Following a 4-6 season in his first campaign at Samson, head coach Jason Wambles sees the potential for an uptick in the Tigers’ fortunate in 2019.
“We want to improve on last year,” Wambles said. “We had three close ball games that with a break here or there we could have won and ended up 7-3 instead of 4-6.”
Wambles referred to losses to rivals Geneva County (41-33) and Geneva (16-0) plus Class 2A, Region 3 foe Goshen (18-0) where costly mistakes such as dropped touchdown passes and blocked field goals prevented potential chances of winning.
“We want to improve on the mistakes we made last year,” Wambles said. “We want to decrease our turnovers, which we didn’t have a lot of, but we still want to decrease those. If we minimize our mistakes in some of the key games we have a chance to make the playoffs and have a good year.”
Wambles’ optimistic outlook is also a by-product of a veteran team that returns seven starters on offense and six on defense.
That outlook is also sparked by the return of quarterback Hayden McCoy, who enters his third year as the starter. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound college prospect accounted for 177.5 rushing and throwing yards a game last year and 18 touchdowns. He threw for 1,287 yards, completing 56.3 percent of his passes (65-of-116), with 14 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also rushed for 488 yards and four TDs.
“He is a stud,” Wambles said. “He is best quarterback in south Alabama, I promise you.
“He is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. He bench presses 290, squats 420 and power cleans 260. He runs a 4.8. He can throw a football 65 yards with good form.
“He is very physical (running the ball). He is smart and does a good job deciphering coverages.”
The Tiger head coach said McCoy is getting college interest from Memphis, Troy, UAB, Southern Miss, Arkansas State, Chattanooga, West Alabama and West Florida.
McCoy also is a returner at cornerback, a weapon there at 6-foot-3, but Wambles said the Tigers limit his playing time on defense to keep him fresh for offense.
“He would be our best defensive player if I could play him on defense, but I can’t afford to put him there where he can get banged up,” Wambles said.
Another top returner for the Tigers is senior running back/linebacker Trad Jenkins (6-foot-2, 185).
“He is extremely strong and very fast,” Wambles said of Jenkins, who led the Tigers in tackles last season, playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role. He also played a role running the ball and on bubble screen plays on offense.
Joining Jenkins in the backfield is sophomore Braxton Brooks (5-9, 150), who earned some carries in a back-up role last year, and Landon Mock (Jr., 6-0, 180), the starting fullback. Tyrik Cade (Sr., 6-1, 175) will line up some as wing back and in the slot.
Blade Davis (Jr., 6-3, 175) returns at wide receiver. Michael Kelley (Sr., 6-2, 200), a transfer from New Brockton, will also line up at wide out as will Chase Simmons (Sr., 6-0, 165).
The Tigers return three starters on the line, including mammoth 6-foot-1, 321-pound junior Kenton Williams.
“He is very good,” Wambles said. “If I had two or three more of those, I would be in good shape. He is our OL/DL guy. He draws double teams (on defense) and we run behind him (on offense) as he is a monster. He will get some college looks because of how big he is and because his feet are so quick.”
Also returning to the line are Deuce Warren, another big guy at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds, and Jacob Lowery (Jr., 6-1, 275). Lowery, however, is coming off a broken leg from baseball and has practiced in limited capacity so far. His playing time for the opener was unclear, said Wambles.
Gunnar Glisson, a sophomore, and Caleb Humbert, a senior, are others expected to play on the OL.
Defensively, the Tigers return the heart of the secondary in McCoy and Cade at cornerback and Brooks at safety. Davis and Francisco Loureano (So., 5-9, 160) will also join in the rotation.
Jenkins and Mock return as starters at linebacker and will likely be joined in the rotation by Mike Spencer (So., 6-0, 175) and Noah Justice (Sr., 6-1, 180).
The Tigers have to fill some voids on the defensive line as Williams is the lone returning starter. Warren along with Trent Stanton (Sr., 5-10, 210) and Jebb Spann (So., 5-10, 205) are in line to lock down those voids.
The kicking game returns Loureano for field goals and kickoffs. McCoy returns as the punter and will also handle the holds for field goals and extra points. The long snapper is Aren Loyed (Jr., 6-0, 175).
“We have a good 11-12 to 15 good kids we can put on the field at all times, but depth is going to hurt us this year,” said Wambles, who lost 14 seniors from last year and didn’t have a lot of freshman (now sophomores) rising up to help fill the void.
Still, he feels the talent level is good enough to overcome the lack of depth, if the Tigers can say healthy.
“We have an opportunity to win a few more ball games this season,” Wambles said.
TIGERS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Jason Wambles (2nd year at Samson, 4-6; 11th year as a head coach, 39-65)
>> 2018 record: 4-6 overall, 3-4 in Class 2A, Region 2
>> 2018 results: Geneva County (L, 33-41); at Kinston (W, 37-18); at Calhoun # (W, 57-0); at Goshen # (L, 0-18); Highland Home # (L, 16-43); at Geneva (L, 0-16); Central Hayneville # (W, 52-0); New Brockton # (Postponed to Nov. 2 because of Hurricane Michael); at Zion Chapel # (W, 60-10); Luverne # (L, 6-35); New Brockton # (Make-up of Oct. 12 game) (L, 6-34)
>> Points scored/per game: 267/26.7
>> Points allowed/per game: 215/21.5
>> Returning offensive starters (7): QB Hayden McCoy (Jr., 6-3, 200); RB Trad Jenkins (Sr., 6-2, 190); WR Blade Davis (Jr., 6-3,175); Slot Braxton Brooks (So., 5-9, 150); OL Kenton Williams (Jr., 6-1, 321); OL Deuce Warren (Sr., 6-1, 305); OL Jacob Lowery (Jr., 6-1, 275)
>> Returning defensive starters (6): DT Kenton Williams (Jr., 6-1, 321); LB Trad Jenkins (Sr., 6-2, 190); LB Landon Mock (Jr., 6-0, 180); S Braxton Brooks (So., 5-9, 150); CB Hayden McCoy (Sr., 6-3, 200); DB Tyrik Cade (Sr., 6-1, 175)
Aug. 23 at Geneva County
Aug. 30 Kinston
Sept. 6 Calhoun #
Sept. 13 Goshen #
Sept. 20 at Highland Home #
Sept. 27 Geneva
Oct. 4 at Central Hayneville #
Oct. 11 Off
Oct. 18 Zion Chapel #
Oct. 25 at Luverne #
Oct. 31 (Thu) at New Brockton
# Denotes region games