Athens’ football team is getting ready to run the gauntlet, both literally and figuratively. The Golden Eagles will begin football practice Monday in preparation for one of its toughest region slates in school history. Thanks to the AHSAA’s new region alignment, Class 5A Region 8 will feature six teams that made the playoffs in 2011.
“With a schedule like ours, you kind of have to have a playoff mentality every week,” Athens head coach Allen Creasy said. “That’s one of the things that helped us in ’06. They learned that you can’t get sky-high one week and go through the motions the next.”
Athens won the state championship that year, but it wasn’t easy. In 2006, Athens beat some of the same teams it will play this year on its way to a state championship. If the Golden Eagles are to repeat that feat, they will have to survive in one of the state’s toughest regions, not to mention non-region games against Class 6A foes Austin, Decatur and Sparkman.
The good news for Athens is that most of last year’s playoff-bound team returns in 2012. Despite making the playoffs, that team went 4-7, suffering a losing season for only the third time in Creasy’s 13-year tenure at the school.
“We’ve had a good summer,” Creasy said. “Anytime you have as many skill players coming back as we have, then you are going to have improvement. The guys that we’ve had have been in some tough games and the experience they bring back this season is really going to help us.”
In all, Athens returns six starters on both sides of the ball for the upcoming season. The six returning lettermen on defense have spent the majority of this offseason adjusting to a new defensive scheme.
“We’re getting back to a 3-4 like we had a few years ago. You can get more men on the line of scrimmage when you need them on the line and you can get more men in coverage when you need them in coverage,” Creasy said about his new system. “It’s a more versatile defense.”
Creasy said the 3-4 scheme is more complicated than what the Golden Eagles ran in the past, one of the reasons why the team bypassed playing an opponent this spring.
“We felt like we had things that we needed to do that were more important to Athens football than playing in a game,” Creasy said. “We were putting a lot of new things in on both sides of the ball. We just felt like we would be better suited working on Athens, rather than something else.”
In addition to the defensive changes, Athens will have four new coaches roaming its sidelines in 2012.
Jonathan Snider (defensive line), Billy Snider (cornerbacks), Richard Johnson (safeties) and Rip Flippo (wide receivers) will join Creasy’s staff this year. B.J. Armstrong will switch from coaching linebackers to offensive line, where Creasy said he is better suited.
“One of the reason we are able to play (so many) guys is we finally have enough coaches,” Creasy said. “Hopefully, it will be able to help us with our execution on the field and being able to do more things. The more time you have, the more looks you are going to be able to give. That’s something we are really excited about.”
While Athens lost three region games last season, only the 24-0 loss to Muscle Shoals was out of reach. Creasy said in order for his team to overcome those close losses, it must get mentally tough this season.
“We were competitive in pretty much every game,” Creasy said. “The games we lost, it wasn’t so much a physical toughness issue as much as it was a mental thing. We could come up with a lot of different excuses, but the bottom line is we weren’t tough enough to make the plays we needed to make and finish games.”
The Golden Eagles will play a preseason game against Bob Jones at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24, at Madison City Stadium. Athens opens the regular season at 7 p.m. in Decatur, Thursday, Aug. 30.
Athens 2012 football schedule
8/30 at Decatur
9/7 at West Point*
9/14 vs. Hartselle*
9/21 at Muscle Shoals*
9/28 vs. Austin
10/5 vs. East Limestone*
10/12 at Russellville*
10/19 vs. Cullman*
10/26 vs. Lawrence County*
11/2 at Sparkman
*denotes region game