Reeltown has always been known as a football school.
Duane Webster and Jackie O’Neal built a program that became known around the state, especially among smaller classifications. The Rebels are a three-time state champion and are a near shoe-in to make the playoffs year in and year out.
In fact, Reeltown hasn’t missed out on the postseason since 2007. And since the playoff era began in 1974, the Rebels have been in them all but nine seasons and six of those were in the first 11 years of the postseason. Since 1984, Reeltown hasn’t advanced to a second season just three times.
And ever since coach Matt Johnson took over the reins when O’Neal retired in 2016, he’s been trying to bring a state championship back to Reeltown.
The Rebels have had the makings to do it virtually every year. They’ve made the playoffs each year under coach Johnson and have built up a record of 31-14 under his charge. But injuries have plagued the Rebels year in and year out.
His first year, Johnson learned arguably his best players wouldn’t be able to compete. Then with each season came more and more injuries. During Johnson’s second year, top running back Keke Hughley went down with the first of many season-ending injuries on the team.
With Hughley back last season, the Rebels seemed poised to make another run but they were extremely depleted and it started from the get-go. On the very first play from scrimmage, Hughley’s brother, Tre Tre Hughley suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own. Then midway through the season, Reeltown’s players started dropping like flies. Eric Shaw and Lio Lewis, who were both major parts of the team, went down with season-enders before the regular season was over.
There were a few others as well, making the Rebels a much different team in the final week than they were in the first week.
“(Despite injuries last year), I felt like our guys still continued to fight and we came up a little bit short in the first round of the playoffs to an underrated Daleville team,” Johnson said during the offseason. “We’ve had a bad taste in our mouth since then. But this has been the best offseason that we’ve had since I’ve been at Reeltown. The guys have really been motivated and the weight room has been totally different.”
Now, the Rebels could be poised to make a long run. They left no questions when they blew out Zion Chapel, 56-0, in the first round, and they seem to be the favorite across the state to defeat J.U. Blacksher despite it being a long road trip this week. The Rebels are the six-point favorite according to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society website; they were picked across the board by The Outlook team of prognosticators and they were chosen as the favorite by three of al.com’s four staff pickers.
But it’s not going to be a walk in the park by any means.
“At this point now, everybody is good,” Johnson said earlier this week. “Anybody can get beat at any point in time. There’s no team where you’re just going to walk through. There won’t be any more of (last week’s scores).”
If Reeltown wins tonight against the Bulldogs, it’ll face either G.W. Long, which is currently 9-2, or Luverne, which finished just ahead of the Rebels in the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A rankings and is undefeated — thanks in part to a forfeit loss by Highland Home. The good news is, that game would be in the friendly confines of Nix-Webster-O’Neal Stadium should it happen. Also potentially in Reeltown’s path to a state championship are Leroy, Goshen, Ariton, LaFayette,Westbrook Christian, North Sand Mountain, Ohatchee, Collinsville, Fyffe, Ranburne, Red Bay and Sulligent.
Obviously there are some tough teams in the remaining 16, but Reeltown is among the elite of those. With guys like Shaw, a healthy Tre Tre Hughley, Cameron Faison, Iverson Hooks, Rhasheed Wilson, Connor Moore, Logan Hunt — the list could go on and on — there’s no reason to think if the Rebels continue to remain healthy, they shouldn’t have just as strong of a shot as anyone else.