Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2005

DHS, Sweet Water, Southern hit the practice field ranked top 10

By Jerry Hinnen / Sports editor

For nearly eight months, Demopolis, Sweet Water, and Southern Academy have enjoyed the perks of winning their respective football state titles: handshakes, pats-on-the-back, in Demopolis’s case having a wall of the La Gran Fiesta restaurant devoted to their accomplishment.

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But all the while, players on the three teams have been doing the necessary things to prepare for another championship run: staying academically eligible, hitting the weight room, studying the playbook. And now this week, their preparation for the defense of their title has gone into high gear as full practice has officially begun for both AHSAA and AISA teams.

“It’s always good to get back on the field,” says DHS head coach Doug Goodwin. “This is what we enjoy doing…The world seems more right once you’re practicing again. You get a sense of normalcy, of routine.”

Not that, Goodwin says, everything is perfect right away.

“It can be a little tough the first couple of days,” he says, but once you get everything organized and settle into that routine, then it gets good.”

For each of the area’s three title teams, the beginning of practice means the beginning of a season in which all three will be wearing the proverbial bulls-eye. That fact was made even more plain by the Alabama Sports Writer’s Association pre-season rankings, released Monday. Sweet Water was picked by the ASWA to repeat as 1A champions, finishing first in the poll with 24 of the 32 first-place votes. Demopolis was ranked third in the 4A poll, receiving more first-place votes than second-place UMS-Wright by an eight-to-three count, but receiving fewer overall points. Southern was placed sixth in the AISA poll, but was the highest ranked AISA class 1A team and did receive one first-place vote.

An argument could be made that DHS could, in fact, feel slighted by their third-place ranking. DHS was one of only two state champions not picked to defend their title (3A Oneonta was the other), and the two teams picked ahead of the Tigers–top-ranked Deshler and UMS-Wright–were both teams that Demopolis defeated in last year’s play-offs. Of course, being ranked third in the entire state is also a hug compliment in and of itself. Whichever way you look at it, though, it’s still irrelevant according to Goodwin.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “The recognition [from a high ranking] is good for our school, good for our program and our city. But all it means is that you’ve been good in the past…it doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you finish.”

Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker says he and his team are aware of the kind of expectations a championship and a number-one ranking can generate, but that he’s not worried about them having any kind of effect on his players.

“We know the expectations people have for us,” he says. “We accept that, those expectations. We all want to be part of a program that’s respected throughout the state. We earned that respect last year and we know we have to go out and hold that respect this year…The kids accept and understand that.”

Besides DHS, Sweet Water, and Southern, no other team in the Times coverage area received ASWA votes.

Three-time defending champ Hoover finished on top of the 6A poll, with Homewood picked tops in 5A, T.R. Miller in 3A, LeRoy in 2A, and Bessemer Academy in AISA. Sweet Water opening game opponent and DHS rival Thomasville is ranked 10th in 4A.