As we enter the month of August, the focus of many people in Alabama begins to shift to football, both college, and high school. With this in mind, we’re going to begin to cover the 57 AHSAA affiliated schools in the Birmingham area. Today, I’ll be previewing the juggernaut of the AHSAA, Class 7A Region 3.
Region 3 of the highest classification in Alabama is commonly referred to as the “SEC of Alabama high school football.” This region has produced three of the last five state champions, Hoover and Thompson, with two and one, respectively.
#1 Thompson Warriors
The defending state champions enter the 2020 season with much to prove. Thompson is going to be using their third starting QB in as many seasons, a tough ask when you consider the legacy of the last two quarterbacks, Taulia Tagovailoa and Sawyer Pate, both of whom have gone on to Power 5 schools in college. Thompson has made the state championship game two years in a row and made a trip to the state semifinal in 2017, something they look to do again in 2020 under sixth-year Head Coach Mark Freeman. One player you should keep an eye on is Junior LB Jeremiah Alexander, a two-time ASWA All-State player. Alexander, an Alabama commit, is the number 5 player in the country in the 2022 class, who will be the anchor of the Warrior’s defense this season. I expect Thompson to be in the playoffs again, going anywhere from 10-0 to 8-2. Thompson opens the season on August 22 against 6A power, Oxford, in the annual “Go Gold Bowl” at Warrior Stadium.
#2 Hewitt-Trussville Huskies
Hewitt-Trussville is no longer the newcomer to Region 3, nor are they the underdog in the region this season. The Huskies are coming off a 6-4 season that saw them make the state quarterfinals, where they lost to Thompson 37-13. Hewitt never truly played their strongest football last season. Sure, they were the only team to beat Thompson, but head-scratching losses to Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Spain Park left many wondering exactly what the Huskies could be in the future. However, the Huskies played the last seven games of 2019 without Auburn commit Armoni Goodwin, who tore his ACL and MCL against Oak Mountain. Goodwin was an All-State 2nd team selection in his Sophomore season, who will look to make the first team this year before he heads to the plains of Auburn to fit into Gus Malzahn’s offense. Defensively, the Huskies will look for production and leadership from Junior DL, Justice Finkley, an ASWA All-State first-team selection in 2019. Head Coach Josh Floyd enters his seventh season, needing just 3 wins to grab his fiftieth as the head coach of Hewitt-Trussville. I’d expect Hewitt to go anywhere from 9-1 to 6-4, making the playoffs out of Region 3. The Huskies open the season on August 21 at 6A power Pinson Valley.
#4 Hoover Buccaneers
Most everyone is familiar with the Hoover Bucs, winners of 13 state championships. The Bucs are quickly becoming a national name under Head Coach Josh Niblett, producing 5-star talents such as Georgia WR George Pickens and Oregon QB Robby Ashford. Hoover comes into 2020 ranked #4 in the ASWA poll, behind two other Region 3 teams. This will be an unusual season for Hoover, as they are no longer the favorite to win the region, and right now are projected to have to travel for the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when they were still in 6A. Josh Niblett has taken Hoover to new heights that few saw coming. Since Niblett took over in 2008, Hoover has gone 148-33, outscoring opponents 5549-2385. Hoover has made the postseason every year under Niblett, and this year will be no different. It will be interesting to see how Hoover approaches being the underdog in 2020. They begin their season on August 22 against Dothan.
#13 Spain Park Jaguars
2019 was not a great year for the Spain Park Jaguars. The Jags allowed a school-record 366 points en route to a 4-6 record, winning a pair of region games against Oak Mountain and Hewitt-Trussville, but losing a three-possession game to the worst team in the region, Tuscaloosa County, 42-21. Head coach Shawn Raney enters his eighth season in charge of the Jaguars with a 48-29 record, but the Jags are in the midst of their worst skid since he became the coach. Spain Park made it all the way to the state championship game in 2015, losing to McGill-Toolen 14-12. The Jags returned to the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, but have failed to win more than four games since Hewitt-Trussville was added to the region in 2018. Back-to-back 4-6 years is not great but look for Spain Park to fly under the radar in 2020, pulling off a big upset here and there. Spain Park opens the 2020 season on August 21 at Huntsville High School.
