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franklin county times
PHOTO BY BART MOSS Vina will take on Tharptown Friday night. The Red Devils have taken losses every Friday night this season, while the Wildcats claim a single win.

County football teams cope with struggles

By Bart Moss for the FCT

 

It has been a tough year for football in Franklin County. As of Friday night, Franklin County football teams are a collective 7-34.

All but Russellville are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Golden Tigers will need to beat Ardmore Friday night and have some help from other teams.

What’s causing the struggle? A lot of factors, including declining participation in football, which is happening nationwide because of injury concerns – in particular, concussion related injuries. Some teams have had players quit midseason. When numbers are down, injuries, which will happen in football, take on a higher level of significance.

A lot of teams are having to play very young players. Some teams are starting seventh- and eighth-graders at the varsity level, which is never a good position to be in.

Phil Campbell (1-7) will travel to Red Bay (3-5) Friday night. The Tigers beat the Bobcats last year 30-13. Although neither team is playoff-bound, this is a rivalry game that is hard for players, coaches and fans to not get excited about.

“We are excited about playing Phil Campbell,” said Red Bay coach Michael Jackson. “It is always a big game for our kids and our fans. There is usually a big crowd.”

Jackson is preparing his secondary for the arm of Peyton Thomas.

“Thomas is one of the best quarterbacks in the area,” said Jackson. “Our secondary is going to have to play a good game.”

Phil Campbell coach Ryan Swinney said he knows Red Bay’s record is not indicative of their strength as a team.

“Red Bay is a good football team,” said Swinney. “I don’t care what their record is. They have been in most of their games right up until the end. They are physical and have a lot of team speed.”

Both coaches said the rivalry aspect will keep their players motivated to play at their top level.

“We have a lot of guys hurt, so we have some underclassmen getting to play, and they are excited,” said Jackson. “I am proud of the way our guys have competed this year. We were a half a yard away from beating Mars Hill and had a chance to beat Colbert Heights. Of course we wanted to make the playoffs, but we are a young team, and I think we have gotten better since week one.

“We have played hard, and we have not given up.”

Swinney has encouraged his seniors to take pride in the uniform they will only put on two more times.

“We strive to get better every week,” said Swinney. “I think it comes down to pride at this point. You tell your players to go out there and play like they are representing, not only themselves, but their school, their community and their families.

“We have been in a situation where pretty much every team we have played is bigger and has more team speed than we do,” Swinney added. “That has cost us some big plays in every game. That has been our biggest problem, the big plays. We’ve had numerous chances in many games, but we’ve just shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”

Two other county teams will play each other Friday night, as well. Vina (0-9) will travel to Tharptown (1-7). Tharptown won the game last year in a close one, 27-26.

Both teams have struggled this year to stay in games, and a lot of pride will be on the line Friday night. It will be Tharptown’s final home game of the year, and Vina’s final regular season. So, expect both teams, with depleted rosters, to leave it all on the field in this contest.

Tharptown has an eighth-grader and six ninth-graders who rarely come off the field in the most recent varsity contests.

“At this point in the season, for a variety of reasons, we are very young,” said Tharptown coach Kevin Lacey. “However, I couldn’t ask for a better attitude of the guys who have stuck with it through thick and thin.”

Vina has had to play some young athletes as well this season. The Red Devils have started three ninth-graders for most of the year on both sides of the ball.

“This is the youngest varsity team I have ever coached,” said Vina coach Jason Harris. “It’s been a long year for us, but we are hoping to go out on a winning note and build momentum for next year. I think the experience these young kids have gotten will be a plus for us down the road. From a leadership standpoint, our ninth-grade class is the future of this program.”

Russellville will host Ardmore for Homecoming Friday night. The Golden Tigers beat Ardmore 40-17 last year.

Russellville coach Mark Heaton said he is excited about the win his young team picked up at East Limestone last week and hopes to use it a building block to close out the season.

“We got better last week,” said Heaton. “Our kids played four quarters and won a close game.”

Heaton said Ardmore is an improved football team, and this is a must-win for Russellville.

“If we want to have a shot at the playoffs, we have to win this game,” said Heaton – although the Golden Tigers would still need help from other teams. “We need to improve again this week.”

Heaton said he has tried to keep his team’s focus on the daily process through the struggles this year.

“As a team, we are focusing on having on great day of practice at a time – honing in on our focus and energy,” he said. “That’s how we believe in overcoming challenging situations.”

Heaton used the analogy of a boxer to describe his team.

“We are like a boxer that has taken a beating, but we push ourselves up off that corner stool after every round, walk to the center of the ring and keep swinging,” he said. “We are fighters. If we get knocked down, we are going to get back up and keep coming after you.”

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