Oak Mountain Eagles 2020 football prediction
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
NORTH SHELBY – The Oak Mountain Eagles haven’t had a winning season since putting together a 10-2 record in 2014, but there is a sense of belief around the program this year, that the 2020 edition of the team could be on par with what we saw six years ago.
This year’s team will return five starters on offense with three others that played significant time, and eight starters on defense, giving the Eagles their most experience across the board in years.
It’s no secret that doing so means they’ll have to compete with three nationally ranked teams and one of the most difficult schedules in the state, which means a fast start will be key to the Eagles’ success this year.
The first four games are winnable with matchups against Chelsea and Pelham in non-region play to start the season followed by region matchups against Gadsden City and Vestavia Hills. A 4-0 start is plausible and necessary for Oak Mountain to not only compete for a playoff spot, but gain the confidence to be able to take down some of the region’s top foes the rest of the way.
And heading into the season, the players aren’t scared of the challenge. It’s a team full of experienced players and one that believes it can compete with the best.
One of those who might have the most confidence is quarterback Evan Smith, who is heading into his third year as a starter for the Eagles.
Now a junior, Smith has grown and gotten better each year, and will be able to handle more in both the running and passing game this year. Last season, Smith totaled 676 rushing yards and 700 passing yards with a combined 18 touchdowns.
He fits head coach Cris Bell’s option-style offense perfectly and is primed for a strong year with playmakers back at running back, receiver and offensive line.
Returning to running back will be starter Judah Tait, who totaled 715 yards and six touchdowns last season as a power runner. He’ll be joined by Aiden Laughlin and Trey Bessell at the B-back position, while speedsters Mark Johnson and Cade George will handle the A-back position.
It’s a position that has plenty of depth and features a good balance of power and agility.
While the running ability of Smith and that group of running backs will be key, taking advantage of returning receiver Noah Young is a must. A 6-foot-5, 200-pound target, Young has put in work to be a difference maker this year.
He had 18 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns last year, but Bell and Smith both know they need to target Young more this year and take advantage of the open passing lanes due to defenses respecting the run game.
Joining Young will be slot receivers Ethan Hammett and Tyler Dubois as well as universal player Harrison Miller.
The offensive line will also be the best it has been since 2014 according to Bell, which benefits the offense immensely, especially in Bell’s system.
The line will return four experienced players, including tackles Drew Rowland and Chris Mattox and guards Alex Mathis and Nic Rigden. Those four know how to handle their positions and will help the offense go this year, while Charlie Serra, Nolan Fuqua and Alfredo Hernandez will battle for the starting center position and to add depth.
There is plenty of excitement surrounding the offense, but eight returning starters makes the defense just as exciting if not more. After giving up 30 points per game last year, that will be a welcome sight for the coaching staff, knowing that improvement should happen early this season.
Up front, defensive ends Gavin Nelson and Braxton O’Bryan are two athletic presences that will cause problems for backfields this season, while Micai George, Andrew Lee, Jakob Katona and Mason Burnett all return as well.
Closing out the front seven will be a strong core of linebackers, including returning leaders Cameron Atkinson, Maddox Vines and Dean Null. Those three will be leaders that can make plays in space, while Carter Lehman and Jacob Helgason will also battle for time at outside linebacker.
The back end of the defense will be just as strong if not stronger with the return of four experienced players. At cornerback, Zach Taylor and Jimmy Harris will return to start this season, while seniors Eli Hackbarth and Chase Schwender both return to starting roles at safety.
On special teams, kicker Hogan Morton will return to handle place kicking and kickoff duties, while the Eagles will have to replace punter Sam Johnson.
Prediction (6-4): How successful Oak Mountain is during the 2020 season will all depend on the start. If the Eagles can get off to a 4-0 start, the sky is the limit for this year’s team. The talent is there, the experience is there and while the depth may not be as strong as some other 7A teams, it’s better than usual for the Eagles. Both sides of the ball are going to have to improve drastically from last year to this year, but it’s easy to see that happening with the experience back. I don’t think this year’s team is nearly as timid or scared as some of the past teams have been, and they relish in the opportunity ahead. They’re easily good enough to finish 6-4, and if they get some early confidence, they could even be a seven- or eight-win team.