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Football focus will turn from ground to air

Football season, without a doubt, is unique for a sports editor in the state of Alabama. Beside the eight local teams we covered, The Clanton Advertiser also brought you the results of each Alabama and Auburn game along with analysis of the inevitable off-the-field stories that accompany each season.

Working in this position during the fall is enjoyable provided you really, really like the sport. Even so, it is exhausting. But now that we’ve had time to catch our breath, what is more appropriate than an early look forward to the 2009 season?

This piece is the first of a planned three-part series looking ahead to the ‘09 football season. On Jan. 18, we’ll run through the SEC because the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft will have passed. Then, on Jan. 21, the expectations for each local team next season will be the focus.

While 2008 was undoubtedly the Year of the Running Back, next season will be the Year of the Quarterback-Receiver Combination. Last year featured three senior running backs that topped the 1,000-yard mark and were the stalwarts of their respective offense: Isabella’s Brian Donovan, Billingsley’s Jamar Hopson and Jemison’s Merell Morrow. All three were first-team All-Area selections by the Advertiser, and Hopson was our Player of the Year.

None will be around next season, though, and the focus of area football will turn to quarterbacks and the guys they will be throwing the ball to. Five of the area’s top six quarterbacks will return, and all five will have his favorite target back: Chilton County High quarterback Taylor Hughes will pass to Kendrick Woods, Maplesville will have Matt Hamner and Brian Bailey, Thorsby will have Andrew Farris and Marcus Bray, Verbena will have Brad Boswell and Brandon White, and Billingsley will have Mario Reese and Raphael Brooks. Jemison’s Eric Argo is the only top QB from ‘08 that will be lost to graduation.

A workhorse runner pounding a defense into submission is a beautiful thing, but it will be interesting to see if this year’s aerial attacks can be as effective as the trio of Donovan, Hopson and Morrow.

If anything, fans should get their money’s worth. For all the excitement last year’s runners provided, they only averaged about nine yards per carry. That “only,” of course, was a bit sarcastic, but consider that the area’s top three receivers—Woods, Bailey and Bray—averaged almost 17 yards per catch.

Far removed from three yards and a cloud of dust and instead of nine yards and a pile of would-be tacklers, local offenses in ‘09 will feature 17 yards and a collection of dropped jaws.