Reeltown football

Reeltown's football team has kept the same schedule all week, even practicing the morning of Thanksgiving, in preparation for tonight's AHSAA Class 2A semifinal against Leroy.

Take one part Cameron Faison and add another part Tre Tre Hughley.

Pour on some much-improved Logan Lee and combine with Eric Shaw and Rhasheed Wilson.

Add one strong offensive line with a rotation of physical defensive linemen.

Mix with Connor Moore and Iverson Hooks.

Cover with coach Matt Johnson and sprinkle on a ton of heart.

Put them all together on Nix-Webster-O’Neal Stadium at around 50 degrees on Thanksgiving morning, and you’ve got a recipe for a team hunting down a state title.

All season long, Johnson has been hoping to the spoil the Thanksgiving plans of the Reeltown football faithful by still having his team on the field. The Rebels checked yet another goal off Johnson’s checklist last week when they downed G.W. Long and punched their ticket to the state semifinal.

But now there are several elements Johnson had to consider while planning the Rebels’ preparation for ushering in Leroy tonight. Not only was it Thanksgiving, but Tallapoosa County Schools were also out all week.

Rather than changing anything though, Johnson — creature of habit that he is — wanted everything to remain as similar to the schedule it’s always been as possible.

“We’re not changing anything, you know me,” Johnson said. “The only thing that will be different is we may be able to start 30 or 45 minutes earlier, but we’ll do the same thing as far as our workouts, film study, chalk talk, introducing the game plan.” 

Typically Reeltown’s football players spend fifth block in athletic PE, so they came to school around 2 p.m. each day and went through their regular routines. On Wednesday, the Rebels did deviate a little bit as they came in early and a group brought them a nice dinner for post-practice. Then on Thanksgiving, Reeltown started practice at 8 a.m., followed that with another nice meal and finished it off with their typical walk-through.

Although it wasn’t a normal week per se, Johnson said that’s what the Rebels have been working for all season.

“I hope they’re excited about it,” he said. “In Reeltown, we go through stretches where this is expected. It’s not something that happens every year but it’s not something that’s brand new either.” 

Johnson also has quite a bit of experience of playing and coaching on Thanksgiving not only through his own personal experiences but also within his coaching staff. Johnson was part of the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Reeltown teams that made a deep run, the 2001 of which winning the state title.

One of the Rebel coaches, Travis Lee, has either played on or coached for all the state championships Reeltown has one. Will Solomon and David Gray have also been at Reeltown for many years, and Willie McKenzie played for the 2009 team that won it all and has since joined the coaching staff.

Some, like Patrick Henderson, haven’t made a big run at Reeltown but have done it at other places; Henderson was a coordinator at Handley when it won state.

“We have some guys that are experienced with this,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t a part of the ’87 team (that won Reeltown’s first state championship) but from ’99 to now, I’ve been a part of all of them. So it’s common for us. We can kinda relate that to the players; it’s not brand new to us.”

And one of the best parts about practicing on Thanksgiving for the Rebels this season is they’ll get rewarded with another home game. Reeltown will host Leroy at 7 p.m. tonight and especially with all the outside factors and it being this late in the playoffs, a home-field advantage could be extremely important.

“This is our ninth home game of the year, it’s huge,” Johnson said. “With how we’ve adjusted the schedule with Thanksgiving on Thursday, it’s nice to not have the kids be up here early (today) and not having to travel all day and deal with what I imagine is going to be some headaches on the road. I just feel great to be here and we have some motivated kids.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.