ALJ Eagles flying high as 2014 season approaches

A.L. Johnson coaches

A.L. Johnson coaches

THOMASTON — Few teams in the state are approaching the 2014 season with the degree of optimism that exists at A.L. Johnson.

During the offseason, the Eagles bid farewell to their long-time coach Mose Jones, who opted to retire and welcomed new head man Johnney Ford.

Ford served as a coordinator and then inherited a senior-heavy squad that went 8-3 a season ago while losing in overtime to Autaugaville in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs.

“One of the advantages is they are mature and they’ve played a lot of football,” Ford said of the 15 seniors on his roster. “The biggest plus for me was being here last year. I didn’t come in and have to transition.”

Ford said the season-ending loss to Autaugaville has sat with the Eagles throughout the offseason and that his players have responded accordingly.

“We averaged 31-32 guys all summer long. They really responded well,” Ford said. “They showed they were hungry by the way the participated in the offseason. That says a lot when you’re in a rural area and most of the kids don’t live close to the school. That showed me they were ready to play. We pretty much had most of our game plans in by the end of June.”

As much as the ALJ players have fed off the bitter taste that remained at the end of last season, Ford said they have also drawn motivation from the reality that they will be forced to compete in the toughest region in Class 1A, a grouping that includes preseason No. 2 Maplesville and preseason No. 3 Linden.

A.L. Johnson quarterbacks

A.L. Johnson quarterbacks

“The other thing that motivated them was knowing they were in one of the toughest regions in the state,” Ford said. “They knew if they didn’t go into the offseason working hard, they wouldn’t have a chance to compete. We are in the toughest region in 1A.”

One of the great disparities that has long existed between ALJ and perennial powers such as Maplesville has been the drastic difference in roster sizes. Ford said he believes that problem is nullified this season as the Eagles have some 35 players on the team and are able to practice 11 on 11 with ample substitutions for one of the few times in school history.

“Usually when we get ready to play Maplesville and Linden, the number of players are higher there. This will be one of the few years where we’ll be even in terms of numbers,” Ford said.

While ALJ has more players than normal, Ford also realizes that team has to prove itself continuously to get to the level of teams such as Maplesville and Linden that are consistently contending for region and state titles.

A.L. Johnson offensive linemen

A.L. Johnson offensive linemen

“We’re trying to get to where we can talk about championships here,” Ford said.

Whatever success A.L. Johnson finds this season will likely come due in large part to its formidable offensive line, a veteran group that does not lack in size or depth.

“The biggest thing that is going to help us is most of our linemen are going one way,” Ford said, noting that he is not having to use most of his blockers on both sides of the ball. “If our offensive line can take care of the job they are responsible for, we’re going to be pretty competitive. We’ve got a supporting cast around them that is going to be pretty good if the offensive line can take care of business.”

A.L. Johnson is scheduled to open its season Aug. 22 when it hosts R.C. Hatch.

A.L. Johnson running backs

A.L. Johnson running backs

A.L. Johnson receivers

A.L. Johnson receivers