In his second season at the helm, Danny Raines turned what had been a struggling Headland football program for years into a 10-game winner.
The challenge now is keeping the train chugging full speed ahead.
“I know the kids feel better about themselves and have that mentality that we can win, but we still have to go out there and do it,” Raines said. “Our schedule is really tough. Last year we did a good job winning, but we came from behind seven times.
“We’re going to have to do a good job getting ready like we did last year and it’s going to be tough again.”
Raines was named the Dothan Eagle Super 12 Coach of the Year after leading the team to a 10-2 record and second-round appearance in the Class 4A state playoffs. This came a year after the Rams went 1-9 in Raines’ first year as head coach.
The nine-win improvement was the top turnaround in the state of Alabama in all classifications. The school had only one winning season since 1988 before last year’s feats.
While the Rams have three starters back on offense and four starters returning on defense, the top player on last season’s team – K’shun Stokes – has graduated. Stokes, a Dothan Eagle Super 12 selection, was the starting quarterback who was also a weapon returning kicks.
He threw for 1,230 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushed for 1,123 yards with 21 scores. He had 384 yards on 16 kickoff returns and compiled 2,756 all-purpose yards.
But there is another tremendous talent expected to get the call at quarterback in Dre Newman, who was a running back a year ago after transferring from Abbeville Christian Academy. While at ACA, Newman played quarterback.
“He did a great job for us last year playing at tailback and played in the secondary as well,” Raines said. “We moved him to quarterback and he’s done a great job getting ready for that. We do a lot of stuff on offense, so it’s not a simple thing to do, but he’s picked it up really well.
“He is a leader. He’s one of those kids who is going to show up and do the right things.”
The returning starters on offense are all linemen – Hayden McWaters (right tackle), Ben Harris (center) and Brayden Pearson (right guard). Trevor Kirkland (left tackle) and Montavious Baker (left guard) are also projected as starters across the front.
“I’m excited about them,” Raines said. “They’ve played a lot of football games for us. Ben Harris has started a year and a half for us now. Brayden Pearson started for a year and Hayden has had two years starting.”
McWaters is the biggest of the line at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds.
“Hayden has improved his athletic ability,” Raines said. “The experience helps on that line. Montavious Baker and Trevor Kirkland are seniors, even though they haven’t started before.”
Tyler Danzey at tailback and Ty Dailey at fullback are being counted on heavily to help take up the slack of losing Stokes. Bryce Richburg is expected to start at tight end.
“K’shun was such a leader and made so many big plays for us,” Raines said. “Hopefully we have guys step up. Ty Dailey at fullback and Tyler Danzey at tailback – those guys can make plays.
“Our two top receivers right now are Da’Tayvious Melton and Kareen Sailor. I feel good about them, as well.
“They (other projected starters) haven’t been out in the fire as much doing it, especially on that side of the football, but they’re going to have the opportunity.”
The defense returns the two top tacklers of a year ago in linebackers Zach Lawrence and Dailey. Danzey and Melton are returning starters in the secondary.
Other projected starters are Trevor Thompson and Robert Vickers across the front, Richburg and Carter Williams at the defensive ends, Wilson Turner at linebacker and Marqueze Reeves and Sailor in the secondary.
Raines knows he will need some players on both sides of the football to step up and fill the voids left by graduation.
“We’ve got a lot of new kids out there,” Raines said. “They are working diligently and they’ve done a good job getting ready and I’m excited about them.
“We do have 21 seniors and 25 juniors, so that helps, as well. I always like to see new kids get their opportunity.”
RAMS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Danny Raines (3rd year at Headland, 11-11; 17th as a head coach, 113-70)
>> 2018 record: 10-2 overall, 6-0 in Class 5A, Region 2
>> 2018 results: at Straughn (W, 43-0); Highland Home (W, 30-27); at B. T. Washington # (W, 36-0); Trinity # (W, 42-13); Pike Road (W, 32-27); at Alabama Christian # (W, 74-44); Ashford # (W, 41-7); at Dale County # (W, 28-22); Montgomery Catholic # (W, 34-29); at Abbeville (L, 27-32). STATE PLAYOFFS: Talladega (W, 13-12); at Andalusia (L, 22-51)
>> Points scored/per game: 422/35.2
>> Points allowed/per game: 263/22.0
>> Returning offensive starters (3): C Ben Harris (Sr., 6-2, 240); OG Brayden Pearson (Sr., 5-9, 240); OT Hayden McWaters (Sr., 6-4, 300).
>> Returning defensive starters (4): LB Ty Dailey (Jr., 5-10, 180); LB Zach Lawrence (Jr., 6-0, 175); DB Tyler Danzey (Sr., 6-1, 185); DB Da’Tayvious Melton (Sr., 5-8, 147)
Aug. 23 Straughn
Aug. 30 at Highland Home
Sept. 6 B.T. Washington #
Sept. 13 at Trinity #
Sept. 20 off
Sept. 27 vs. Pike Road (At Alabama State)
Oct. 4 Alabama Christian #
Oct. 11 at Ashford #
Oct. 18 Dale County #
Oct. 25 at Montgomery Catholic #
Nov. 1 Abbeville
# Denotes region games