One of the biggest challenges for the Elba Tigers this season will be replacing some proven all-over-the-field talent from a unit last year that advanced to the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs.
On that squad were defensive end Alex Wright and Dothan Eagle Player of the Year Richmon Singletary, who rushed for 2,083 yards and 25 touchdowns and set a state record with six kick returns for TDs.
Both signed with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“ I don’t think you can replace a player like (Richmon),” Elba head coach Pate Harrison said. “It’s kind of a stable (in the backfield) – trying to put enough people in there to get that production back.”
Some of the players expected to handle those duties are Iverson Lane, Collin Harrison and Ja’quez Prince. Harrison said all three are talented guys.
Meanwhile, Singletary’s impact in the return game could be even more difficult to match.
“ He’s probably the best returner I’ve ever seen, so you don’t just replace that,” Harrison said. “When we get into action, we’ll try to figure out who can field the punts and kicks and get it going.”
Defensively, Wright – a 6-foot-6, 232-pound defensive end – recorded 63 tackles, 17 for losses, and six sacks last season. Alongside Wright was Larry Burks, a 320-pound defensive tackle.
Both players are gone this season from a defense that will also try to replace Singletary’s production at safety.
Good news for Elba, however, is that the defense does return both starting corners, including Seth Ware, and the “leader of the defense,” senior Dezmion Roberson, as well as several other guys that could make an impact.
“ Dez is the leader of that defense,” said Harrison of the 6-foot-3, nearly 200-pound inside linebacker. “He kind of sets the standard. He’s a special breed when it comes to linebacker.
“ We’ve got Tom Ford to replace Larry. He’s another 300-pounder, so we’ll still have that big presence in the middle. We’re also looking for big things out of Chrystyile Caldwell and Omarion Terry, who are going to try to replace Alex’s workload.”
He said Roberson and Terry have taken ownership of the team and shown leadership as they hold their fellow players accountable at practice and in the weight room.
At quarterback, Elba will bring in sophomore Carson Wise in the first game and get Prince some snaps as well. Wise has had a good summer, Harrison said, but there is going to be a learning curve because of his age.
Helping to develop the passing game this season will be new hire Austin Johnson -- former Elba and University of Alabama quarterback -- as quarterbacks coach.
This will be Harrison’s second season at the helm of the Tigers and will also be the second season that Elba has played in Class 1A, Region 2 against opponents that Elba is somewhat unfamiliar with.
“ It helps us (going into a second year), but we’re still at a disadvantage because we have no junior high that has played these teams,” Harrison said. “We’ll actually start playing some of the teams we’re going to be in the region with at the junior high level (this year). That way you can kind of see and know what’s coming.
“ We’re still at kind of a disadvantage, but the more we work at it the more we’re going to become familiar. We’ve got an idea, but we’re still not where you normally are.”
When Harrison was hired last year, one of the biggest challenges he presented was developing the younger players.
He said coaches have done a good job in the process, and now those young players must be ready for more responsibility.
“ Chrystyile was one of the freshmen then,” according to Harrison. “He’s already starting to get some looks. He’s a special talent. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We have a bunch of 10th graders having big time playing roles this year. The only place we return a lot of starters is the offensive line, so a lot of these guys that got coached up last year will be more heavily relied on this year.”
Harrison said the goals remain the same – maintain a standard of winning.
“ It’s Elba,” Harrison said. “You better expect to win, or I better not be building a house there. We expect to be successful. On that same note, we know that we’re going to be young and have growing pains.”
TIGERS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Pate Harrison (2nd year at Elba, 8-3; 8th year as a head coach, 54-27)
>> 2018 record: 8-3 overall, 6-1 in Class 1A, Region 2, Class 1A second round of state playoffs
>> 2018 results: at Opp (W, 53-33); Pleasant Home # (W, 28-14); at Kinston # (W, 38-6); Florala # (W, 60-24); G.W. Long (Cancelled because of wet field); Brantley # (W, 26-2); at Georgiana # (L, 27-35); at Red Level # (W, 41-6); McKenzie # (W, 46-14); at Tate (Fla.) (L, 35-42). STATE PLAYOFFS: Billingsley (W, 54-19); at Linden (L, 0-28)
>> Points scored/per game: 408/37.1
>> Points allowed/per game: 223/20.3
>> Returning offensive starters (7): RB Iverson Lane (Jr., 5-9, 170): RB Jaquez Prince (Jr. 5-9, 170); WR/RB Seth Ware (Sr., 5-8, 153); OL Tom Ford (Sr., 6-2, 292); OL Isaac Watkins (Sr., 6-0, 267); OL Chandler Coppage (Sr., 5-10, 234); OL Omarion Terry (Sr., 6-3, 242)
>> Returning defensive starters (7): NG Tom Ford (Sr., 6-2, 292); LB Dezmion Roberson (Sr., 6-3, 185); LB Brandon Epps (Sr., 5-10, 164); LB Omarion Terry (Sr., 6-3, 242); DB Seth Ware (Sr., 5-8, 153); DB Nathan James (Jr., 5-7, 136); DB Iverson Lane (Jr., 5-10, 160)
Aug. 23 at Daleville
Aug. 30 Opp
Sept. 6 Pleasant Home #
Sept. 13 Kinston #
Sept. 20 at Florala #
Sept. 27 G.W. Long
Oct. 4 at Brantley #
Oct. 11 Georgiana #
Oct. 18 Red Level #
Oct. 25 at McKenzie
# Denotes region games