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After a bye week last week, Demopolis (4-1, 3-0) returns home this week as the Tigers host Dallas County (2-3, 1-1). Linden (5-0, 3-0) hosts Sweet Water (3-1, 3-0) in what is not only a longstanding county rivalry, but a Class 1A Region 1 slugfest. The Longhorns of Marengo Academy (5-1, 3-0) travel to Sumter Academy (0-5, 0-2). A.L. Johnson (2-4, 1-2) will travel to J.F. Shields (0-6, 0-3) in another Class 1A Region 1 matchup. The Marengo Panthers (3-2, 2-1) will face Fruitdale (1-2, 1-2) on the road.

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Matt Dauphin, Travares Hall, Jamarcus Ezell, and Rahmeel Cook enjoy their first official photo shoot as DHS Seniors for the 2015-2016 DHS Cheer Calendar on Tuesday, July 14. (Photo by Glenda Bradley)

Five county teams in action Friday

(Photo by Johnny Autery) Sweet Water's Daniel Sewell pops Demopolis' Ryan Schroeder on a pass play during last week's Jamboree game between the two county teams.

(Photo by Johnny Autery)
Sweet Water’s Daniel Sewell pops Demopolis’ Ryan Schroeder on a pass play during last week’s Jamboree game between the two county teams.

Two Marengo County teams got their seasons going Thursday night as Marengo Academy downed South Choctaw 34-6 and Marengo High fell 32-20 to Southern Choctaw.

For the remaining five county schools, kickoff of the 2013 season is only hours away. Here is a quick glance at what you need to know to get you ready for tonight’s local high school football action.

A.L. Johnson @ R.C. Hatch

The Eagles have not lost t o R.C. Hatch since 1991 and pulled out last year’s contest by a narrow 22-18 margin.

While their 2013 roster does not consist a lot of players, the Eagles have no shortage of talent as they enter 2013 with high expectations. But psyche matters in sport and opening the season with a loss to rival Hatch would be damaging for ALJ.

Look for the Johnson offensive line to keep the Eagles’ hopes intact as it paves the way for the ALJ ground game to put Johnson’s record at 1-0.

John Essex @ Sunshine

Never has kickoff been more welcome for any team than it will be for John Essex in week one. The Hornets have seen a tumultuous run since they last took the field Oct. 12, 2012. The team was outscored 144-14 in its last four contests of 2012 before the wheels completely came off and the team was unable to finish the season.

The Hornets have seen plenty of transition from an administrative perspective as they have welcomed a new coach and a new principal. And the summer was spent with the program’s future constantly in question.

Regardless of the outcome, Friday night will be good for Essex. The 13 players that make up the Hornet roster will finally be able to put 2012 in the rearview and move on.

Sunshine brings a certain degree of familiarity for JEHS as the schools have met every season since 1984. The Hornets have won four in a row against the Sunshine Tigers and would like little better than to open Keonn Nettles’ coaching career with a W over their traditional rival.

Linden vs. Leroy

This is a sneaky compelling contest between two traditionally physical football teams. Leroy went into rebuilding mode after the loss of long-time head coach Danny Powell to nearby Jackson High. And last year’s 39-13 home stinging at the hands of Linden surely has not been forgotten.

As such, Linden coach Andro Williams is not expecting another route. His Patriots are being groomed to focus on each series, each quarter, each contest. Doing just that will be a key ingredient to toppling Leroy.

This contest also marks the starting QB debut of Dewayne Charleston. He is the first signal-caller not named Anthony Robinson to start for Linden since 2008.

(Photo by Johnny Autery) Tyler Oates looks to pass during last week's Jamboree contest against Sweet Water.

(Photo by Johnny Autery)
Tyler Oates looks to pass during last week’s Jamboree contest against Sweet Water.

Sweet Water vs. Thomasville

They don’t get much nastier or more physical than Sweet Water and Thomasville. Nearby rivals, the schools have clashed every season since 1983 with Thomasville’s reign of dominance only briefly interrupted on rare occasions.

In the three-decade span since the rivalry renewed, Sweet Water has only managed to beat their neighbors to the south four times. Two of those occasions came in back-to-back seasons under head coach Stacy Luker in 2007 and 2008. Since then, however, Thomasville has won all four meetings.

Sweet Water enters the latest round with a new starting quarterback, a reconfigured offensive line and a defensive group that has the potential for the same standout performances that have made SWHS a perennial power in recent years.

But Thomasville comes equipped with a stout offensive line, an athletic quarterback, multiple ball carriers capable of breaking a game wide open and a high-powered, ground-based offense that will challenge the SWHS front like few others can.

In short, this one will be a good, old-fashioned football game.

