A year ago, the Eufaula Tigers made a late-season surge, winning eight straight games before a second-round playoff loss in overtime ended the season.
With seven starters back on offense, five on defense and a handful of players with Division I college offers, Eufaula appears to have the ingredients to build off the late-season momentum in 2020.
The Tigers opened the season last week with a convincing 50-7 victory at Ozark’s Carroll High.
“I hope it does (carry over to this year),” Eufaula head coach Ed Rigby said when asked if he felt the late-year surge could carry over to this season. “But every team is different, though. We have had to replace four offensive linemen, so every team is different. You would like to think so, you would like to think so, but every one of them is different.”
Eufaula showed a lot of firepower on offense last year, earning a Class 6A best 41.6 points a game with 35 or more points in nine of the 12 games during a 9-3 season. Most of the skill players return, including quarterback Hess Horne, a Dothan Eagle Super 12 honoree and all-state honorable mention player from last season.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Horne enters his third year as the starting quarterback. He is getting college interest from a handful of mid-major programs, including South Alabama. A year ago, he threw for 2,763 yards and 30 touchdowns – both best in the Wiregrass -- and completed 63.5 percent of his passes with only nine interceptions in 301 attempts.
“The first thing is he has the ‘it’ factor,” Rigby said. “It is not coachable. Not all the kids have it at quarterback. It is an it factor – the way he carries himself. He is a true field general.
“The biggest thing is there is an ‘it’ factor of making plays, of being competitive, of never, ever being out of a ball game. You are never out of the game when he is back there. He can spin (throw) it. There is an old saying, ‘If you can throw, you can go.’”
Horne has plenty of weapons to choose from to throw too, including three athletes who are getting serious looks from coaches at the next level.
One, Jay Townsend (Sr., 5-11, 180) has already committed to play at South Alabama. Another, Rodarius “Rah Rah” Thomas (Sr., 6-3, 185) was an all-state honorable mention selection last year after catching 41 passes and 13 touchdowns last season and has received the most college interest with nine Division I offers so far.
“We have receivers like Rodarius Thomas, who caught for over 930 yards last year, and is back,” Rigby said. “Jay Townsend, who is a multiple Division I offer wide receiver, is back. Emmanual Stevenson, same thing – multiple Division I offers at wide receiver. A kid who will get offers eventually who started for us last year is (wide receiver) Ethan Black (6-0, 185).”
Another college prospect is in the Tiger backfield – senior Devin Fuller (5-10, 180). Fuller is getting interest from 1-AA programs, said Rigby.
“He had 1,800 all-purpose yards last year as a junior,” Rigby said. “He has great moves, a great attitude and is just a football player. He is a football player that anybody in the state of Alabama would want on their football team.”
Junior Jamarian Lewis is also expected to see a lot of playing time in the backfield.
The offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Tigers, who lost four starters to graduation, including first-team all-state linemen Cade Gothard as well as Dallas Ingram, who are now playing at South Alabama and Jacksonville State, respectively.
“We return a lot of kids, but it only matters if we can develop an offensive line,” Rigby said. “I am a lineman at heart. It is what I am and I understand it is all about the trenches. You can have all the skill in the world, but if you can’t protect it and buy it time (and provide) great seams to run in then you are in an uphill battle. We have to develop four linemen.”
Kenny McCray (Sr., 6-0, 275) is a returning senior on the O-line. Logan Applin (Sr., 6-1, 218), Pat Screws (So., 6-6, 340), Aaronde Brown (Sr., 6-3, 315) and Ja’nyas Jernigan (Sr., 6-0, 240) are other projected line starters, said Rigby.
“Offensively it should be explosive if we develop an offensive line,” Rigby said.
Defensively, all five returning starters are seniors, including two outside linebackers and two defensive backs.
Zadan Thomas (5-10, 185) and Xavier Peterson (5-10, 180) are the starters that will man the outside linebacker spots, while Keith Bain (5-11, 180), last year’s third leading tackler, and JoJo Hunter (6-1, 170) are the returning DBs. Lamarion Johnson (5-10, 195) returns as an inside linebacker.
