by John Goolsby
Shades Valley fell to the Gardendale Rockets at home 33-0 this past Friday night. The game was a scoreless affair until Gardendale scored before the half. The Rockets scored 26 points in the second half to pull away from the Mounties.
The loss dropped Valley to 1-4 on the year. Although the Mounties have lost three non-region contests, they are 1-1 in region play and control their destiny to make the playoffs again.
The shutout Friday night marked the first time since 1941 that a Shades Valley team has been shut out four times in one season. Head Coach Rueben Nelson does not believe in making excuses and knows it is his responsibility to get the team to score points. “I am the head football coach, and I have to find a way to put points on the board,” Nelson said. “We have to find a way to score.”
The growth of the Mountie offense in 2021 has been slow for a multitude of reasons. The players began learning a new scheme when Nelson arrived at Shades Valley after spring practice. The Mounties had fully expected to return an experienced signal-caller in junior quarterback Earl Woods. Surprisingly, Woods transferred to Hueytown in the off-season and is putting up huge numbers (2,108 total yards and 24 touchdowns) for the #10 Golden Gophers this season.
The loss of Caleb Price, who the staff considered their best lineman, in the first game was a big blow to the team. Since then, there have been multiple injuries and some departures from the group along the front. These issues have contributed to the inconsistent play of the Mountie offense. “We have been trying to piece an O line together,” Nelson said. “We lost our starting right tackle right before the game Friday night and went into it with one lineman that had any real playing experience.”
Although the Mounties were unable to score, they had opportunities in the red zone multiple times. “It was a tough loss. The defense gave us plenty of opportunities to capitalize and take control of the game,” said wide receiver coach Jarvis Houston. “We left a lot of points on the field. We had our shots on offense and didn’t take advantage.”
Defensively the Mounties played a solid first half against the Rockets. Numerous players are being called on to play on both sides of the ball and were on the field too long defensively. As the game went on, they began to wear down, and depth became an issue. The coaching staff is optimistic that they will continue to develop the much-needed depth on defense and are encouraged to see their players staying motivated. “Our guys are responding well to the adversity,” said defensive coordinator Justin Hannah.
“Senior Kendorius Turner (26 tackles) has been very, very positive and helpful in developing a young defense,” Hannah said. Hannah is optimistic that his defensive team will respond over the coming weeks. “As we dive into region play, we will be ready to play fast and more physical,” he said.
Along with Turner, junior Tyree Hines (29 tackles) is giving the Mounties a spark on defense every week. “He is trying his best to lead by example,” Coach Nelson said. “He’s an excellent defensive back,” he said.
Despite giving up a touchdown on a blocked punt and a safety due to a bad snap, Nelson still has faith in his special teams and his punter and kicker, Wuilman Guerrero. “He’s had to deal with three different long snappers this year and different holders as well,” Nelson said of his senior kicker. “He’s a good kicker, and he’s working very hard every day to get better.”
Coach Nelson and his staff are working hard to change a mindset at Shades Valley. Unlike previous Shades Valley administrations, the current administration fully supports Nelson and his football program. “Principal Sarhaan has come in with the belief that success starts in the classroom…academics are first,” said Nelson. “If we are going to play the sport, we are going to play it with the utmost sportsmanship, and we are going to build character…character still matters.”
“All these kids are good. I don’t have a bad kid on the team,” Nelson said. “They are taking their lumps, but they are learning how to compete and building character. No one likes to lose, but there are lessons to be learned from losing,” he said.
This Friday night Valley will square off with a well-coached, talented, and undefeated Briarwood team on the road in a Region 5 matchup. The Lions come into the game with a #3 ranking in 6A.
The Mounties will face a high-powered and balanced offense led by junior quarterback Christopher Vizzina. The 6’4 dual-threat quarterback currently holds seventeen D1 offers, including Florida, Penn State, Michigan State, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Kentucky, UAB, and Louisville.
“Watching CV’s development as a QB since he was a 14-year-old freshman starter has been a great joy,” Briarwood quarterback coach Jay Matthews said. “He is one of the hardest working and most sincere teammates I have ever seen. Each week he has added improvements to his skill set, and that’s a big reason he is 26-4 as a starter.”
Vizzina has competed 75% of his passes for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception this season.
Briarwood has a strong running game to complement Vizzina’s arm. Talented senior running back Luke Reebals is a hard runner with speed and good hands. Reebals is averaging almost 7 yards a carry and has scored seven touchdowns. Vizzina has rushed for 347 yards and added nine touchdowns on the ground.
Briarwood’s top receiver, Nic Dicen, was injured before the season started. Ethan Anderson, Jay Butler, Sawyer Russell, and Luke Gilbert have shown improvement and stepped up in his absence.
As always, Briarwood’s defense will be smart, disciplined, and hard-hitting. This year’s unit is led by defensive end Miller Stubblefield, defensive tackle Holden Patterson, and safety Hadden Stubbs.
Despite playing the toughest schedule in 6A (#2 Clay-Chalkville, #6 Mountain Brook, and #8 Pinson Valley) and the early challenges of the season, Coach Nelson is thankful for the support received from those who care about the program. “I thank God that our fans have been as patient as fans can be,” he said. “I looked at the stands, and no one left the other night,” he added. “I just want to thank them for staying and supporting our players.”
Kickoff is at 7 PM in Lions Pride Stadium on the campus of Briarwood Christian School. The NFHS Network will stream the game live.