Happening Now

Change on Display for Calhoun County Football

As his long-time defensive coordinator, James Blanchard, looks on, new Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith encourages his team before its play in Friday’s jamboree at Ohatchee. (Photo by Joe Medley)
As his long-time defensive coordinator, James Blanchard, looks on, new Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith encourages his team before its play in Friday’s jamboree at Ohatchee. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Ohatchee, AL – New coaches, old coaches in new places make for a night of double takes as six teams signal prep football season in Ohatchee jamboree

New White Plains head coach Blake Jennings works from his old office, the Ohatchee home sideline, during Ohatchee’s jamboree Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)
New White Plains head coach Blake Jennings works from his old office, the Ohatchee home sideline, during Ohatchee’s jamboree Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Ohatchee jamboree scores

(Games last two quarters)

Ohatchee 20, Sand Rock 0
White Plains 28, Sand Rock 0
Spring Garden 10, White Plains 0
Westbrook Christian 21, Spring Garden 0
Westbrook Christian 10, Ranburne 7
Ohatchee 13, Ranburne 7

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OHATCHEE — The public address announcer working Ohatchee’s six-team jamboree Friday ended the night with a reminder of the Indians’ five new assistant coaches.

Get to know them, he said, as Ohatchee and Ranburne players and coaches shook hands following the last of the day’s six two-quarter games.

If there was any one theme that marked the night, it was change … new coaches and old coaches in new places.

The offseason was quite active for coaching moves, and area fans will have to get used to seeing new coaches or old coaches in new places.

As for the results, host Ohatchee and five new staffers won both of its contests, beating Sand Rock 20-0 to start the day then Ranburne 13-7 to finish it.

Westbrook Christian, under the direction of long-time Piedmont coach Steve Smith, beat Spring Garden 21-0 and Ranburne 10-7.

White Plains split its games, beating Sand Rock 28-0 and falling to Spring Garden 10-0 under first-year head coach Blake Jennings, the long-time Ohatchee defensive coordinator who operated on the home sideline for both games.

Spring Garden also plays under new management, after 12-year defensive coordinator Barrett Ragsdale’s promotion to replace Jason Howard, who left in June to coach in Georgia.

While offseason change was rampant, with five schools in Calhoun County alone hiring new head coaches, there likely won’t be as much change on display in a single event again this season.

Some this and that from a night that signaled football season in Calhoun and surrounding counties:

Talking passion

After a successful night for Westbrook Christian, Smith stood before his huddle of kneeling players.

The coach who led Piedmont to five state titles in 17 seasons had been to the barber. The flowing mullet that was his motivational promise kept to two state-championship teams had given way to a more conventional Steve Smith look.

There was nothing conventional about seeing him in a red game-night polo shirt. It was standard issue for his staff, which included James Blanchard, in his 18th season as Smith’s defensive coordinator, and offensive-line coach Mark Sanders, the recent-former Donoho head coach.

Sean Smith, who starred under his dad at Piedmont, donned his khakis and red polo. Steve’s eldest son works with Westbrook’s junior-high team.

The elder Smith offered words to send his new team into the regular season’s first week. He said it’s time for Westbrook to grow from a school that likes having a football team to a center of football passion.

He couldn’t recall if he gave a similar speech at Piedmont in 2006, but he hopes to build something like he built at Piedmont. It starts with a roster of 48, down from 58 that started fall camp.

“I think these guys are hungry,” Smith said. “They’re hungry to want to put a good product on the field. …

“I will say, it’s been a good summer, though. I’ve been very pleased with the guys’ efforts. I can do a better job of clearly conveying the expectations, but the buy-in from the guys that have stayed with us this far has been really good.”

Homecoming, of sorts

As jarring as it looked to see Jennings in black coaching pants and polo, with a blue White Plains logo, it seemed right to see him plying his craft from Ohatchee’s home sideline.

In fact, he caught himself still thinking about that very stretch of grass as, well, what’s the word?

“It felt like I was at home a little bit,” he said, then corrected himself. “I’m used to that sideline, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a football game. It really don’t matter where you’re at.”

He soon felt a need to emphasize his new football home. He bussed his team back to White Plains then returned to scout Ranburne’s game with Ohatchee.

White Plains open the regular season at Ranburne next week.

As Jennings watched along the fence line outside of Ohatchee’s fieldhouse, former students of his came by to say hi and mention their new science classes for this current school year. Jennings teaches science.

He couldn’t help rooting out loud for former players of his during their productive moments in Ohatchee’s victory. He had a backstory for each one.

New Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith and new Spring Garden head coach Barrett Ragsdale talk after their teams played in Ohatchee’s six-team jamboree Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)
New Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith and new Spring Garden head coach Barrett Ragsdale talk after their teams played in Ohatchee’s six-team jamboree Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

The standard

Ragsdale was part of lifting Spring Garden into a program that makes regular deep playoff runs, and his Class 1A Panthers signaled more good times when they made the final of the Piedmont Passing Camp 7-on-7 in July.

They beat higher classified competition, including Piedmont, to get there then lost to 4A power Handley.

Friday saw Spring Garden beat 4A White Plains then fall to 3A Westbrook.

It stands to reason that a 1A program playing two halves against higher classified competition might reach fatigue. Too, the Panthers’ second game of the night was Westbrook’s first, so the Warriors were fresh.

“We came out intense and focused and played physical (against White Plains),” Ragsdale said. “We played a lot of the ones, and we subbed a little quicker against Westbrook. I felt like we lost a little intensity in the Westbrook game.

“It’s like, no matter who’s on the field. The standard is the same. Kids have got to step up and do your job.”

The Ohatchee five

Chris Findley, entering his second full season as Ohatchee’s head coach, has spent the summer learning new personalities and perspectives in his staff’s meeting room. Some assistants, who were hired over the summer or who volunteered, are still learning players’ names.

Findley said transition with Kyle Parrish, Kyle Wilson, Quintarius Hutchinson, John Mark Mintz and Justice Owens entering the picture “is going really well.”

“It’s one of those, it’s tough to predict,” Findley said. “We’ve got four guys coming back that we’ve had before, and then we bring five new guys in. It’s tough to tell how everybody’s going to mesh, relationship wise, but guys come in, and we’ve had a real good time. Everybody works hard. We hang out afterward and talk and stuff.”

As his long-time defensive coordinator, James Blanchard, looks on, new Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith encourages his team before its play in Friday’s jamboree at Ohatchee. (Photo by Joe Medley)
As his long-time defensive coordinator, James Blanchard, looks on, new Westbrook Christian head coach Steve Smith encourages his team before its play in Friday’s jamboree at Ohatchee. (Photo by Joe Medley)

 

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