While Arab Junior High’s eighth grade football team was compiling a glorious undefeated season last year, the seventh grade team struggled mightily.
As head coach Jason Guger put it, the former seventh graders “have a tough act to follow.”
That’s in more ways than one.
“We knew what kind of team we had last year, so we made the schedule a little tougher to challenge them,” Guger said. “Now, this year’s team has to play that same tough schedule.”
Sounds like a recipe for disaster but Guger is encouraged by his next eighth grade team.
“This group has grown a lot, physically and football knowledge-wise,” he said.
There are a healthy number of players out – 40 – and that’s also a good thing.
Guger will have a little better understanding of both teams after Thursday’s home jamborees against Meridianville and Locust Fork (see Local Sports Calendar on page 10B for complete listings).
• 8th Grade
The eighth grade Knights will have a new quarterback and that has nothing to do with the offense being tweaked. Neither of the two QBs on the seventh grade team last year is back.
That means first-year QBs Jackson Jones and Dylan Morrow will compete for playing time. Jones was a running back last year and Morrow was a receiver.
Although the slight change in offensive philosophy had little to do with Jones and Morrow emerging, they “both fit the type player we wanted” at the position, Guger said.
“We’re going to be running a lot more option plays and reads, and hopefully the quarterback will be a bigger part of our running game,” Guger added.
J.R. Young was one of the best players on the seventh grade team last year, playing running back and safety.
“He’ll be our big returning player,” Guger said.
The line play has improved, especially Brody Enochs, Julian Bailey and Curt Williams along the offensive front and Jace Johnson and Landon Grizzard on defense.
“I think Jace and Landon will be disruptive,” Guger said.
Taylor Anderson is a returning starter at receiver.
On defense, Dylan Benefield is the returning starter at inside linebacker and will be the play-caller on defense.
“He makes good reads,” Guger said.
One negative note: returning linebacker Trent Brooks, who figured to play a big role on defense, broke his leg over the summer and likely will miss the entire season.
• 7th grade
Drew Puccio and Kolby Hardin will battle for playing time at quarterback and their mission will be to get the ball in the hands of Kaiden Story, Logan Alldredge (Tyler’s brother) and Jaxon Ivey.
“All three of those guys bring a different aspect to the offense and all of them will probably play on defense as well,” Guger said.
The offensive and defensive lines were still taking shape entering game week this week.
“We probably won’t know until after the jamboree who will win positions,” Guger said.
One who will win a position on the line is Jackson East.
“He’s the best size and the best lineman on the seventh grade team,” Guger said. “Frank Clark has been showing out pretty good, too.”
Guger is a little concerned about the numbers (32), though he expects that total to rise to the mid-30s as eligibility papers clear for several players.
“This group is smaller than normal,” Guger said. “Several will have to play both ways.
“We hope some others will come along and provide more depth. We won’t really know until we get more time with them”
• Guger’s assistant coaches include: Mike Shipp, offensive coordinator; Cody Edge, running backs; Casey Whitfield, wide receivers; Blake Beam, offensive line; Klay Cranford, defensive coordinator (inside linebackers); Michael Pruitt (outside linebackers); Terance Maze defensive backs; and Jacob Spencer, defensive line.