Seniors Keon Laseter (5-9, 155) and Daniel Clayton (6-0, 200) are other projected inside linebacker starters.
The secondary is expected to also feature Slade Seaborn (Jr., 5-9, 160) and Hunter Cochran (Sr., 5-9, 155) as starters in addition to Bain and Hunter.
Like the offense, the questions on defense are up front as the Tigers have to replace all of their starters from last year. Rigby said Rashon Johnson (Jr., 6-2, 220), Adrian Calloway (Jr., 6-2, 215) and Dimonyai Lacey (Sr., 6-4, 240) were projected starters.
“Our defense will be small (in size) – we have been tiny since I have been there – but we actually have more numbers and depth than we have in the past,” Rigby said.
The Tiger coach said the defense will be more aggressive in 2020.
“We will change more defensively to bring more heat,” Rigby said. “The way I worded it the other day is ‘100 percent of the time somebody is coming, 75 percent of the time two guys are coming, 50 percent of the time three guys are coming and that other percent, here comes everybody on defense. We will bring a lot of pressure.”
A year ago, the Tiger defense struggled early, giving up 165 points in the first five games (33 points a game) before improving and allowing 133 over the last seven contests (19 a game).
“Lord willing, we are going to pick up where we left off there,” Rigby said of the defense.
The Tigers have to replace second-team all-state kicker Davis Wingate, who hit a Wiregrass-best eight field goals in 12 attempts last year and also hit 56-of-58 extra-point kicks.
A pair of Eufaula legacies – brothers Hunter Cochran (senior) and Birch Cochran (junior), grandsons of former Tiger head coaching great George Cochran (state championship coach of 1954), -- are part of the special teams. Birch is set to handle kicking duties with Hunter snapping for point after and field goals. Horne is the holder for the kicks. Thomas is penciled in to punt for EHS.
TIGERS AT A GLANCE
Head coach: Ed Rigby (3rd year at Eufaula, 14-9; 20th year as a head coach, 132-88)
2019 record: 9-3 overall, 4-1 in Class 6A, Region 2
2019 results: Wakulla (Fla.) (L, 16-35); Beauregard (W, 63-19); at Dothan # (L, 38-49); Sidney Lanier # (W, 27-13); at Early County (Ga.) (W, 57-49); at Alma Bryant (W, 55-21); Park Crossing # (W, 50-29); Russell County # (W, 48-0); at Carver # (W, 20-7); at Smiths Station (W, 41-14). STATE PLAYOFFS: Blount (W, 35-6); at Hueytown (L, 49-56, OT)
Points scored/per game: 499/41.6
Points allowed/per game: 298/24.8
Returning offensive starters (7): QB Hess Horne (Sr., 6-1, 170); RB Devin Fuller (Sr., 5-10, 180); WR Rodarius Thomas (Sr., 6-3, 185); WR Jay Townsend (Sr., 5-11, 180); WR Emmanual Stevens (Sr., 6-4, 225); WR Ethan Black (Sr., 6-0, 165); OL Kenny McCray (Sr., 6-0, 275)
Returning defensive starters (5): OLB Zadan Thomas (Sr., 5-10, 185); OLB Xavier Peterson (Sr., 5-10, 180); LB Lemarion Johnson (Sr., 5-10, 195); DB Keith Bain (Sr., 5-11, 180); DB JoJo Hunter (Sr., 6-1, 170)
Aug. 21 -- at Carroll W, 50-7
Aug. 28 -- Central-Phenix City
Sept. 4 -- at R.E. Lee #
Sept. 11 -- Opelika #
Sept. 18 -- at Park Crossing #
Sept. 25 -- Stanhope Elmore
Oct. 2 -- at Valley #
Oct. 9 -- Carver (Montgomery) #
Oct. 16 -- Russell County #
Oct. 23 -- at Sidney Lanier #