Marengo Academy finds renewed spirit


Coach Robby James watches over practice at Marengo Academy.

LINDEN – This time last year, Marengo Academy head coach Robby James knew his team was in dire straits. After graduating the bulk of their starters and watching a handful of other players transfer out of the school, the Longhorns were left wondering if they would field a varsity team in 2011.“I think the thing that happened last year is we were down to wondering if we were going to be able to have a varsity football team,” James said. “We had so many ninth graders. We had to get some guys to come out who had never played before. We ended up starting seven ninth graders. It is just tough for a ninth grader to beat a senior. That is all there is to it.”

That statement proved true for Marengo Academy as the team needed its own infirmary to make it through the season with a roster full of banged up players on the way to a 2-8 record. The season will forever go down as one of the toughest in the storied career of James, a legend in the AISA coaching ranks.

“It was just a transition year,” James said, quantifying the frustrations that defined the 2011 season.

However, James and his program are both much more upbeat this August as they count down the days to the opening kickoff of 2012. James will not call a light at the end of the tunnel, but he certainly sees a significant difference in this year’s MA team over its most recent predecessor.

“The biggest thing is attitude,” James said of a young group he considers both eager and hungry. “I think we’re way ahead in our summer workout program. I feel like we’re way ahead because we’ve had these guys. We’ve got a little more experience at each position.”

In addition to the experience factor, James and his assistant coaches are not having to comb the halls of the school to find players. Outside of the senior class, which has only one player on the Longhorn roster, the student body of Marengo Academy will be well represented on Friday nights this fall.

“Most all the kids that can play 11th grade down are out playing ball,” James said.

The shift in attitude and atmosphere around the Longhorn program is most noticeable in the team’s perception of itself. Last season was about survival for MA. This year, the boys in burnt orange want to get back to upholding the school tradition of making the state playoffs.

“Our goal is to get in the playoffs,” James said plainly. “We’ve got (these players) for two or three more years. We’ve got a chance to build something up for these guys and I think they want to.”

Much of the Longhorns’ 2012 hopes will be placed upon the shoulders of its offensive line. It is no secret that James likes to run the ball with an old school offense that is predicated on power up front. The youth on the 2011 Longhorn line made for a lot of long nights among the Marengo faithful.

Fortunately for the Horns, the majority of their 2011 trench workers are back for this season.

“We’re in pretty good shape there. We were just young there last year,” James said of his offensive front. “They’ve been playing together for two or three years on the junior (varsity) level. They’ve had a chance to get some camaraderie and grow up together.”

The strength of the line will likely be its interior as incumbent starters David Creel and Hayden Hall return at the guard positions. While starter Tait Sanford figures to be back at the center spot, there is a chance he may move out to tackle to help the Longhorns’ on the edge of the line. If Sanford kicks out to tackle, the center spot will likely fall on the capable shoulders of Carson Huckabee. Joseph Sammons will return at right tackle while Dalton Etheridge currently has a leg up in the battle for the left tackle position.

That group will be paving the way for a hard-nosed backfield that will be headlined by Josh Holifield and Brant Lewis. Both power runners, Holifield and Lewis will like see the bulk of the carries for the Longhorn offense.

“They’re both about the same size and they both run hard,” James said. “They’re not speedsters, but they get yardage.”

Demopolis High transfer Kyle Adams, the Longhorns’ lone senior, will see some time at fullback along with Ralph Langley.

Sophomore Shade Pritchett, who had eight touchdown catches as a freshman, will return as a starter at one of the teams’ two tight end positions. Pritchett figures to be the lead target for whichever young quarterback emerges as the starter.

Other key pass catchers will include Christian Cook at the wide receiver and wing back position as well as Will Allen and Cason Cook at the other tight end spot.

The key battle on the offensive side of the ball is between freshman Hayden Huckabee and sophomore Tyler Barkley at the quarterback spot.

On the defensive side, the Longhorns have plenty of bodies on the front line. The question at the moment revolves around which of those bodies will handle first team duties.

Langley, Cason Cook, Etheridge and Allen are all battling for the team’s two defensive end spots. Sanford returns as a starter on the interior of the defensive line. He will be flanked by some combination of Sammons, Lewis and Dalton Etheridge.

The linebacker corps may be the highlight of James’ 4-4 defense as the group returns the most talent of any position on the field.

Creel, the team’s leading tackler in 2011, returns as a starter at inside linebacker. He will likely be joined by Adams with Thomas Etheridge also seeing significant time.

Carson Huckabee and Hayden hall return as the starters at outside linebacker while Lewis also will figure in the rotation at those spots.

The second will see Pritchett back at safety while Hayden Huckabee, Miles Pritchett, Christian Cook and Barkley all gets reps at the other defensive back positions.

Lewis will scarcely leave the field for the Longhorns this season as he is currently tasked with all of the team’s kicking duties.

The Longhorn schedule shapes up oddly as the team alternates home and away dates throughout the season. The drop to the AISA’s Class A level may help Marengo get back to being competitive but the calendar still offers few breathers for the team.

Region dates include home contests against East Wood, Meadowview and Sparta as well as road games at Jackson, Pickens and Sumter. Non-region dates include the season opener at South Choctaw Aug. 24, a Sept. 13 home rendezvous with Patrician, a Sept. 21 visit to Wilcox and an Oct. 25 game with rival Southern Academy.


8-24 @ South Choctaw

8-31 vs. East Wood R

9-7 @ Jackson R

9-13 vs. Patrician

9-21 @ Wilcox

9-28 vs. Meadoview R HC

10-5 @ Pickens R

10-12 vs. Sparta R

10-19 @ Sumter R

10-25 vs. Southern Academy