0714 Hoover Football
Hoover’s Bucs will find themselves knocking heads with Spain Park again in Class 7A, Region 3
Every team needs “that kid,” a player who displays heart, leadership or other intangibles — not only under the Friday night lights but also during the sweltering heat of August practices.
“Alex Elam on offense does a lot of dirty work for us, but when we get the ball in his hands can make some plays. He just has those intangibles you just can’t measure. Zack Eldridge is just so active and is a high-energy guy who always plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
-Coach Josh Niblett
Great expectations for powerful Bucs
Need we say it? Coach Josh Niblett’s Hoover Buccaneers will be everyone’s pick to win Class 7A, Region 3 and the favorite to win the first Class 7A crown and perhaps a national championship. Talent, depth and coaching combined with a culture of winning make it hard to pick against the Bucs.
Games against Miami Central, Fla., Colquitt County, Ga., and Blackman of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will help determine the Bucs’ national standing. An open date midway through the season helps, as does the region schedule, which brings Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills to the Met. But playing in ultra-competitive Region 3, which Niblett calls the SEC of Alabama high school football, means the Bucs will have to be focused and ready to play every time out.
Senior quarterback Jack Hutcheson returns after starting as a junior and making some big throws in the playoffs on the way to the 6A championship.
“Having a year under his belt now is going to help,” Niblett said. “He’s made some huge strides in the offseason.” Hutcheson played last season around 170 pounds but he’s added almost 20 pounds to his 6-3 frame. “I think physically he’s developed a lot more. And, in being a student of the game, understanding the game, so we’re looking for him to make some big plays for us.”
He’s just one in the armada of weapons for the Bucs. Running back Bradrick Shaw returns after rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a junior, and he has offers from SEC schools. He’s the top horse in a stable that also includes Marcus Webb and Kris Parker, who Niblett said was possibly the MVP of last season’s offense. Parker can play running back or fullback and can split wide. “He’s a big part of our offense in what we do,” Niblett said.
Hutcheson has an SEC target in wide receiver Justin Johnson (6-3, 215). “He’s got a big-time physical body. He’s done a really good job in the offseason taking his game to another level,” Niblett said.
Alex Elam is an inside receiver listed at 5-9, 170, who Niblett says does a lot of the little things you don’t notice but can also make big plays. The offensive line will be anchored by junior Nick Eldridge (6-2, 295) and senior Alex Horn (6-3, 245).
Niblett said the interior line won’t be quite as big as last year, but the Bucs will still be plenty big enough, plenty fast and plenty talented. Defensive end Christian Bell (6-4, 220) is committed to Alabama. At the other end is Jaysen Cook-Calhoun (6-2, 215). Zack Eldridge (6-0, 226) will play inside. He’s not as big as past Bucs interior linemen but Niblett said he’s a tough, hard-nosed player who plays with a chip on his shoulder. “He’s a guy inside who’s got to have a great year for us.”
The linebacking corps is stocked with talent too. Auburn commitment Darrell Williams (6-3, 230), junior Jeremiah Moon (6-4, 205) and senior Malcolm Cox (6-3, 200). Senior R.J. Arnold (6-0, 215) directs the defense from his Mike LB spot. Cox, said Niblett, is a hybrid DE/LB who could play either outside LB or DE in a four-man front without missing a beat, and that gives the defense valuable flexibility. “Very seldom do you have a guy who can do both of those,” Niblett said.
In the secondary, junior P.J. Hall is an SEC talent who started last season opposite Marlon Humphrey and therefore faced a lot of fire his way. Niblett said Hall and wide receiver Johnson “battle it out at practice every day, making each other better. That’s always key.” Micah Bagley is an active, speedy safety who’ll be counted on to make plays in the secondary. If the middle holds up, some feel this could be the best Hoover defense in the Niblett era.
Hunter Schmith returns to handle place-kicking and field goal duties for a third season, but what has Niblett impressed is his leg strength. “This year, he will be kicking off (too). Real excited about how strong his leg has gotten. We feel like with him being able to kick the ball into the end zone, we’ll be making teams go 80 yards against us, law of averages are good on your side defensively.”
Junior Bailey Aultman will handle the punting, replacing all-stater Tuck Borie. “He’s really come along,” said Niblett. “That was one thing I was a little worried about was where we were going to be special-teams wise, but we’ve made some strides in the offseason.”
Niblett has high praise for Trey Davis, his senior deep-snapper. “Nobody notices them until there’s a bad snap, but they mean a lot to us. He’s started for us since he was a sophomore and he’s just a great player for us.”
Niblett calls his special teams “we-fense.” “We’ve always prided ourselves on being good on special teams,” he said. “We need to have guys find their niche and their role, and there’s an opportunity on ‘we-fense.’”