1996 championship recalled as Red Devils seek another

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When Maplesville’s football team takes the field Thursday to compete for a state title, the school’s only championship team won’t be far from anyone’s mind.

The Red Devils won the championship in 1996, to end a disappointing streak of falling in the finals or semifinals seven times since 1984.

“We got beat in the finals the year before, when we thought it was our best chance to win it,” said Jim Hubbert, coach of both the ‘95 and ‘96 teams.

But the Devils relied on an experienced and tight-knit senior class running the triple option to perfection to blow out Lynn, 45-6.

“We had a tremendous running game that year,” Hubbert said. “Our linemen had good size and were quick, but we just said that if they could make the other team’s defense blink, we were gone.”

Keith Harrison was named Most Valuable Player of the game, after rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more—to Wesley Morrow and Josey Shannon.

Maplesville and Lynn were playing in the first game of the Super 6 format, with the games played at Legion Field in Birmingham instead of at a team’s home stadium.

Harrison said he didn’t even know there was an MVP until his name was called.

“I was shocked after the game,” Harrison said. “A lot of credit goes to the whole offense. Our full back (Kelvin Morrow) had a good game the week before, and [Lynn] came in trying to shut him down.”

The stage would have been enough to affect most high school football teams. Then, the game was delayed more than an hour by the threat of a tornado.

But with a focused group of seniors, Hubbert said he knew his team wouldn’t have a problem–even in an experience he described as “unreal.”

“Every time there was a distraction, every time something happened, we felt like that was in our favor because we had so much leadership. It makes a world of difference to have a strong group of seniors. I had a coach tell me: ‘The difference in your team is they love each other.’ You could tell by the way they played.”

Harrison said the senior class’ bond could be traced back to their days playing youth football together.

“We just had that special group that came up together playing ball,” he said.

The result was a team that broke the state record at the time for points scored in a season and boasted a defense that, while maybe not receiving as much credit, was just as effective as the offense.

After the game, the team decided against its plans to stay in a hotel and traveled in a school bus back to Maplesville. The lights were turned on at George Walker Jr. Stadium, and fans and family came to celebrate with the team until the wee hours of the night.

“Everybody had big smiles on their faces,” Hubbert said. “They didn’t know what to say or what to do.”

Harrison also remembers the pride the championship brought to the town.

“That’s the neat thing about the team this year making it back,” he said. “The whole town really gets behind the team. It’s going to be a highlight of their lives.”

Now, the 2013 team has a chance to do the same thing for Maplesville.

In a town so small, there are countless connections between this year’s team and the 1996 squad. None are perhaps as strong as Hubbert’s: His son, Brent, is the current coach.

Jim Hubbert said he tried to talk Brent out of pursuing a coaching career. Red Devils are surely glad the father was unsuccessful.

“I tried to tell him all the bad parts about it,” Jim Hubbert said. “He said, ‘I know, but that’s what I want to do.’ So I could just tell him, ‘OK, try to be the best you be at it.’ Me and his mother are so proud of him.”

Despite his vast experience—Jim Hubbert coached at MHS from 1984-2000 other than a three-year stint at another school—the former coach said he doesn’t offer any advice to the current coach.

“All I do is pat him on the back and tell him to keep doing what he’s doing,” Jim Hubbert said.