Photo by Nathan Pearman.
Spain Park’s E.J. Marino is beginning his third season as a starter at linebacker for the Jaguars.
Spain Park linebacker E.J. Marino isn’t the biggest or the fastest kid on coach Shawn Raney’s talent-laden squad. But Raney said he’s definitely one of the most valuable.
“Guys like E.J. and (wide receiver) Derek Williams are there every day and just do whatever we ask them to do,” said Raney, who is heading into his second year as the Jaguars’ head coach. “They are great students. They’re the kind of guys I think our program should be built around. Not only football-wise, but the type of students and kids that they are, also.”
Moving back into the company of schools that were a large part of the dreaded Class 6A, Region 5, almost every coach is both anxious and eager for the challenges of 7A, Region 3. Raney is no different and calls it likely the toughest region ever assembled in Alabama, with outstanding players and a who’s who list of top coaches to scheme against.
Archrival Hoover comes back on the schedule as a region foe, visiting Jaguar Stadium for a Thursday night TV contest on Oct. 2. The Buccaneers are the presumed region — and Class 7A — champs already, but Spain Park is a Top 10-caliber team. And, oh yeah, don’t forget Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, et al.
“It’s a good, good region, a tough year in that it’s going to be every week,” Raney said. “And I think our kids have realized that, worked for that from Day One, and had a great spring and a great summer. The coaches are excited and the kids are excited also.”
Marino, who is set to start for the third straight season at a third different linebacker slot, was voted team captain as a junior. He brings all the intangibles and plenty of smarts.
He just returned from the Princeton University prospect camp.
“It was awesome,” said Marino, who has scored a 30 on the ACT. “It was pretty cool to go up there and go someplace I’d never been. They had players from all over the country. I knew there were going to be some pretty good football players, and I was impressed with their beautiful practice facilities and the way Princeton managed their football program. It was a great experience.”
Those smarts are one reason Raney has no qualms about moving Marino to a new LB spot. “He was our Mike linebacker last year, and we put in a new defense and he picked it right up. He’s the kind of guy you can count on knowing exactly what’s going on.
“We have a couple of younger guys we think can only play Mike right now, and so we’ve asked him to move. He’s the type of kid, he’s going to play just as hard as he can play every play and be where he’s supposed to be.”