The Wildcats will be back in action this week for the first game under head coach Aubrey Blackwell but it’s a game that won’t mean too much other than a tune-up for both sides.
It brings in the new era for BRHS as well with Blackwell and a whole host of new players across the board in key positions. Blackwell said he’s excited to have his young men get rewarded for their hard work over the spring in the weight room and on the field.
“I am excited to see them play,” Blackwell said. “We have been working really hard on beginning to drive our culture of toughness and fast play. I want to see us play fast, play physical and to give great effort. We have several players starting for the first time on a Thursday night.
“That's 13 of our 22 starters that will get their first starts, only two on offense started in their positions last year and only four on defense,” he continued. “We have moved some guys around and this game will allow us to really evaluate several players and their roles once the lights come on and the pads start popping.”
With Blackwell being an offensive-minded coach and former player, he already knows what he wants to see out of the offense and it leans to protecting the ball and running it with authority.
“I want us to evenly distribute it all over the field in several different ways, but at the heart of who we need to be, we need to be physical upfront and run the football with authority,” Blackwell said. “Defensively, our tenacity is the key. I want to see us play very fast, everyone to the whistle, getting to the football with great effort. I want us to line up correctly and get the right check called.
“The kicking game will feature several different kickers as we have several guys fighting for positions there, so we are going to get some answers in that phase all summer long,” he continued. “Nothing will come in that phase Thursday night.”
Among the things showing well for the Wildcats in the beginning of the Blackwell era is how their conditioning shows in their effort.
Visiting a practice at Benjamin Russell is a treat. Blackwell has brought the music he made a thing in the weight room out to the practice field, keeping the morale and mood remains intense.
It’s led to a number of players impressing him and he makes sure to point out his rising senior class and sophomores.
“Competition has been outstanding and for the last eight practices, we have really competed at a high level with each other,” Blackwell said. “You will see us start a lot of youth out there Thursday night, and these boys have earned it. We will be running two rising sophomores at quarterback in Gabe Benton and Jaxon Hay. Gavin Vickers and Zy Owens are two returning starters on the defensive line that have given us lots of trouble offensively.
“Trace McCaleb, Trey McMillian, and Weston Blake are three seniors on the offensive line, all three saw game experience last year, and we will rely on them to anchor down the front,” he continued. “Senior DeMarcus McNeal will get the start at running back and regardless of size, this kid runs really hard and is very difficult to get down. We have some weapons on offense outside at receiver that I am looking forward to see play. Rising sophomore Malcolm Simmons, who saw lots of playing time last year as a freshman, with Senior Dontarius Thomas, who started at cornerback last year, are joined with two young men who are returning to the football program in Corri Milliner and La'Bronski McKinney. Our receiving corps should be a fun group to watch this fall.”
That’s not all for the Wildcats, they’ve also got rising junior Savon Spradley and rising sophomore Jy Hicks returning with significant play time under their belts.
When the first whistle is blown at Martin-Savarese Stadium, Blackwell says that they’ll still have a lot of hard work ahead of the program. Whether it’s the number of players playing on varsity for the first time ever or the seven others who have never played football coming in to play as well.
“Don't be mistaken, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us and our boys have met this challenge head on with outstanding effort and energy every day since January 6th,” Blackwell said. “So, we are moving in that direction, and we will fight for improvement every day. We will definitely have some rust and dust to shake off on Thursday night, but I expect our fans and community to see a different team in maroon Thursday night.”
The only thing that Blackwell is asking for his program to do Thursday night is lock-in and play hard.
“If they continue to allow us to develop and mold them, the Wildcat football program will get to where we all want it to go,” Blackwell said. “Either this year or in the near future, but you will notice a difference Thursday night.”
As far as the community around Alexander City, there’s a buzz that can be felt around the campus. Blackwell hopes that the fans around Alexander City are fired up for the game even if it’s a spring game.
“I hope that Wildcat nation is fired up,” Blackwell said. “I have had a lot of great conversations with people in our community and we will be a football program that is about representing this community in the best way possible.”
Blackwell has plans for the home games at Martin-Savarese Stadium this year, which includes six home games where there will be several tailgating opportunities, themed game nights for the students and even more experiences for all involved.
“The most important aspect of that – is having a football team that goes out every Friday night and competes at a high level,” Blackwell said. “With a chance to win every game we play.”