#16 Oak Mountain Eagles
Oak Mountain is a perplexing situation. This is a team that is capable of winning five or six games a year and competing for playoff spots, but they never can seem to piece everything together, for whatever reason. Just one season removed from the worst year in school history (2-8 in 2018), Oak Mountain looks to Junior QB Evan Smith for leadership and playmaking in 2020. Smith, a three-year starter, is the number one dual-threat QB from Alabama in the class of 2022, who uses his rushing ability very well in the Eagles “split-back veer option” offense, also has a cannon when the Eagles elect to throw the football. Oak Mountain is capable of competing with the top teams, losing in 2OT to Spain Park in 2019, playing Hoover closely in 2019, and taking Hewitt and Thompson down to the wire in their worst season ever in 2018. Oak Mountain is a relatively new program, playing its first game in 1999, with a losing record of 96-122 since the team’s creation. Head coach Cris Bell is entering his ninth, and most important season yet. The pressure is starting to mount after four subpar seasons, as Oak Mountain made the playoffs by default in 2016, and haven’t made the postseason, or won more than five games, since then. Bell is 40-44 at the helm for Oak Mountain, being outscored 1974-2232 in his tenure at Oak Mountain. The Eagles could pull off some big upsets and make the playoffs as the 4 seed from the region. Oak Mountain starts the season at home against 6A rival, Chelsea, on August 21.
#17 Vestavia Hills Rebels
For the Vestavia Hills Rebels, 2020 is more than just another season. It is the final season for the legendary head coach, Buddy Anderson, who enters his 43rd year as the Rebels’ head coach. Anderson enters his final season with a 324-154 record, 18 region titles, and two state championships. Anderson’s tenure has been so incredible that Vestavia has only won 45 games without Anderson on the sidelines. The team itself is coming off a 7-4 season that saw them losing to James Clemens 21-20 in the first round of the playoffs, ending a four-year playoff drought. Like Spain Park and Oak Mountain, Vestavia is more than capable of making the postseason again in 2020, but some key losses on the defensive side of the ball hurt how the team is viewed heading into the season. Vestavia Hills opens the season on August 21 at Mountain Brook, their former region three rival.
Gadsden City Titans
With the Mountain Brook Spartans moving down a classification to 6A, Gadsden City moved from Region 4 to Region 3. Gadsden City has been okay since the team’s creation in 2006, holding a record of 92-69. Recently, however, the Titans have not been too stellar. Since winning the region in 2014, the Titans have only made the playoffs one time, in 2016. Following the 2016 season, Matt Scott left as the head coach, beginning a downward spiral for Gadsden City. Bart Sessions was in charge for two seasons, leading the team to a 6-14 record. Current head coach Ali Smith enters his second year, trying to improve off a 1-9 season that saw the Titans only beating Grissom 17-14 in week 9. The 62-7 loss to James Clemens in week 6 set a school record for margin of defeat. I do not expect Gadsden City to fare well in 2020, but the long travel from Birmingham to Gadsden could be an advantage early on in games. Gadsden City opens the season at Etowah on August 21.
Tuscaloosa County Wildcats
The Tuscaloosa County Wildcats are unlucky to have to play in this region. They consistently have competitive teams, but they just can’t ever get past the top of the region. The Wildcats enter the 97th season in team history with a record of 547-395-30, but only one state title to their name, from 1997. Head coach Jay Todd enters his second season as the Wildcats coach. The T-County administration certainly hopes that Todd can end the revolving door of coaches since 2016. Bart Sessions left Tuscaloosa to go to Gadsden after the 2016 season, in which T-County went 2-8. John Holladay, his replacement, went 5-15 in two years, leading to his firing and the hiring of Jay Todd. The Wildcats will not make the playoffs in 2020, but they have the potential to decide who does, as they’ve upset Oak Mountain twice in the last three years, and beat Spain Park last season. Like Gadsden, the long drive from Birmingham leads to less support from visiting fans, so they are primed to pull off a big win or two at home this season.
Look for a very competitive season from the top-six teams in this region. I feel confident in saying that Thompson, Hewitt-Trussville, and Hoover will all make the playoffs this season, leaving one spot for the other five teams to compete for. I expect Spain Park, Oak Mountain, and Vestavia Hills to compete for that spot, but Gadsden City and Tuscaloosa County could have something to say about what team takes the fourth spot from region 3.