Last season, the Reeltown Rebels won eight games and captured their first region title since 2012. Now, they’re eager to accomplish even more.
The Rebels begin their pursuit of a special season tonight when they host Bullock County. The 7 p.m. game is a rematch of last season’s opener, which Reeltown won on the road, 35-8.
Reeltown enters 2019 after going 8-3 last season and losing in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. Bullock County, meanwhile, went 5-5, which was the team’s highest win total since 1997.
The Rebels have worked for months to get the bad taste of their season-ending loss to Daleville out of their mouths. Based on what head coach Matt Johnson has seen, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic going into a new year.
“I've been pleased with our preparation in the offseason going back to December,” Johnson said. “It's been a really good offseason. With our kids, it's been a buy-in process over the past few years. I think we've gotten to that point where we're all on the same page. Everyone's bought in, so it's been a great offseason.”
Reeltown has had a few key position battles this offseason, including at quarterback. Johnson has given the nod to sophomore Iverson Hooks to start against Bullock County, although he added senior Logan Hunt isn’t necessarily out of the mix going forward.
Johnson said Hooks is a natural fit in Reeltown’s offensive scheme. He’ll be working with running backs Tra Tra Hughley and Cameron Faison, who are expected to give the Rebels another dangerous two-man rushing duo.
Johnson expects a linebacker-by-committee look in the season opener. He pointed out a number of players who will be in the mix, including South Carolina commit Eric Shaw, Jay Corbitt, Logan Lee, Tyvon Waver, Sedarico Brooks, Adam Oliver, Will Brooks and Robert Crittenden.
Johnson said tonight’s game is important only because it’s the next one. He’s particularly interested in seeing how the Rebels match up against a Bullock County team that seems to be cut from a different cloth than the Hornets’ squads that preceded it.
“I'm anxious to see exactly where we're at. I know Bullock County is a much improved team. (I can tell) coach (Willie) Spears has done a remarkable job with them just watching film from last year to the end of the year and what they've done,” Johnson said. “They're extremely athletic. You can just tell how well-coached they've been since last time we've seen them.”
The Hornets run the triple-option offense, and their disciplined play has stood out to Johnson. He complimented B-back Bryant Grant as well as the team’s quarterback and offensive guards and added that linebacker Kamal Lewis, defensive end Xabien Hilton and defensive back Brandon Perry have impressed. Perry committed to Auburn on Aug. 14.
For Johnson, the key to tonight’s game is staying disciplined. Johnson explained Bullock County’s triple-option really makes teams pay when defenders stop doing their jobs, especially when they try to bail out a teammate who is slacking.
On offense, Johnson wants to see the Rebels get the ball to the right guys and stick to the rules they’ve emphasized throughout the offseason. He also pointed out the importance of special teams, adding that a poor showing in the third phase of the game can get anyone beat.
The Rebels have hit each other enough this summer to last a lifetime. Now, they’re eager to hit someone else and show they’re capable of making some real noise this year.
“We've got to play good ball to have a chance to beat these guys. This is a real good ballclub,” Johnson said. “If you don't play disciplined football, it can really pose some problems for you. I feel confident in our preparation, but we've got to execute to be successful Thursday night.”