Notasulga head coach Anthony Jones said his 2019 team may be the smallest in terms of numbers that he’s ever had. The roster size, however, is of little concern to him.
Jones spoke during High School Football Media Days about the Blue Devils going into the fall. He said Notasulga has about 25 players, but the number didn’t bother him very much. In his mind, all he needed was 11 tough men to start on both sides and six or seven substitutes to give the starters a chance to catch their breaths.
“All I need is enough to get the job done,” Jones said. “I don't know if any of these guys ever watched ‘300,’ but there weren't that many of them. They fought a lot of people, and they made it for a long time.”
Jones is ready to lead this year’s group into battle. If the Blue Devils are going to meet his expectations, they’ll have to fight like warriors to make it happen.
Notasulga is fresh off a four-win 2018 season, but the hardships of last fall could prove beneficial this time around. Countless underclassmen received playing time last season due to a rash of injuries, which led to real growing pains for the team. Those tough times have passed, opening the door for those more-experienced players to now stand tall.
Jones is counting on those younger players to step up on a team that only graduated four seniors from 2018. He recognized the fear in their eyes and the buckle in their knees when he called on them to go in last year, but he’s seen growth from the same players now that they have those valuable reps to their names.
“Everybody played on the team last year. If you were on the roster, you got in the game and played a lot of reps. You made a lot of mistakes, and you understood how fast this game is,” Jones said. “I know they were scared … I thought toward the end we really got better. With these young men, it's all about confidence. If they've got confidence, then they feel like they can do a lot of things that can help the team out.”
Rising senior Joshua Washington was among the players who took advantage of the chance to play. Washington has seen his teammates grow closer this offseason, and he thinks Notasulga has a chance if everyone stays on the same page.
“The work has been very — Coach has not been easy on us because he knows the potential we have. He goes hard,” Washington said. “I believe that all of us together have become closer because of our coach and the position he's put us in. Like Daryl (Brown) said, it's a brotherhood. Together, I feel like there's nothing we can't overcome.”
Brown’s return is part of why the Blue Devils see themselves as prepared to take a step forward this fall.
Even as Brown’s teammates went down with injury and defenses knew he would be carrying the load, the then-junior running back never flinched. Brown ran for 1,754 yards and 21 touchdowns, and since last season he’s been fully dedicated to getting even stronger.
“It was fun because I knew everybody was targeting me. I liked that. It just gave me a better challenge,” Brown said. “There's a positive energy this year. We're going to ride or die for each other.”
The return of standouts like Brown and tackling machine Jaheim Greer has the Blue Devils aiming high despite playing in a tough region that includes local foes Lanett and Loachapoka. Jones called for “the football gods” to turn Notasulga’s luck around on the injury front, which might prove pivotal in the team’s quest for its first region title since 2015.
Jones said this year’s team on paper will be good, but he said that’s often how he feels going into a season. For Jones, the key component in turning the potential into tangible results comes in their preparation each week this fall.
“The people you're going to play, they're giving it their all Monday through Thursday as well. When they come to line up on Fridays, they're going to give you everything they've got,” Jones said. “That's all I want for my young men to do. When we take the field and the lights are on and the people are screaming, that's when you've got to do your best and hopefully come out with a W.”