Any good sports organization needs a quality youth development program.
That’s why first-year Benjamin Russell head football coach and athletic director Aubrey Blackwell has been working to strengthen the Alex City middle school program.
Under the guidance of head coach Shundell Russaw, the Wildcats’ seventh and eighth grade talents are being developed for future high school success and attempting to grab victories against a few other junior highs along the way.
“Bright days are coming,” Russaw said. “We’ve just got to get these kids to believe in themselves, believe in their teammates. Have high character on and off the field, and just teach them the fundamentals in middle school. I’m not out for wins, I’m out to build characters.”
Benjamin Russell’s high and middle school programs have gone hand-in-hand this year.
They utilize similar playbooks. They keep similar core philosophies for their players. Blackwell even swings by to address the team from time to time.
“We want to win in middle school, but we want the kids to get ready when they get to the high school. We want to be a true feeder program.”
The Wildcats have only played one game to date, a matchup with Auburn middle school which the eighth graders lost 34-18 while the seventh graders fell by a couple scores as well.
Two other scheduled games were canceled, Russaw said, but the team should resume action next week.
The main focus right now is drilling fundamentals, getting players to understand the basics of the sport before they strap on a high school uniform.
“We got with coach Blackwell, we’re gonna use their offense and their defense,” Russaw said. “But we’re just focused on teaching the kids football. Fundamentals, how to work together, holding them accountable, building up their character.”
Russaw added that he’s been proud of his squad’s work off the field. He’s seen his players maintain high marks in the classroom.
“It translates. When you’ve got a kid that’s smart in the classroom, they tend to pick up on things better (for football). That’s why it’s classroom-first in my eyes.”
A few key names have emerged as stars for the middle school team and could translate into impact players at the prep level within a few years.
Alijah Johnson and Cederian Morgan both already have experience playing high school sports, joining Benjamin Russell’s basketball team as seventh graders. It created a pair of ready-made leaders for the junior high football squad, Russaw said.
“They’re super talented guys who do the right thing on the field and in the classroom,” Russaw said.
Reagan Atkins and Jaquavious Graham are two other position players Russaw pointed to as talents to watch.
Caden Bowen could be the high school’s field goal kicker within a few years as well. The eighth grader has already made a 42-yard boot in practice according to Russaw.
Caleb Spivey was the first seventh grader Russaw singled out, an offensive and defensive lineman who made waves just one game into his middle school career. He plays up a level with the eighth grade team.
“He’s unblockable,” Russaw said. “He is unblockable. And the kid makes all As.”
Alex City middle school resumes its schedule at Opelika Wednesday.