2020 Shades Valley Mounties Football Preview
By John Goolsby
Football at Shades Valley is nothing new. The Mounties kick off their 100th season against Clay-Chalkville this Friday night. What is new is almost everything surrounding the once-proud program. From a new field at Frank Nix Stadium to a new head coach, things are changing at Shades Valley.
Jamie Mitchell arrived from North Little Rock High School in Arkansas with 23 years of head coaching experience and a 215-72 career record. Mitchell brings a new attitude to the Valley program and two state championships in the largest classifications in Mississippi and Arkansas.
Mitchell’s philosophy is you must run the ball and stop the run to be successful in high school football. This old-school philosophy has proven to be successful in the modern era of spread offenses. Mitchell led his teams to six state championship games over the last eight seasons, including four straight at North Little Rock. He was named Coach of the Year in both states.
The Mountie’s coaching staff is virtually new, too. The only returning coach is offensive line coach Tyler Braden. Leading the offense is Kyle Dickerson. Justin Reynolds takes over the defensive play-calling duties. Jarvis Houston coaches the defensive backs, David Smith coaches the defensive line, and Chris Wilson leads the linebackers.
The 2020 edition of the Mounties play host to 8th ranked Clay-Chalkville to open the season. For Mitchell, looking to rebuild the program, it would have been fitting to begin his tenure at Shades Valley on the road. The Cougar’s home stands, which came from the old Shades Valley campus in Homewood, were filled with red and black for 47 seasons and many of the program’s 536 wins.
From 1980 to 2000, the program won 159 games, 11 region titles, made 15 playoff appearances, won 21 playoff games, made two state finals, two semi-finals, was a regular fixture in the top-10 and made appearances in the weekly USA Today national rankings. However, the once successful Mountie program fell on hard times over the last two decades. Since the 2000 season, the program has made the playoffs only four times and won 68 games.
The recent win-loss record did not discourage Coach Mitchell from taking the head coaching position in Irondale. He had other choices in the Birmingham area but ultimately chose Shades Valley because of the school’s potential and history. “We have everything we need to be successful here. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could win,” said Mitchell.
Since arriving this past spring, Coach Mitchell has been pleased with his team’s progress and with the strength and conditioning of the returning players. “Our overall team strength is above average. You can tell we have some guys that have spent some extensive time in the weight room,” Mitchell said. He is also pleased with the player’s preparation and mental state thus far. “They are in a really good mindset. They know that we aren’t where we need to be, but I do think they know we are headed in the right direction,” Mitchell said.
The Mounties offense in 2020 will look drastically different from last year’s offense. Gone is the spread and in its place is a run-heavy pro-I-formation offense. “We are the farthest thing from the spread we can be…at Shades Valley, RPO means run power option,” Mitchell joked.
The leader of the new offense will be sophomore signal-caller Earl Woods. Woods took over the starting quarterback job in the fourth game last season and handled himself very well. Woods is a talented playmaker with experience and a lot of potential.
The Mounties will have to lean heavily on a stable of young but talented, running backs to have the success that Mitchell is accustomed to. It appears that two juniors, Jordan Pearson, a converted wide receiver, and Davin Bostock will be the starters in the backfield with Woods. Both have shown a great deal of improvement and have had good fall camps to date.
The coaching staff is excited about the potential of the offensive line. There is a lot of competition for the starting five positions among eight players. The line is anchored by Dylan Daring, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound tackle who is expected to play in college next year. The other starter at tackle is 6-foot-1, 280-pound Caleb Price. Junior Camden Myers will hold down the center position. Senior Karr Staggs moves from the defensive side of the ball to the right guard spot. Teren Moore, a junior, will start at the right guard position. Blaze Thompson, a 6-foot-1, 290-pound senior, will be looking for playing time after battling back from a broken hand. Kevin Lin and Sam Waldrop, both juniors, will be in the mix for playing time.
The tight end is a big key to Mitchell’s offense. Micha Burrow, 6-foot-2, 218- pounds, and Kordelle Steele, 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, bring good size and athleticism to the position.
The wideout position has experience with seniors Al Weathers and Joe Lewis. Sophomore Israel Howard looks to be in the rotation as well.
The defensive line is the strength of the team. Mitchell Etheridge, III, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end that will play at the next level, spearheads a talented group of defensive linemen. Damion Dick, one of the strongest players on the team, will start at nose guard. Senior Stephen Scott, who has had a great camp, is slotted to start at the other defensive end position. Sophomore Tithe Byrd, one of the highlights of fall camp, will be in the rotation along with 6-foot-2, 230-pound Josh Little. Junior Xavion Webb could add depth if he recovers from an injury.
The linebacking core is talented but inexperienced. Brandon Jones, a junior, will start at one inside linebacker position while juniors JT Gelpin and Kai Finch will compete for the other spot. Sophomore Nathan Lavender expects to get playing time while managing his long-snapping duties.
Kendorius Turner and Tyler Addie, two juniors, are expected to hold down the outside linebacker spots while Antonio Crosby, a senior, and Kai Finch will be in the rotation and see playing time.
Marlen Sewell, an extremely talented 6-foot-2, 185-pound cornerback, who holds an offer from Big XII team Kansas, leads the secondary. Sophomore Tyree Hines will man the other corner. Jacob Mahand, a long and rangy player at 6-foot- 3, 170-pounds, will start at one safety spot while junior Cameron Harris will start at the other.
Special teams look to be another strength of the team. Wullman Guerrero, a talented kicker with a strong leg, will handle the kick-off, placekicking, and punting duties. Guerrero is a weapon that can flip the field for the Mounties. As mentioned previously, Nathan Lavender will be the long snapper. Al Weathers will be the holder.
The Mounties find themselves playing two teams they have never faced before in Briarwood and Chelsea. They also see the return of an old rival, the Spartans of Mountain Brook. Homewood, Huffman, and Woodlawn make up the remainder of the Region 5 schedule. Shades Valley plays, perhaps, one of the toughest non-region schedules in the state with games against Clay-Chalkville, Pinson Valley, and Gardendale before closing the season against long-time rival Vestavia Hills. That game will be Buddy Anderson’s last regular-season game for the Rebels. Overall, it is a tough schedule for Shades Valley, but that is the way Mitchell likes it. “It is the law of the jungle; only the tough survive,” Mitchell said.