It’s a new year for Sylacauga High School football and some things have changed.
Attrition due to graduation will create some shake up in the starting lineups that take the field on Aug. 23, at Leeds High School. Head Coach Matt Griffith will have to replace a handful of key players from his 2018 playoff Aggies including nine total starters, well 10 if you count Brady Davis twice for starting at receiver and punter. Overall, Sylacauga will replace 15 seniors from last year.
Key Losses – Offense
For the third consecutive season Sylacauga will have a new face at quarterback. Keaton Wilson commanded the offense in 2017, leaving the reigns for Daylon Keith who had an explosive campaign as the signal caller in 2018.
They say games are won on lost on the line of scrimmage. Although Sylacauga will return three starters on the offensive line, four if you count Schuyler Simmons, it loses Austin Allen, Graham Hughey and Kelvin Jemison who all started along the o-line throughout the season.
The losses don’t stop there on the offensive side of the ball, the Aggies will have to replace its top three receivers in Brady Davis, Quay Taylor and Tyler Thompson. Thompson was very versatile for the Aggies from the “Y” receiver slot, adding a little extra beef as an extension of the offensive line while also a threat in the short to medium passing game.
The Aggies also lose Lew Dale, a change of pace play-maker who played the game well in space.
Key Losses – Defense
Zan Smith was “Mr. Everything” for the defensive front last season. As the play-by-play announcer for Sylacauga High School sports, I can say I called Smith’s name more than anyone else’s on the defensive line. He gave Coach Derrick Crawford everything he wanted in a high school defensive end. Smith was a great run stopper and a dominant pass rusher from the edge, dominating the opposing team’s tackles.
In the Aggies’ 4-3 defense, it will lose outside linebacker Rusty Craft. If you have followed Sylacauga football for the last few years you know that name. Craft was a staple of Mike Harris’ defense last year and will be tough to replace.
Demarco Campbell added valuable experience in the back end of Sylacauga’s young but talented defense in 2018. He was the lone senior in a DB unit that featured a freshman and a sophomore. Campbell made sure DBs were where they needed to be play in and play out.
Frankly, that is a lot of talent to replace. But there is good news for the 2019 rendition of Sylacauga football – the talent and experience is there with 20-plus seniors on the team. Here is who you need to know in 2019:
Names to Know in 2019
- Senior QB J.D. DeLoach
Senior J.D. DeLoach is primed and ready to be the face of Aggie football in 2019. Griffith was very open last season about the quarterback battle between DeLoach and Keith in fall camp. The coach also said the competition was very close, but that Sylacauga needed the true dual-threat ability Keith brought to the table. Now there is zero doubt that DeLoach is the signal caller.
“He is a program player,” Griffith said. “He’s been with us since the seventh grade, running the same system. Very good feet. Tremendous improvement throwing the football all-season long. We’ve gone to Spain Park. We’ve gone to Clay-Chalkville. We’ve gone to seven-on-sevens and faced 6As and 7As all-summer long to show what that competition is going to be. We are very excited. JD brings a lot to the table because he knows the offense so well. Very intelligent. He’s had a great summer.”
At Talladega Co. Media Day Griffith described the senior as a “true quarterback.”
- Sophomore RB Maleek Pope
In a few years you will probably see Maleek Pope running into an end-zone for an upper-echelon college program as you enjoy college football on a nice and crisp Saturday afternoon from your couch. For now, you’ll have to be okay with him running into end-zones across East-Central Alabama on Friday nights – or while you watch on The Aggie Sports Network. When Griffith spoke of Pope last season, he always called him “the freshmen” while sporting a wide grin. He knows what he has in Pope and it will be big. The name Maleek means “King” in Arabic and there is no doubt “King Pope” will be the king of the Aggie backfield for years to come. Pope will play safety again this year as well, so there will be no shortage of plays made in the defensive backfield. Keep your eyes open for Pope in 2019, his jersey number is changing from 27 to 3.
- Senior Jordan Ridgeway
You know the name Jordan Ridgeway, and you’ll continue to hear it in 2019. He is a dual-sport freak, and probably better with a baseball bat in his hand as opposed to shoulder pads on his shoulders – which speaks volumes about his talents. Ridgeway will still be at running back, but Chris Howard, Sylacauga’s planned backup quarterback, moved out of state, leaving a hole at the position. At Monday’s practice Ridgeway was seen taking reps as the second team quarterback – and he didn’t look bad doing it. A mobile QB would not be a change of pace or hamper for Sylacauga, in fact it has worked pretty well over the last few years. And to be honest, Ridgeway looked like a QB when he was both under center and in the gun.
- The entire WR corp
The Sylacauga receivers may be the best and most athletic the Aggies have featured recently. It looks the unit will feature two young men over six-feet tall in seniors Tim Stallworth and Keundre Pearson. Both looked good in the first practice of 2019.
- Junior WR/DB Dontavius Ware
Last season Dontavius Ware strictly played cornerback. Now, he will be featured on both sides of the ball as one of the primary receivers. In 2018, Griffith described Ware as a “pitbull” while on “The Coach Griffith Show” before a Friday night ball game. This year, “D,” as they call him, will be afforded the opportunity to bring that tenacity to the offensive side of the ball. Although he does not have the size of other receivers, Ware makes up for it with athleticism and grit. Look for big things from Ware in 2019.
- Senior WR Malik Wyckoff
Malik Wyckoff is fast. That’s the end of the story. The senior has blazing speed, but can also be a bruiser. He got some touches out of the backfield last year, but expect him to be utilized in the passing game far more in 2019.
- Junior DE/OL Christian Twymon
Chris Twymon is, and will be again, dominant along the defensive line and the offensive line. Twymon can handle his own in just about any match-up he will face in the trenches this year – including double teams – creating ideal situations for the remaining defensive linemen like Darrien McElrath. He will have his name called plenty this season and will have an impact although others are making the play. Twymon will also be featured on the offensive line. He received plenty of reps on offense at the end of 2018, and is poised to go both ways during his junior season. Twymon is also receiving interest from colleges nationwide.
- Senior CB Gabe Cox
Gabe Cox was quietly Mr. Reliable in the secondary last season, and with the departure of Demarco Campbell, he will be the veteran leader of the secondary. Cox knows the system, and will not have to play both ways like Ware, leaving him fresh legs for the entire 48 minutes of football.
The Aggies kick it off on Friday, Aug. 23, on the road at Leeds. Pregame coverage on The Aggie Sports Network will begin at 6:00. Like The Aggie sports Network on Facebook. Watch live games on Facebook and RadioAlabamaSports.net.