The Gaylesville Trojans were deprived of that privilege on Aug. 9. Thunderstorms forced them inside their field house, but judging by the continuous clanking of weights in a tightly packed weight room, the Trojans took care of their disappointment just fine.
According to Gaylesville coach Brian Clowdis, workouts have been like that all summer. Maybe that has something to do with all the veterans the Trojans return on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve got seven returners on offense and eight on defense,” Clowdis said. “That’s pretty good, but when you think about the three who don’t return (Levi Morgan, Brian Sanford and Jeffrey Smith), that’s three pretty good football players. Some of the younger guys are really going to have to step up, but I feel pretty good overall about it.”
One of those key players returning is senior John David Jennings. Jennings makes the move from fullback to tailback this season, a move that should see his production increase. He was the Trojans’ third-leading rusher last season, with 410 yards on 90 carries and four touchdowns.
Jennings said he’s excited to see what he can do in the featured tailback spot.
“I feel pretty good at tailback. That’s where I like to play,” Jennings said. ”It’s not really a big change, but I like to run out of the backfield like that.”
Jennings isn’t the only returning starter in the Trojan backfield. Junior Dylan Mitchell lines up at fullback while junior quarterback Cole Murphy provides the Trojans with another viable threat in both rushing and passing.
Murphy was the Trojans’ second-leading rusher last year, with 466 yards and five touchdowns on 96 carries. He also accounted for 408 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Murphy said he’s spent the summer focusing on his footwork and increasing his arm strength.
“Just trying to get a little stronger,” he said. ”Being a (Class) 1A player, playing both sides of the ball, you’ve got to get pretty big and strong to play.”
Murphy also said he’s a little more comfortable behind center this season. He attributes that to playing with most of his since the seventh grade.
“They’re kind of like my brothers,” he said. “If I don’t know something, I can always ask one of them.”
Something that should make both Jennings and Murphy even more comfortable is the Trojan offensive line. Senior Levi Teague, junior Austin Lindsey and sophomore Seth Dawson return to the anchor the line. Clowdis said newcomers Corey Thomas and Danny Williams should see playing time on the line as well.
“Honestly, I think our line is probably the best we’ve had in a while,” Teague said. “I think we’ll do pretty good up front. If we’re mentally tough and physically prepared, then we’ll be all right.”
Targets Murphy should be able to utilize through the air are junior tight end Gable Lawson along with senior Malachii Dutton and junior Matthew Herrin at wideouts. Newcomer Blaine Broom should also see playing time in the receiving corps.
Most of the Trojan offense will double on defense, with the strong points of the unit being linebacker and secondary.
Jennings doubles as an outside linebacker. He had 62 tackles and a sack last season. Mitchell and Lawson will patrol at middle linebacker.
Murphy returns at safety, where he had 60 tackles and an interception last season. Broom will play opposite of Murphy. Herrin and Dutton return at the corners.
Teague and Dawson will anchor the defensive line. Clowdis said the other line spots are up for grabs.
The Trojans compete in the newly revamped Region 7. In addition to traditional rivals Cedar Bluff, Collinsville, Spring Garden, Valley Head and Woodville, the region now features new additions in Donoho, Jacksonville Christian and Coosa Christian.
“We know what we’ve got to do,” Murphy said. ”We can’t start off slowly. If we start off slowly, we’re going to get behind quickly, but I think we’ll do pretty good because we’re pretty tough and competitive.”