A.L. Johnson, Sweet Water prepare for regular season openers

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Two local football teams will be back on the gridiron Friday night for their first meaningful game since 2013.

A.L. Johnson opens up their 2014 campaign at home against R.C. Hatch on Friday. Sweet Water travels to Thomasville to take on the Tigers in their regular season opener.

The four other teams in the county, Demopolis, Linden, Marengo Academy and Marengo, all play in jamboree games this week and don’t open their regular seasons until next week.

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For ALJ, they’ll be looking to take down their rivals from Uniontown. First-year head coach Johnney Ford feels like his team is in a good position to build on its preseason No. 10 ranking.

“I feel really good about our progress in the off-season,” he said. “Having most of our guys here all summer really helped us out. We’ve got our plans in and I feel like we’re where we need to be heading into the first game.”

Ford said the area the team has improved on the most is their teamwork and unity.

“The whole team is really starting to come together and believe in each other,” he said. “We’re looking good at our quarterback and skill positions, and our offensive line is really starting to gel. I’m pleased with our progress.”

In order for the Eagles to have a successful showing against the Bobcats, Ford said team play and execution will be the deciding factors.

“We’ve got to be sure to eliminate the big plays and mistakes and keep our energy high,” he said. “Hatch runs the spread on offense, so endurance and stamina will be big for us. With it being a rivalry game, you want to make sure your energy is high, but not too high. We have to stay level-headed and approach the game the same way we would any other game.”

He added that a win in the season opener would set the tone for the rest of the season.

“It would definitely help boost our confidence,” Ford said. “Our seniors want to go out on top, and they feel like they left some games on the table last year. Starting out with a win would be big for us.”

R.C. Hatch is coming off of an 0-10 season in 2013. The Eagles won last year’s meeting 44-14 in Uniontown.

For Sweet Water, coach Pat Thompson will take the Bulldogs to Thomasville for his first game as a head coach.

“I feel good about where we are,” Thompson said. “We’ve had some good practices, and I like the way our guys are coming together.”

Thompson added that he feels like he’s seen the most improvement across the offensive line.

“The offensive line has really been coming around and blocking better,” he said. “On the defensive side of the ball, all of those guys are getting better and starting to gel pretty well.”

As for preparing for Thomasville, he said taking away their run game will be key.

“I think they’re a more balanced team than they’ve been before,” he said. “They’ve got a pretty good quarterback down there now. If we can take away the run, which is their strength, and make them one-dimensional, we should have a chance.”

A win in week one against the Tigers would give Sweet Water “a huge boost in momentum,” according to Thompson.

“If we can pull it out, it would be big for us,” he added.

Following the game against Thomasville, the Bulldogs have a week off before entering region play.

“We’ll use the off week to rest of and get healthy again,” Thompson said. “The first couple weeks of fall practice can be tough, and some of our guys are a little beat up, so we’ll use that time to get ready to open our region schedule.”

Sweet Water is coming off of a 10-4 season in which they lost in the AHSAA Class 2A semifinals to Washington County. The Bulldogs enter the season ranked No. 5 in Class 2A.

Thomasville comes into 2014 ranked No. 7 in Class 4A after a 5-6 season in which they lost in the first round of the playoffs to Dadeville.

In the 2013 meeting between the Bulldogs and Tigers, Thomasville took the victory 35-13 in Sweet Water.

In the jamboree games featuring local teams, Demopolis will travel to Tuscaloosa County High School on Thursday, Marengo Academy will travel to Wilcox Academy on Friday, and Linden will host Marengo High School and Southern Choctaw High School on Friday.