Brindlee Mountain head coach Keith Garner has been optimistic before.
He recruits athletes at his own school who he sees playing other sports or in gym class. Some will come out in the spring and show great promise. Transfers come in as well.
It gets everyone’s hopes up.
Then, invariably, some or most of them drop out. Some don’t come back to school in the fall. Some just give up football. And attrition also takes a toll on the pre-spring roster, for many of the same reasons.
So, while Garner is again feeling optimistic heading into preseason camp on Monday, he’s not blind to the possibility of things falling apart, either.
“It’s a joy to work with these kids,” he said as summer workouts were coming to a close. “If we can stay healthy, we’ve got a chance.
“We don’t have much depth, but we’ve got a good mix of skill people and lineman. I really like where we’re heading.”
Part of that optimism is based on the influx of several transfer students – many with good size – and the return of a small core of players who gained valuable experience during a disastrous 2018 campaign in which Brindlee Mountain was severely outclassed in almost every game.
The Lions were outscored 508-26 in compiling an 0-10 record (the 508 points alowed was a tea record). The lost by a team-record score of 64-0 to New Hope, a team they played off their feet at New Hope the season before.
They lost 19-7 in the opener to Asbury, the first – and only – win in Rams’ history (1-29). Asbury never came close to winning another game after defeating Brindlee Mountain. And against Southeastern, the Lions lost 60-0 to a team that entered last season with an all-time record of 8-50.
Southeastern set a team record for wins with four but still got outscored on the season, 428-99.
Garner said he didn’t see such a disaster coming but in hindsight, he said he probably should’ve.
“We were a JV team last year,” Garner conceded. “We worked hard, but we were just a small group of inexperienced kids with very little football background.”
Still, Garner has high hopes for the 2019 team. He successfully got a handful of baseball and basketball players to come out for football in the spring, and for the first time, most of them stayed with it and appear to be candidates to be real game-changers on the field.
Along with the transfers and returning core of players, the Lions appear to have a chance against this year’s opponents, something that truthfully couldn’t be said last season.
“Now, we still don’t have many seniors (three), I can tell you that,” Garner said. “We were mostly ninth and 10th graders a year ago, and we’re still pretty young this year.
“But we have a dozen or so with varsity experience.”
The Lions ended summer workouts with 28 players on the roster. That’s fewer than Garner prefers but still enough to field a competitive team.
“At our level, it’s 15 to 20 kids who have to do everything,” he said. “We should be a little better off this time.”
A lot of players give Garner hope for the future. One is the projected quarterback, Will Compton, a 5-foot-10, 150 –pound sophomore who has played basketball and baseball.
“We were able to get him out and he’s a good little athlete,” Garner said. “He’s got quick feet and a good arm – he’s a pitcher on the baseball team – and he’s got a good head on his shoulders.
“He has very little football experience – spring practice was his first football experience ever.
But he’s got some tools. His best days are ahead of him.
“He’s also got a great attitude, a yes-sir, no-sir kind of kid. It’s nice to coach a kid like that.”
Another potential break-out athlete is 5-9, 145-pound freshman running back/defensive back Jaylen Anderson.
“He’s the fastest player on the team,” Garner said. “He can really fly. He doesn’t know much about the game but he can run.
“It’s our job to teach him how to play.”
The Lions also will benefit from having running back/linebacker Zac King (5-10, 175) back for his senior season. They’ll also have another recruit from the basketball team, Kaleb Henderson, also a senior who is 5-9, 160 and plays running back/linebacker.
“Zac was one of our better players last year and he got hurt in the first quarter of the first game,” Garner said. “He’ll be one of the running backs we’ll lean on heavily.
“The other is Kaleb Henderson. He played in middle school but he’s been playing basketball.
“He’ll be one of our better players. He’s a good athlete with a great motor. He has two speeds: on and off. There’s no lack of hustle in him.”
(For much more analysis of Brindlee Mountain’s personnel, please look for The Arab Tribune’s high school football fall preview special section on Aug. 21.)
Brindlee Mountain also has a couple of new coaches. Phil Johnson (receivers and linebackers) and Tim Hodson running backs/defensive backs and special teams coordinator) will join Garner and Donny Stevens (offensive line and defensive coordinator).
The Lions open the season at home against Asbury, perhaps with a little bit of revenge on their minds.
“We got surprised by a couple of teams last season,” Garner said. “Maybe we can surprise a few teams ourselves this season.”