After a long offseason, football is back at Duck Samford Stadium tonight.
The Auburn High Tigers start the 2019 season just like they did the 2018 campaign: by hosting Wilcox Central. The two teams square off at 7 p.m. in a non-region showdown that Auburn (0-0) hopes is the start of another strong season.
Auburn enters 2019 after going 10-2 last season and reaching the Class 7A quarterfinals. Wilcox Central, a Class 5A program, is coming off a winless season in which they were outscored 476-42. The Tigers beat the Jaguars 42-0 last season with all 42 points coming in the first half.
Game day’s arrival marks the end of a long offseason for the Tigers. Auburn head coach Adam Winegarden has been pleased with the preparation throughout the summer, and the work during the team’s first game week has been just as strong.
“Obviously, it's the first game week of the season, so them getting in the habit of a game week routine is a little bit different. I still feel like we're in the preseason mode with it being the first game,” Winegarden said. “This is the third week of fall camp. We had our normal ‘Mental Monday’, and (Tuesday) we had bad storms so we had to come inside and kind of handle it a little bit differently. I think regardless of those situations our team has handled it well.”
The Tigers’ quarterback situation has been one of the biggest questions entering the fall. Eufaula transfer Matthew Caldwell and sophomore Patrick McGlon have competed to replace Baylor walk-on Griffin Speaks, and according to Winegarden the competition is still going on. Winegarden said Wednesday they have not decided who will start tonight.
While the Tigers are still waiting on an answer at quarterback, the team has a good feel for running back. Winegarden expects to get several running backs involved tonight, including Tristan Pittman, Killian Massey and JonMichael Finley.
“All those guys have worked really hard and have practiced really hard. The harder they practice and the more mentally prepared they show up each day, the better they're getting,” Winegarden said. “I think they've all progressed nicely. It'll be a nice committee.”
Defensively, the Tigers have several playmakers back from a unit that gave up just under 11 points per game, including linebacker Aaron Diggs, cornerback Omari Porter and safety Noah Warren.
The Tigers take on a Wilcox Central team riding a 14-game losing streak dating back to October 2017, but he expects an improved opponent this time around. Winegarden said the Jaguars (0-0) have a lot of kids returning and a larger roster now, adding they were forced to play a lot of inexperienced players this time last year.
Winegarden said his main objectives for tonight’s game were for the players to play hard and have a teachable spirit throughout the 48 minutes of action. He explained that no one is expecting perfection; instead, he wants to see consistent improvement series after series as Auburn fights to reach 1-0 on the season.
As for game-specific goals, Winegarden stressed taking care of the ball in all three phases, establishing the run game and stopping the Jaguars’ rushing attack while on defense.
Auburn has established itself as a perennial threat in Class 7A and is coming off its second straight double-digit win season. The Tigers begin their march toward a third tonight, and the team’s players and head coach are equally anxious to get it started.
“We're just excited to go play and to have our kids get out on the field Friday night with the band playing and where you can smell the concession-stand cooking,” Winegarden said. “Getting back in that atmosphere is going to be fun.”