season.
“We went through two lean years, and we kept telling our kids if you work long enough, hard enough, some good things are going to happen,” said Mountain Brook head coach Chris Yeager.
That line between winning the close games and coming out on the wrong side of them is fine, but it becomes like a large snowball rolling down a hill on either side. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop.
Lose a close game once, and a team moves on. Lose twice in similar fashion, and a trend begins. According to Yeager, the third time elicits an “oh, here we go again” reaction.
By the time last year’s Spain Park game came around, the Spartans had already won a couple close ball games. When the Jags took the lead with three minutes to play in that contest, there was no letdown, no hanging of heads.
“Our guys are saying we’re going to have an incredible win right here,” Yeager recalled. “They really believed they were going to win the game.”
And they did.
The schedule for Mountain Brook is the same as last fall, just with the sites fl ipped. Non-region games include the season-opener at home against Gulf Shores and road games at Helena and defending Class 6A champion Ramsay. In Class 7A, Region 3, the Spartans will host Hoover, Spain Park, Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain, and travel to Thompson, Tuscaloosa County and Huffman.
Yeager said each team has a different personality, and this group will establish its own when it encounters close-and-late situations this fall. He wants his team to avoid a sense of complacency, but doesn’t foresee that being an issue after just one good season.
“Competition is going to bring out exactly who we are, and that’s the fun part about it,” he said.
The state of Mountain Brook’s offense is forcing Chris Yeager to alter the way he builds the Spartan team this year, and that’s not a bad thing. The offense was a strong point last season, and with so many newcomers on defense and special teams, that group will be the guiding ship early in the fall.
Its success will start with the signal-caller, senior Hamp Sisson.
“Any time you’ve got a quarterback coming back, and this is his third year to start, you’ve got something special,” said Yeager.
Sisson is what Yeager calls the “total package.” He excels in the classroom, is sharp as a tack, can run, throw and do anything else required from the quarterback.
“We’ve invested in him and he’s invested in himself,” Yeager said. “Now it’s time for the hard work to pay off.”
Freshman Strother Gibbs has been impressive as well, as he threw for about 150 yards in the Spartans’ spring game while completing well over half of his passes. If he continues to progress, he will be a solid backup option waiting in the wings for the future.
Yeager is extremely excited about the running back position, a spot that boasts a one-two punch of Harold Joiner and AJ Gates. Joiner came on in a major way last fall, using his 6-foot-3 build and downhill running ability to attract the attention of college coaches throughout the country. Gates complements Joiner perfectly, with a smaller frame and shiftiness that make him elusive.
“AJ is like tackling vapors,” Yeager said. “You can’t get a hand on him. He’s got unbelievable vision.”
The steady hand of Wilson Higgins is back at the receiver spot, and Yeager is also excited about junior Hamp Greene as a potential playmaker on the outside. Tye Pouncey and Christian May are two new faces that could crack the lineup as well.
Clay Stearns is one of the most versatile players on the offense, as he plays the H-back position. He has the ability to line up in the backfi eld or on the outside, and can block and catch passes when needed.
The cornerstone of the offensive line will be left guard Will Carothers. Zach Morris will get his shot at left tackle, with Anderson Tomlin on the opposite side. Michael Mancuso is penciled in at the right guard slot, with Sean Doud and Jack Barron expected to get some reps as well.
“We’ve got to rebuild our defense,” Chris Yeager said of his unit that allowed 15 points per game in 2016. The Spartans must replace seven starters, and will look to the few returners to lead the way while position battles are settled. Defensive lineman Joe Bird is “probably the cornerstone of that whole defense,” according to Yeager.
Trey Gory had a great spring and will garner snaps along the line as well, with youngsters James Burkett and Gavin Lee fighting for snaps, too. Sean Doud was also mentioned among the offensive lineman, and could play on either side of the ball, depending on need.
Colton Yeager returns as one of the Spartans’ top linebackers, and guys like Avery Schelske, Connor Hart and Daniel Wilbanks will be counted upon to fill a void left by senior leader Will Wetzler.
Chris Yeager mentioned Charles Cobb, Walter Morris, Jim Williams, Grant Griffi n and Walker McCraney among a plethora of guys trying to earn snaps in the secondary.
Losing Mason Dillard to graduation will be a blow to the solid Mountain Brook kicking game, but Aidan Hood is slotted in to fill that gap, and he will handle it all: field goals, extra points, kickoffs and punting.
Head coach: Chris Yeager
Overall record: 109-64
At Mountain Brook: 84-44
Tenure: 12th season
Quarterbacks/Passing Game Coordinator: Jim King
Running Backs/Running Game Coordinator: Shane Stearns
Linebackers/Defensive Coordinator: Oscar Glasscock
Defensive Backs: Mike Thorsen
Offensive Line: Tony Johnson
Wide Receivers: Jake Collins
Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator: Richard Kelly
Defensive Line: Chris Cournoyer