Zion Chapel third-year head coach Randy Bryant allows that his program is going in the right direction. He also notes “it is a slow process.”
The Rebels are coming off a 5-5 season – their best finish since the 2011 team went 8-3.
“I always tell the kids Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Bryant said. “I guess that’s an old saying. We keep making progress, we’re doing the right things and eventually that stuff pays off.
“ Small schools are cyclical with talent. We lost 12 kids last year. We have a small senior class of five kids this year.”
Bryant said he has “recruited the hallways” for players.
“We have 45 players and 23 did not play last year,” he said. “We’re not the deepest team. But they’ve had years here where they had to cancel games. Again, we’re heading in the right direction. The kids know we care about them.”
There is some talent returning. Five offensive and five defensive starters are back, including three in the offensive line.
“Obviously, games are won and lost on the front end,” Bryant said. “Having three of our five back on the offensive line is big. All those guys will play in the defensive front six or seven, too.”
Joey McCrory, a 5-11, 220-pound senior, anchors the offensive line at right tackle. He also plays middle linebacker on defense.
“Joey’s the strongest kid on our team,” Bryant said. “Very experienced player. He’s an Eagle Scout. He’s everything you want. Works for the school in the summer.
“If I had 11 of him I’d feel really good. He’s a good athlete and he’s a team player. When I got here he was playing running back, but he’s so big and strong we had to move him to the line. He’s a selfless guy, whatever’s best for the team.”
The other returning starters up front are Cole Moseley (5-9, 195), a junior, and sophomore left tackle Paden Boothe (5-10, 200). Mosley could move to a guard spot or return to center.
Ace Childs is likely to win the job at left guard, but the right guard position was open going into the start of practice.
“There’s going to be competition there,” Bryant said.
Zion Chapel’s other returning starters are senior receivers Nate Grantham and Ben Hutchison.
“Nate is probably one of the best athletes on our team,” the coach said. “He’s a true competitor. He’s a kid that does everything the right way.
“Ben’s a kid that has some experience in the secondary and at receiver – he’s even taking some reps at quarterback for us. He’s a guy, again, another trustworthy kid, does everything the right way. We have a bunch of kids that are dual-enrollment kids, that go to Ozark every day and learn how to be an aircraft mechanic. Ben will leave high school and be ready to be an A&P (airframe and/or powerplant) mechanic.”
Hutchison has taken reps at quarterback, but a pair of juniors – Whit Wilkerson and Austin Johns – are competing for the starting job.
“This is Whit’s third year in my program,” Bryant said. “They’re similar in that they’re more passing quarterbacks. They can make a play with their legs, but they’d rather keep a play alive and look downfield.”
Johns, a pitcher in baseball, may have a bigger arm. Wilkerson is more familiar with Bryant’s multiple spread system.
The Rebels have to find a running back or two. Zay Adair and Brockston Bragg, two that played primarily on the defensive side of the ball, will both get carries this fall.
“Zay’s kind of a smaller kid, more of a scatback type,” Bryant said. “Brockston’s a bigger guy who can get some hard yards. He’s a tough kid.”
Two more skill players should factor in somewhere, perhaps at receiver, perhaps at H-back. Landon Jacobs and Chance Killingsworth, two juniors, will “both play a role in our offense,” Bryant said.
Many of those same players will play on defense, as well. McCrory and Bragg will be inside linebackers. Boothe will play on the defensive line and Childs could be disruptive at nose guard.
Grantham returns at safety and Hutchison could play anywhere – safety or corner. Adair and Peyton Stokes have the potential to be solid cornerbacks, Bryant said. Brayden Watson, a sophomore, could find a spot at outside linebacker.
The Rebels play in what Bryant called “the SEC West of Class 2A football.” Luverne, Goshen, New Brockton, Samson, Highland Home, Central-Hayneville and Calhoun are the opponents in Region 3.
It is a process and it does take time. Bryant said Zion Chapel is heading in the right direction – but knows there are no short cuts.
“They understand the importance of the weight room,” Bryant said. “We’ll try to be stronger and faster – because that’s what helps you win football games.”
REBELS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Randy Bryant (3rd year at Zion Chapel and as a head coach, 7-13)
>> 2018 record: 5-5 overall, 2-5 in Class 2A, Region 3
>> 2018 results: at Red Level (W, 40-33); Goshen # (L, 6-55); Luverne # (L, 14-47); at Calhoun # (W, 46-6); Kinston (W, 37-12); at Highland Home # (L, 0-58); at Central (Hayneville) # (W, 27-12); Samson # (L, 10-60); at New Brockton # (L, 6-48); Pleasant Home (W, 34-14)
>> Points scored/per game: 220/22.0
>> Points allowed/per game: 345/34.5
>> Returning offensive starters (5): OL Joey McCrory (Sr., 5-11, 220); OL Paden Boothe (So., 5-10, 200); OL Cole Moseley (Jr., 5-9, 185); WR Nate Grantham (Sr., 5-8, 165); WR Ben Hutchison (Sr., 5-9, 170)
>> Returning defensive starters (5): DL Paden Boothe (So., 5-10, 200); LB Joey McCrory (Sr., 5-11, 200); LB Brockston Bragg (Jr., 5-11, 205); DB Nate Grantham (Sr., 5-8, 165); DB Ben Hutchison (Sr., 5-9, 170)
Aug. 30 Red Level
Sept. 6 at Goshen #
Sept. 13 at Luverne #
Sept. 20 Calhoun #
Sept. 27 at Kinston
Oct. 4 Highland Home #
Oct. 11 Central Hayneville #
Oct. 18 at Samson #
Oct. 25 New Brockton #
Nov. 1 at Pleasant Home
# Denotes region games