0714 Spain Park Football
The Jaguars’ Michael Jackson breaks loose on a return. Jackson already holds scholarship offers from Georgia, LSU, Miami and Nebraska.
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.
“E.J. Marino is a little bit undersized, but he went to the Princeton prospect camp, so he’s a real smart kid. He just does everything right, a great kid to be around. Perry Young is a high-motor kid who is a great practice player and is just a tough kid. Wade Streeter is an exceptional worker, both on the field and in school and a leader on our football team even though he’s a young guy.”
-Coach Shawn Raney
New class, familiar foes await Jaguars
Spain Park returns to the dreaded region that includes Hoover, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain as the Jaguars move into the new Class 7A, Region 3.
Coach Shawn Raney isn’t dreading it, though and neither are his Jags.
“It’s exciting. It’s a challenge every week, great coaches, great players. Our kids are excited, the coaches are excited about it,” Raney said.
Spain Park won Class 6A, Region 4 last season with a 8-3 record in Raney’s first season as head coach but was knocked out of the playoffs in round one in overtime to Enterprise. In fact, the Jags dropped their final three games after rolling out to an 8-0 start. They’ll hope to finish better this season.
Hoover is obviously the favorite in the new region, but if the Jags’ offense comes together like it should and injuries don’t derail them, they have a very good shot to be among the four teams that will qualify from this region for the playoffs. The schedule might play in the Jags’ favor; they get an open date before Hoover, Vestavia and Mountain Brook await in the second half of the season.
Spain Park brings back four starters or part-time starters and a bunch of others who played extensively. Senior quarterback Mason Duke (5-11,180) started the last couple of games last season. Duke pitched the Jaguars to the Class 6A state baseball championship, so his arm is not a question. “He’s a real gritty kid who is a winner, a real good competitor,” Raney said. “I think he’s going to have a good year for us.”
Junior Wade Streeter (5-9, 170) will start at running back, stepping up to replace Otis Harris. “He’s a real hard worker, a really good kid who’s been playing since he was a freshman. He got behind Otis a little bit but played a lot. We expect good things from him.”
Protecting Duke and opening holes for Streeter will be an offensive line that returns three starters. Junior Grey Best (6-1, 240) was a swing man last season, filling in along the line wherever needed. “He’s going to start at center for us this year.” Seniors Harrison Dickson (6-2, 230) and Jack Winchester (6-1, 250) also return.
Seniors Derek Williams (5-10, 160) and Owen Carr (5-11, 160) and junior Kourtney Moore (6-0, 175) are receivers who have had playing experience.
To sum up, although Raney has some talented players who have seen action, it’s not the most experienced group. In the tough region the Jags are in, this offense will need the youngsters and new starters to step up to the challenge. Big seasons are needed from Duke, Streeter and the receivers.
Early in the season, the veteran defense may have to carry the offense till it gels.
“We have six back on defense,” Raney said. “In the secondary we have kids that have played since their sophomore year.”
The leader of that bunch is highly recruited Michael Jackson (6-1, 185), an athletic cornerback who has offers from Georgia, LSU, Miami and Nebraska already. “The whole deal is they’re looking for corners with height. He’s got good quickness and speed. As you look at him physically, he fits the mold of what you see playing on Saturdays. He’s really worked to get better. He went to the Miami camp, and they offered him on sight. I think he’ll even get more offers as he goes along.”
He’s joined by senior Rondaius Johnson, another two-year starter, and senior safety A.J. Smiley (6-3, 195), whose father played at Alabama, and is getting looks from Nebraska and Troy.
Junior Perry Young (5-10, 170) is a high-energy player who returns as a starter at linebacker, and senior E.J. Marino is also back. Marino, who is a also little undersized at 5-10, 195, is an intelligent player who has played since he was a sophomore.
Up front, the Jaguars have a mostly new crew – seniors who will be starting for the first time. Returning as a starter is junior Jonah Tibbs, a player Raney believes will be recruited for the next level. Surrounding him will be solid veterans who have been in the program but who will be counted upon to start this season.
Junior Crosby Gray will handle both the punting and place-kicking for the Jags.
“He’s real competitive kid, a good athlete I feel real confident about.” Raney said. “He’s a gamer. When we’re doing all our footwork drills, he jumps right in there with the DBs. Don’t find a lot of kickers who do that.”
Jackson, Johnson and Smiley will lead the return game. Wide receiver Williams is also in the mix.