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Photo courtesy of Barry Stephenson
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Photo courtesy of Barry Stephenson
The staples of Josh Niblett’s Hoover High School football program come out at all levels, even at a youth camp.
He can be heard ending a camp with the line “make your bed, do right and treat people with respect,” to a group of youngsters hanging on his every word, before wrapping the camp up with a word of prayer.
His main job, the high school’s head football coach, requires teaching more complex principles than those off-the-field virtues, but he excels at it all the same. In his eight years at Hoover, he’s won four state championships, including three straight from 2012 through 2014.
Two of Hoover’s three losses in 2015 were at the hands of crosstown rival Spain Park High School, including one in the Class 7A semifinals, putting an end to the Bucs’ run.
“We got to the last game, and we had opportunities to make it happen,” Hoover head coach Josh Niblett said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
However, don’t expect that 7-6 loss to the Jags to leave any kind of negative effect on the Hoover program heading into 2016. The Bucs are not even using the final loss as motivation. They are moving on and working hard.
“We don’t sit here and talk about the losing. We celebrate the winning because we know that’s around,” Niblett said.
Niblett does not want the expectation set by winning state titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to become unrealistic.
He said, “We don’t want it to be the case when we win, everybody just takes a breath, like it’s a relief. We want it to be where when we win, we celebrate the winning.”
The Bucs feel good about their quarterback situation, with senior Garrett Farquhar set to take over the position on a full-time basis.
“Garrett’s a guy that’s been in our system a long time. Even when he was in middle school, he ran most of our system. He’s got some savvy about him. He’s a hardnosed kid that works extremely hard,” Niblett said.
Niblett also mentioned Jalen Parker and Seth Compher as capable options as signal callers.
CJ Sturdivant returns as a dynamic threat out of the backfield for the Bucs. While he will get the majority of the carries, Vonte’ Brackett, R.J. Randle and Corwin Russell will help carry the load to keep the unit’s legs fresh.
At wide receiver, Shedrick Jackson, Cortez Hall and Kam Ford all return as threats on the perimeter. Jimmy Turner is a name to watch to make a name for himself in the fall as well.
Austin Carter and Mike Maye will anchor an offensive line looking to replace a few spots. Carter has starting experience at center, and helps Niblett “build the offensive line from the inside out” like he prefers.
The pieces are there for a successful offense, if Hoover can do some of the peripheral things well.
“We’ve got a chance to be explosive, but the biggest thing is we’ve got to take care of the ball. We’ve got to be good on first down. We’ve got to do a really good job of dictating the flow of the game,” Niblett said.
For the Bucs, it all starts on defense with “Mike” linebacker Kholbe Coleman-Abrams, who Niblett called a “heck of a player for us.”
Coleman-Abrams is a senior along with nickel linebacker KJ Vault, both starters last year as well. Christon Taylor is a guy that will play a hybrid-end role for Hoover.
The leader up front is Ricky Palao, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle. Campbell Carden is another lineman considered a leader for the unit, and both will be part of a heavily-rotated defensive line.
“Those guys inside, we’ll rotate a lot of guys around,” Niblett said. “We try to play a lot of guys on the defensive line to keep fresh legs.”
It remains to be seen how good the secondary can be, with a lack of returning depth at the cornerback position. Will Singleton was mentioned as a player looking to lock down one of those spots, with other rotation slots still to be decided.
At safety, Ben Abercrombie and Jayden Jordan return as starters, and Niblett feels good about those two guys leading the secondary.
Overall, the speed of the defense should be a strength for the Bucs, and a knowledge of the system with the returners makes coaches more comfortable.
Barret Pickering does everything on special teams, as the team’s place-kicker, punter and kickoff man. Not to be understated is the comfort of having Jack Caldwell returning as the team’s deep snapper.
“The biggest thing on special teams is play smart and then do something in the game to give yourself a chance to win, and not lose,” Niblett said.