This is an opinion piece.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re already at the mid-point of the 2022 high school football regular season.
That means it is time for my annual mid-season report.
Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been out of touch since August.
Tight race in 7A
The race to the Class 7A state title seems a little more open than it has in recent years. Three-time reigning champ Thompson is likely still the favorite, though the Warriors enter their Week 6 matchup against Class 6A No. 1 Clay-Chalkville ranked No. 5 in the state after early losses to a pair of quality out-of-state teams.
Keith Etheredge’s Auburn team is undefeated and currently ranked No. 1, although the Tigers still must play rivals Opelika and Central-Phenix City, both of whom should be considered title contenders. The surprise team of the bunch is Fairhope. Tim Carter’s Pirates are undefeated and ranked No. 2 with a playmaker at quarterback in senior Caden Creel. Remember that name. Hoover has won four straight since a narrow loss to Auburn to open the season, and Hewitt-Trussville is one of the most talented teams in the state.
Which two teams make it to Jordan-Hare Stadium in December?
Same old, same old in 6A
Since the AHSAA went to seven classifications in 2014, Class 6A has been the deepest and most competitive class year-in and year-out. This year is no exception. This class is stacked at the top with reigning champ Clay-Chalkville (winners of 20 straight games), consistently tough Mountain Brook and sophomore-laden Saraland all undefeated and vying for the top spot.
There are plenty of other contenders to Chalkville’s throne as well including – but not limited to — 2021 semifinalist Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, 6A newcomer Theodore, Hartselle, Pinson Valley and Muscle Shoals.
Can Drew Gilmer’s Cougars fend off those teams and repeat as champs?
Still the 1s
You could probably leave our state for a few years, lose all track of high school football and come back and find UMS-Wright, Piedmont and Fyffe near the top of their respective classifications.
That’s true again this year.
UMS (5A) and Fyffe (2A) are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in their classes. Piedmont is the top team in 3A despite a loss earlier in the season.
I don’t think the road to a title will be easy for any of the three.
Leeds, Ramsay, Gulf Shores, Guntersville, Moody, Arab and Pleasant Grove all look to be legitimate contenders in 5A; Piedmont will have to deal with Mars Hill, St. James, Gordo and Mobile Christian among others; Highland Home appears to be a huge obstacle for Fyffe in 2A.
Has any team in the state been more consistently impressive over the last two years than Montgomery Catholic?
The Knights have won 18 of their 19 games during that span and outscored opponents 915-85. The only loss came in last year’s Class 3A state semifinals, 10-7 to rival Montgomery Academy.
The beat has continued for Kirk Johnson’s team in the move up to 4A this year. In their last two games, the Knights have outscored their opponents 120-0. They play at Pike Liberal Arts tonight.
Chasing the record
UMS-Wright’s Terry Curtis continues to chase down Buddy Anderson to become the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach.
Anderson retired from Vestavia Hills following the 2020 season with 346 victories. Curtis, in his 24th year at UMS, stands at 341 after a perfect 5-0 start for his Bulldogs. UMS is idle this week.
If the Bulldogs win out in the regular season, Curtis would tie Anderson in the regular-season finale against Williamson and could break the record in the first round of the playoffs.
He’s not the only one chasing Anderson’s record, however. Central-Clay County’s Danny Horn has 334 victories, while Fyffe’s Paul Benefield has 326.
Are there four better sophomore playmakers in the state than the four at Saraland?
Quarterback KJ Lacey, running back Santae McWilliams and wide receivers Ryan Williams and CD Gill have driven the Spartans to a 5-0 record despite the fact neither of the four can even drive to school yet.
“I know they are young, but they don’t act young, practice young or play young,” Saraland coach Jeff Kelly said. “They have a desire to be great in a way you don’t see everyday in high school kids.”
RELATED: Meet the Saraland 2025 WR who plays at a “different speed”
Who is Mr. Football?
The race is wide open at the mid-point of the season.
Last year’s runner-up and Class 6A Back of the Year Earl Woods entered the season as possibly the favorite, but his Hueytown team has struggled out of the gate.
That has opened the door for other contenders, including Montgomery Catholic RB Jeremiah Cobb, emerging Saraland WR Ryan Williams, UMS-Wright RB Cole Blaylock, Piedmont QB Jack Hayes, Oneonta ATH Fluff Bothwell, Randolph QB Andrew Hunter, Handley RB Jay Haynes, Hillcrest -Tuscaloosa QB Ethan Crawford, Hartselle QB Jack Smith and Briarwood QB Christopher Vizzina.
If you are looking for a defensive Mr. Football, there are plenty of choices there as well – James Smith and Qua Russaw of Carver-Montgomery, Peter Woods and Tony Mitchell of Thompson, Hunter Osborne of Hewitt-Trussville, Jahlil Hurley of Florence, Tomarrion Parker and AJ Harris of Central-Phenix. City and Kelby Collins of Gardendale.
Tradition tells us that the winner most likely will be a player who carries his team to a state title or at least deep into the playoffs. The last four winners (Thompson’s Ryan Peppins, Pinson Valley’s Kool-Aid McKinstry, Lanett’s Kristian Story and Pinson Valley’s Bo Nix) all led their teams to the state title. The last non-state champion winner was Asa Martin of Austin in 2017. His team lost to Pinson Valley 51-50 in the quarterfinals.
If I voted right now, my vote would likely go to Cobb.
However, unlike the Heisman, the ASWA prep committee does not vote on Mr. Football until all games, including the championships, have been played.
Best mid-season coaching job
A lot of candidates to choose from here.
Off the top of my head, here are some contenders: Rico White (Anniston), Phil Phillips (Oneonta), Jake Ganus (Moody), Phil Lazenby (Bayside Academy), Tim Carter (Fairhope), Jere Adcock (Decatur), Smitty Grider (Benjamin Russell), Gus Smith (Gordo), Scott Basden (Muscle Shoals), Bryan Moore (Hartselle).
Thought for the Day
“What comes out of our mouths is an advertisement for what’s going on in our hearts.” – Dr. Joe Stringer, Jubilee Baptist Church.
80s quote of the week
“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Ben Thomas is the high school sportswriter at AL.com. He has been named one of the 50 legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Follow him on twitter at @BenThomasPreps or email him at [email protected]. His weekly column is posted every Wednesday and Friday on AL.com. He can be heard weekly on the Cooper Restaurants “Inside High School Sports” on SportsTalk 99.5 FM in Mobile or on the free IHeart Radio App at 2 pm Wednesdays.