Pike County experiences drop in numbers for football
By KEVIN PEARCEY
Following a third-round appearance in the 2000 Class 3A state playoffs, Pike County head football coach Wayne Grant saw a significant increase in numbers the next season.
With a number of returning starters on the offensive and defensive front, the Bulldogs advanced to the semifinal round before falling to Tarrant at home.
Depth cost Pike County in 2000. And with only 21 players dressed out for spring training this season, will it cost the Bulldogs once again?
Grant hopes not and admits that even with larger numbers last year, (PCHS’s roster was near doubled from the season before with over 40 players listed), the Bulldogs still weren’t prepared to play what he calls the "money games."
"Our numbers are what’s going to hurt us," he said. "Last year it hurt us against teams like Troy, Eufaula, folks like that…Stanhope-Elmore. We were beating Stanhope-Elmore last year before it got toward the end of the ball game."
Grant joked that perhaps the new Wal-Mart Distribution Center being built in Brundidge would bring in an influx of new people looking for jobs with sons wanting to play football.
"Maybe about six of seven blue chippers," Grant joked. "We could use about two or three more linemen. We don’t even have the numbers we used to have in 4A. When we dropped to 3A our numbers dropped too."
Graduation took its toll on the Bulldogs’ front. End Thurston Lee signed a scholarship with the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Also gone are Sherill Brown, Cedric Lee and Jeremy Lampley.
Several players from last season decided not to join the team this year.
"I guess there’s just too many other things kids want to do. Now days, kids can play a football game with their hands," Grant said, referring to video game systems. "But while they’re working their minds, they’re not working their bodies. You can drive around these parks after school and not see a soul outside playing. It used to be kids would be out there fighting to play in a game."
Although depth is a question, Grant appears set at the skill positions, returning junior quarterback Chris Nickson, starting tailback Craig Flowers and wide receivers Elijah Daniel and Nick Walker. Nickson passed and rushed for over 1,000-yards last season and has two years of experience at the varsity level.
"As far as skill people, we should be okay," said Grant. "Elijah’s bigger, a little taller and thicker. Chris Bell is back at flanker and Joe (Copes) is back at fullback."
Like both Goshen and Charles Henderson, in their respective classifications, the Bulldogs have been placed in a different Class 3A region. Only Calhoun remains as one of the Bulldogs’ regional foes from the last two years. Class 4A football giant T. R. Miller has taken a step down into Region 1. Also included are W.S. Neal, Clarke County, Central-Hayneville, Elba and Straughn, which moved up from 2A this season.
"We’re going back to the old days," said Grant, whose Pike County teams of the 80s and early 90s competed with T.R. Miller for 4A football supremacy. "Old rivalries. Elba and T.R. Miller. Back when we were all 4A competing with each other and now we’re all 3A competing with each other."
Even though the new region appears to be deeper and more competitive, Grant feels his squad will get off to a good start in the fall.
"We should start off a little better in our region play this year then we did the last," he said. "Because we’ve got a lot of people back that’s played some football. Now, defensively, we didn’t have a whole lot of changes. Most of our defense from last year is out here so we should be better there at the beginning of the year then we were at the beginning of the year last year. Last year, they didn’t have a clue, but they learned how to play as they went."
The Bulldogs host rival Charles Henderson High School on Aug. 23 for a fall jamboree.