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Photo by Kyle Parmley.
Garrett Farquhar is in his first season as starting quarterback.
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Hoover High School head football coach Josh Niblett knows that his team enters each season with a target on its back. As coach of a perennial power, that’s just the way it is.
“You’ve got to find ways to win because we’re going to get everybody’s A-game,” he said.
It’s an expectation that rings especially true within the context of region play, which will begin for the Bucs Sept. 2. Hoover will host Mountain Brook High School in the first of four Class 7A, Region 3 games that it will contest during the month of September. Other opponents include crosstown rival Spain Park, Tuscaloosa County and Oak Mountain.
Hoover opened up the season with two non-region games against Central-Phenix City and Allen (Texas).
In 2015, the Bucs went 5-2 against region competition, losing games to Spain Park and Vestavia Hills. Before Hoover fell to Spain Park last October, it had not lost to a region opponent since October 2011.
Niblett said the heightened expectations that annually surround the Hoover program can sometimes make winning games feel like a relief — in region play or otherwise. But this season, he said his team has shifted its focus.
“I told our kids: We’re changing that. We’re going to celebrate when we win,” Niblett said. “The teams that win, the teams that sustain success, are those that high-five and chest bump.”
Starting with the home opener against Mountain Brook at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium — where the Bucs play all their home games — Niblett will discover how his team’s celebratory approach affects its play against region opponents.
In last season’s matchup with Mountain Brook, Hoover relied on a late scoring drive to clinch a 21-14 victory. Former Bucs defensive back P.J. Hall turned the tide of the game when he intercepted a pass with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. On the subsequent possession, Bucs running back C.J. Sturdivant rushed for a game-winning touchdown to break a 14-14 stalemate.
Hoover owns a 30-7 all-time record against Mountain Brook; it has won seven of the past eight meetings.
Up next, Hoover will host Spain Park Sept. 9 in what is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season. Last fall, the Jags beat the Bucs twice: once in the regular season and once in the 7A state semifinal. Spain Park’s 17-0 regular season blanking on Oct. 1 snapped Hoover’s 43 game in-state win streak and marked the first time since 1991 that the Bucs were held scoreless. It was also the first time in Spain Park school history that it defeated Hoover — save a forfeit victory in 2007.
“I think the biggest thing with our kids, it’s going to hurt,” Niblett said after the game. “It’s supposed to hurt, and we want it to hurt for a little bit.”
Following its game with Spain Park, Hoover will travel to Tuscaloosa County Sept. 16. The Bucs rolled to a 45-3 victory over the Wildcats last fall, but they could face more of a challenge this time around. Bart Sessions, Spain Park’s former defensive coordinator, is Tuscaloosa County’s new head coach. Sessions’ defense at Spain Park limited Hoover to six total points across eight quarters in 2015.
Hoover will have an off week after that game, but will return to action Sept. 30. The Bucs will play an away game at Oak Mountain, a team they defeated by a mere three-point margin in 2015.