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Commentary with Jacksonville’s Coach Smith

Jacksonville coach Clint Smith talks during Wednesday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville coach Clint Smith talks during Wednesday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – Consistent Jacksonville’s ‘weird cycle’ up front finds Golden Eagles with a young line headed into senior seasons for dynamic pass-catch combination

We’ve just gotten used to Jacksonville as one of Calhoun County hubs for high school football.

Those who don’t remember life before Clint Smith took over the Golden Eagle program in 2012 would find the fact that Jacksonville had four playoff berths to its name before then stunning.

Now, we know the Golden Eagles as an annual region contender. They’re typically good for at least a second-round playoff run and have an AHSAA “red map” runner-up trophy from 2019.

Those second-round playoff runs the past three seasons might’ve gone deeper, but for AHSAA realigning Calhoun County’s Class 4A schools to the south half of the playoff bracket.

Jacksonville has had that kind of skill and those kinds of players up front.

No doubt the 2023 version of Jacksonville will have the skill.

The question becomes whether an all-new offensive line will keep quarterback Jim Ogle upright while new artificial turf in Golden Eagle Stadium helps to keep him clean.

Ready or not, the next generation of Jacksonville offensive lineman come online with Ogle, a Troy University commit, entering his senior season and ready to produce the best high school version of himself.

They come online with top target Ky’Dric Fisher, who grew up catching passes from Ogle, also entering his senior season and ready to produce the best high school version of himself.

That pass-catch combination produced against Oxford last season. It produced in Jacksonville’s second-round playoff loss to then-top-ranked Catholic Montgomery.

If they have time to produce this season, one of the state’s top pass-catch combinations will produce. Ogle has proven he can make all of the throws. Fisher has proven he can run all of the routes and catch anything Ogle throws.

The question remains. Will they have time with the next cycle of linemen protecting Ogle?

‘It’s kind of a weird cycle we’ve been in,” Smith said during Wednesday’s preseason interview.

Indeed.

Former Jacksonville running back Ron Wiggins ran wild as a junior and senior for Jacksonville. He did it behind a veteran offensive line both years.

That combination got Jacksonville deeper than it had ever gone in the playoffs when the Golden Eagles played in the 2019 Class 4A final.

They came out of the 4A north bracket that year. The 2020 realignment shipped Jacksonville to 4A south,

The 2022 realignment cycle kept Jacksonville south, a neighborhood that includes seven 4A’s of the preseason top 10 teams in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. No. 6 Jacksonville, No. 7 Annistona and No. 9 Handley come from the same region.

That’s where the line that succeeded Wiggins’ line cut their teeth.

Nick Smith, Hayden Smith, Zach Limberis, Nate Smith and Cooper Hodge operated in front of Ogle during his first three years as a starter. They protected him well enough for him to pass for 2,000-plus yards as a freshman, sophomore and junior.

Hodge, Limberis and the Smiths all graduated in May. Coming up behind them are sophomore center Ben Pridgen and the rest of what Clint Smith called the “fresh five” … junior Braden Ball, junior Drake Lee, junior Gehrig Strain and sophomore Demari Sigler.

They play directly under Ogle’s dad, Jacksonville offensive line coach Jimmy Ogle. Clint Smith played offensive guard.

It’s worth noting that Wiggins’ offensive line was good enough to help Jacksonville reach the second round, second round and 4A final in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Ogle’s line helped the Golden Eagles reach the second round in 4A south each of the past three years.

For Jacksonville, changing of the guards, tackles and centers hasn’t come with dropoff.

“They’re only going to get better,” Clint Smith said. “They work extremely hard in the weight room. I don’t think any of them missed a summer workout this year.

“They’re just green. They’ve got to get some experience under their belt. As the year goes on, they’re going to get better and better.”

Golden Eagle facts

Things to know about Jacksonville football heading into the 2023 season:

—  Clint Smith enters his 12th season as Jacksonville’s head coach and 22nd overall. He’s 89-39 at Jacksonville and 146-86 overall.

— Jacksonville went 8-4 overall in 2022. The Golden Eagles finished 4-2 (third place) in Class 4A, Region 4 and lost Catholic Montgomery in a second-round playoff game.

—Key graduation losses from 2022 include the following All-Calhoun County players: RB G Turner, OL Nick Smith, OL Hayden Smith, DL Trey Brown, DL Dee Prothro, K Mason Terrell, WR Drew Pridgon, OL Zach Limberis, OL Nate Smith, DL Daniel Magouirk and OL Cooper Hodge.

—The following All-Calhoun County picks return: senior QB Jim Ogle, senior WR Ky’Dric Fisher, LB Ryan Mitchell, sophomore, senior FB/TE Will Greenwood, senior DB/WR Demonte Sinclair, senior LB Charlie Wright, senior LB Landon Wise, junior DB Tyshaun Cameron, junior DL D.J. Atkinson, senior DL Lewis Bitticks.

— Players to watch: The pass-catch combination of Ogle and Fisher proved itself one of the state’s best last season, producing in big games against Oxford and Catholic-Montgomery.

— Jacksonville’s staff this season includes former Weaver head coach Gary Atchley, who will also serve as the head softball coach.

Jacksonville coach Clint Smith talks during Wednesday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville coach Clint Smith talks during Wednesday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)

 

 

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