With the football season over, it’s time to turn over a new leaf in Benjamin Russell’s football program.
Despite losing almost all of his offensive starters, Wildcat coach Kevin Smith doesn’t plan on using youth as a scapegoat going into the 2021 season.
“Going into next year we aren’t going to make any excuses,” Smith said. “This year was what it was. Whatever happens next year, we aren’t going to make excuses. We are replacing a lot but we have a lot coming back too. Every year you hate to see those seniors leave but we are excited about these young guys.”
The Wildcats’ season was cut short last week when their game against Sylacauga was canceled due to Hurricane Zeta making conditions unplayable on Friday.
“It was not good energy when they found out,” Smith said. “The guys were sad, and the saddest part is this group of seniors walked off the practice field on Wednesday in the mindset of one more game to throw a pass or make a tackle or score a touchdown and for it to disappear just like that, I hate it for our kids. And we’ve told our guys, ‘don’t take this for granted; none of this is guaranteed.’”
Although disappointed they were not able to play the last game, Smith said he owes a thank you to the community for doing its part in keeping each other safe with the coronavirus so the Wildcats could play nine games on the season.
“We are thankful we got to play as much as we did this season,” Smith said. “We were pretty lucky we didn’t have to forfeit games and teams didn’t have to forfeit to us. I’m thankful to the community and players for doing the right things during the season so we could play nine games, but give credit to our administration and (athletic director) coach (Pam Robinson) for making sure everybody knew what the protocol was at the games as far as social distancing and wearing masks. Was it perfect? No, but we told the guys that if they want to play the whole season these are the things they need to do and they did it.”
With so many players graduating on the offensive side of the ball, Smith and his coaching staff will have to find a way to replace many productive players. The first and most obvious position that needs filling is the most important — the quarterback.
“There will be a quarterback competition,” Smith said. “That’s something we haven’t had around here in a long time since before Bryant Horn. As far as I can remember we haven’t had a season where a couple of guys are just as capable and good as each other. When spring rolls around, we will throw them out there and see what happens.”
As far as who is being considered for the quarterback spot, Smith said he will keep that to himself for now but will be glad to announce names when the timing is right.
According to Smith, the search to replace talent shouldn’t be too terribly hard with the amount of athletes walking the halls on a daily basis. Recruiting players to come out and try football is going to be one of the biggest and most important moves Smith can make this offseason.
“We want every capable young man in this school to be playing football,” Smith said. “We don’t cut players; you can cut yourself, but we as a coaching staff will not cut players from our team. I want every young man that walks through that front door to come be a part of something special we are building here. We should have 25 to 30 players in each class. Kids tend to not want to play if they can’t play the position they want; we just want football players — we will find you a place to play. That’s the great thing about football — sometimes your worst athletes are your most valuable players. It brings guys from all aspects of life and backgrounds to one place with a common goal.”
According to Smith, the talent that leaves on a year-to-year basis is replaceable, but leadership isn’t. Smith plans to make it his mission for the next group coming up to be the best group of leaders to walk the halls in a long time.
“Let’s be honest, some guys you don’t and can’t replace,” Smith said. “I want these guys to understand what leadership is. Kids, and for the most part adults, don’t understand what leadership is. Our definition here is simple: influence. Nothing more, nothing less. We want guys that have great influence and in the right ways. Once guys understand what it takes to be a leader, you see them take on those characteristics more and more.”
Players that are currently not enrolled in other sports have already begun to practice with Smith in preparation for next season.