Demopolis vs. American Christian Academy

Call it the Causey Bowl if you like, but the best story lines in this contest don’t involve the siblings who will oppose each other as head coaches.

Sure, ACA and head coach John Causey remember that 49-7 blistering that Tom Causey’s Demopolis Tigers put on them a season ago. But the team also remembers that it finished 4-6 a season ago and one of those victories actually came via forfeit.

ACA is looking to return to its championship form and ruining Demopolis’ season-opener is exactly how the Patriots would like to start that quest.

On the other side, Tyler Oates finally steps into the starting gig after seeing significant snaps at quarterback in each of the last two seasons. He will be working behind a new-look offensive line that will be faced with creating space for the Tigers’ plethora of skill players.

On the other side of the ball, DHS is employing a new 4-2-5 defense that has already seen three significant contributors suffer injuries late in the offseason. That gives rise to opportunity for a handful of reserve players.

But the biggest thing for the Tigers is the hump. Since winning the Class 5A state title in 2009, Demopolis has not made it out of the second round of the playoffs. And ACA is the first stop in a road the Tigers hopes leads them back to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Lewis commits to Northern Illinois

10-19-2012 -- Satsuma, AL -- Demopolis' Cortez Lewis (15) heads for the corner on his 9-yard TD run against Satsuma. (Michael Clements/The West Alabama Watchman)

10-19-2012 — Satsuma, AL — Demopolis’ Cortez Lewis (15) heads for the corner on his 9-yard TD run against Satsuma. (Michael Clements/The West Alabama Watchman)

Cortez Lewis locked up a Division I opportunity Thursday when he verbally committed to Northern Illinois.

The 6-2, 200-pound Demopolis High receiver spurned offers from Furman and The Citadel among others in his decision to choose the Huskies, a program that showed itself a budding national power last year with a 12-2 campaign and an appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl.

“They were in a BCS game last year and have been very successful over the last 10 or 15 years. It is a very proud football program and we’re excited to have a player committed to a program like Northern Illinois,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said of Lewis’ commitment.

Despite the fact that NIU’s DeKalb, Ill. campus is more than 800 miles from Demopolis, Lewis said he felt right at home in conversations with the coaching staff, making his decision an easy one.

“They came down here during spring ball. They were watching a couple of our players. They happened to see me that day at practice and they told their wide receiver coach about me,” Lewis said. “I always wanted to go somewhere that I feel very welcome and feel very wanted. When they were talking to me and having conversations with me, I felt like it was a family, like it was Demopolis. I didn’t have any second thoughts about it.”

Lewis took over as a regular at the A-Back spot in the Demopolis offense last season. A hybrid slot receiver with rushing and blocking responsibilities mixed in, the A-Back spot allowed Lewis to display his versatility in his first year as a starter.

8-31-2012  -- Tuscaloosa, Ala. --  Cortez Lewis scores the first Demopolis touchdown of the night on an 11 yard reception from Tucker Jones to go ahead of American Christian Academy 6-0.  (Michael Clements /  The West Alabama Watchman)

8-31-2012 — Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Cortez Lewis scores the first Demopolis touchdown of the night on an 11 yard reception from Tucker Jones to go ahead of American Christian Academy 6-0. (Michael Clements / The West Alabama Watchman)

“Cortez has improved every year. Really since May, I think he has figured out that he can be a really good player. I think some of the attention that these college coaches have given them has motivated him. His potential is unlimited. He can be as good as he chooses to be,” Causey said of the senior, who is expected to play slot receiver at Northern Illinois.

“I want to do everything to the best of my ability and help my team to stay focused on one thing and that’s to win ball games,” Lewis said of his goals for his final high school season.

Those goals will likely prove more easily attainable for Lewis now as the battles to cement his football future and get himself in an academic position to do so have largely been won.

“The guys who are getting all the interest right now this early are the guys who are academically qualified at this point. We’ve got some guys who may get the opportunity to play but they’ve still got some work to do academically,” Causey said. “They’re not getting the attention from those schools that some of those other guys are. Any time you can get yourself academically qualified and ready to go, it makes you much more appealing to a college program.”

Lewis echoed his coach’s sentiments as he offered advice to younger players hoping for an opportunity similar to that extended to him by NIU.

“Stay focused. Set a goal for yourself. Make sure you behave in school and keep your grades up. If you want to do something, set a goal and go do it,” Lewis advised.

Lewis becomes the second member of the Demopolis High Class of 2014 to commit to a NCAA Division I football program. Defensive end Tyler Merriweather cemented his intent to sign with Georgia Tech earlier this summer.

Lewis, Merriweather and the rest of the Demopolis Tigers are scheduled to open their regular season at home Friday, Aug. 30 against American Christian Academy.