0813 Hoover High School Football Preview
In an era of dominance such as the one Hoover is enjoying now, one thing is certain: expectations are sky-high year-in and year-out.
For a program that has made it to 12 of the last 13 state championship games, seasons like 2012 become almost the norm. That team, which was 15-0 and easily stomped Opelika 31-0 in the state title game, is gone. The 2013 Bucs, who will only be returning eight of 22 starters, have to somehow follow in those footsteps and create their own legacy.
Given the history of this program, that might not be a huge problem. What is termed as “rebuilding” at other schools is more like “reloading” at Hoover. Players seem to always replace graduated seniors and thrive.
If anything has been a constant, though, it is head coach Josh Niblett. Niblett is 69-6 in five seasons at Hoover and has reached the state title game every year.
Niblett’s mantra for this year is “NEXT: Never Enough Excel Today.”
“We have a saying around here that goes ‘You can’t drive forward while looking in the rearview mirror,’” he said. “We can’t climb the mountain in front of us if we’re too busy sitting and marveling at the one we just climbed.”
Hoover does lose defensive coordinator Shawn Raney to traditional rival Spain Park High School, though the Jaguars are not on the schedule this season. Niblett has chosen Robert Evans as Raney’s successor.
“Shawn [Raney] did a really good job of adjusting our scheme each year to what our personnel was,” Niblett said. “I wish him the best of luck. I was so happy for him because I knew how much he wanted to be a head coach. And Robert had a great spring and was the most qualified for the job. I believe if you surround yourself with good people, you have a good chance to succeed.”
The Bucs return several key players from a defense that only gave up an average of nine points per game last season. Several seniors and a stellar junior class that has coaches talking across the state will lead the defense. The junior class that boasts multiple, highly touted college recruits hasn’t lost a game since seventh grade.
“We have a lot of length and speed on defense,” Niblett said. “We have the potential to be really good on defense, and we need to be.”
Senior cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the track speedster who has garnered a five-star ranking from Rivals.com, will scare every quarterback in the region. Rivals has ranked him as the no. 11 overall player in the 2013 class.
“Marlon is a great player and has every tool you could ever want from a corner,” Niblett said. “He has God-given speed that he’s worked to develop. Now this is his and the senior class’ team. It’s their job to leave their legacy behind.”
More questions exist on the other side of the ball.
Connor Short was a prolific passer for Hoover, and Calen Campbell was a strong running back. Combined, their yardage made up 79 percent of the 2012 offense. Receiver Michael Powers is gone after having 43 more catches and 700 more receiving yards than any other Buc last season.
The hole at quarterback has not been filled yet; Jack Hutchinson, Jay Burton and Nick Austin are competing for the job. Niblett harped on the need for consistency at this position.
“We must have consistency at quarterback and refine one of those guy’s skills so we can wrap the offense around him,” Niblett said.
Four offensive linemen also must be replaced.
“The biggest challenge is going to be offensively maturing,” Niblett said. “If we mature and get last year out of our heads and understand it’s a new year, not looking in the rearview mirror, we have a chance to be good.”
The Aug. 30 matchup with nationally ranked Colquitt County and head coach Rush Propst is the biggest game on the schedule. Propst, who won 110 games and five state titles in his time at Hoover, left amidst personal scandal in 2008. In the past, Hoover has fared well in these nationally hyped games.
“We always get a nationally ranked team on the schedule,” Niblett said. “We try to run our program as if we are a college program. We want to give kids an opportunity to experience it if they don’t get the chance to play at the college level. And for kids that will get that opportunity, it won’t be a culture shock when they get there.”
Expectations are high. But Hoover has been known to match every expectation. Replacing offensive wea-pons and the defensive coordinator from one of the best teams in school history won’t be easy. But this team is talented, and if the Bucs can beat their old coach in the first game of the season, the rest of the state will be hard pressed to keep up.
2012 Results: Finished a dominant 15-0 season with a 31-0 win over Opelika to take the 6A State Championship, the ninth in Hoover’s history.
Head Coach: Josh Niblett (69-6 in five years at Hoover; reached state title game every year).
Key Losses: QB Connor Short, RB Calen Campbell, WR Michael Powers, OL Eddie Foster.