VALLEY HEAD — The Valley Head Tigers return two all-region offensive linemen, a 1,400-yard rushing quarterback and a trio of skill position players looking to prove themselves.
With a lack of depth always a factor for the Class 1A program, third-year head coach Heath Vincent and the Tigers have high expectations for what the run game can accomplish in 2020.
Seniors Luke Harrison and Levi Demarco are two all-region offensive linemen coming back, and in Valley Head’s run-heavy offense, having experienced O-line play is paramount.
“I don’t tell them enough, but they should know that they’re the key to everything we do,” Vincent said.
Pacey Cooper, a junior, returns at tight end to be a receiving option and a run-blocker. He’ll assist senior QB Jordan Burt, who led the team in rushing last season with 1,445 yards on 130 carries (11 yards per attempt) with 23 touchdowns.
Junior fullback Roger McMahan and halfback Bryson Morgan, a senior, will join Burt in fueling the run game. Morgan steps in for the graduated Marlonn Trinidad. Trinidad rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year.
Morgan had his junior season cut short. He sustained a hairline fracture in his leg during a game against Falkville in Week 3. He was unable to return until the Tigers’ postseason game.
“(Morgan) came back in the playoffs and probably had his best game. He scored all three times for us against Hackleburg,” Vincent said. “I know Bryson is hungry and he’s going to do well at that running back position. He gives us another layer of depth with Jordan in the backfield.”
Freshman Noah Hulgan is working his way into the starting lineup as well, Vincent said. At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Hulgan will cover multiple positions, including tight end, fullback and inside linebacker.
Vincent said he has high expectations for sophomore Eian Bain in the offensive scheme as well. With his notable gains in the weight room, Vincent said he expects Bain to be potent in the Tigers’ counter run game.
McMahan, the team’s leading tackler from last season, will play at inside linebacker. Burt returns to the free safety position where he collected the team’s second-most number of tackles last year. Cooper will play at defensive end and could move back into an outside linebacker spot where he played some last season, Vincent said.
Bain will be at cornerback and Hunter Robinson is in the mix for the other corner spot. Morgan will play as the strong outside linebacker for the third straight year and Harrison will anchor the D-line. Hulgan will play the weak side inside linebacker.
Vincent said he has a greater concern for potential injuries this season than last season, but added that the work the team has performed in the weight room will be responsible for helping limit those issues.
“There’s no way you can tell me that the weight room was not a key for our success last year,” the coach said. “It’s going to be key to any success this year. We have to be strong enough to overcome injuries.
“When we lose a primary starter, we lose three positions. We lose them on special teams, offense and defense. If somebody gets hurt, at the bigger schools they can roll the No. 2 starter in there. We might end up having to shift people around. I don’t like having to mess up multiple positions. Sometimes it’s all you can do.”
Valley Head finished last season with a 6-5 record and a first-round state playoff appearance, closing with a 34-19 loss against Hackleburg on Nov. 8, 2019.
The Tigers remain in Class 1A’s Region 7 after the AHSAA’s offseason realignment, but are joined by some new opponents. Decatur Heritage Christian, Falkville and R.A. Hubbard were removed from the region and replaced by Appalachian, Cedar Bluff and Sumiton Christian. Woodville, Gaylesville and Coosa Christian remain in the region.
According to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society, Valley Head will face Sumiton Christian for the first time in program history Friday, Oct. 23.
Vincent told his players that they’ll need to do their part to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and increase their chances for a successful season.
“We’ve been sanitizing our hands all summer, we try to practice social-distancing — even though it’s getting harder to do,” the coach said. “We’re going to take steps to safeguard ourselves when we travel on buses.
“The players know if they were to get sick, they’re going to be out at that point. If I get sick, then I’m out. I could get sick as the head coach and not be able to return until I’m cleared of it. I talked with the coaches about us needing to be interchangeable.”