Football season in west Alabama has arrived. This week, high schools will turn on the stadium lights, prepare the paper banners for the “run-through” and the teams will make final preparations before they kick off the season. Storylines dot Tuscaloosa County and the surrounding area. From first-year coaches and rebuilding years to young stars and championship dreams, the 2021 Alabama high school football season will surely be one to remember.

Last Week’s Record: 0-0
Overall Record: 0-0

All rankings come from weekly ASWA “Top 10” poll. Teams are ranked by classification.

[Thurs., 8/19] Homewood Patriots (0-0, 0-0) @ No. 6 Hillcrest Patriots (0-0, 0-0):

Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9
Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9

This is the second year in a row that the “Battle of the Patriots” has kicked off both teams’ seasons. In last year’s meeting, Hillcrest, powered by young quarterback Ethan Crawford, propelled Hillcrest to a 49-19 victory. This same offense went on to average 28.6 points a game, while their defense only allowed around 19. The team went on to finish the season with an overall record of 9-3 (5-1 area record) but fell in the second round of the playoffs to Opelika. This year, it’s payback time in Tuscaloosa.

Homewood, on the other hand, had a slightly tougher road to the playoffs. In a region that features teams like Briarwood and Mountain Brook, Homewood snuck into the playoffs with an area record of 3-3 as the fourth seed from 6A Region 5. This might have been a result of a slow offense that averaged less than two touchdowns a game. Like Hillcrest, though, Homewood fell in the second round of the playoffs.

Bryant’s Pick: The second year of the “Battle of the Patriots” will serve the same purpose as it did in 2020. Both teams are contenders in 6a with realistic title hopes. While they may not be in the same region, there is a good chance that they could meet in the state title game. Still, I’m taking Hillcrest to win this game. Their Crawford-led offense will be too much for Homewood.

[Thurs., 8/19] Tuscaloosa County Wildcats (0-0, 0-0) @ Paul W. Bryant Stampede (0-0, 0-0):

Photo Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9
Photo Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9

It’s a new day in Northport for Wildcats fans. Not only did County High get a new football coach, who took Auburn High to the 7A State Championship last year, but Adam Winegarden has changed the culture for Tuscaloosa County. A new turf field is being installed and should be ready for the home opener. This, however, will have to wait until the Wildcats will have to get through Paul Bryant.

Last season was a tough one for both programs. Both 7A Region 3 and 6A Region 4 are the hardest regions in their respective classifications and weren’t easy on County and Bryant. Fortunately, both teams, including Paul Bryant, are ready to grow. A solid defense, that only allowed around 14 points a game, is set to improve. On the other side of the ball, young talent will continue to develop, but it shouldn’t be ready just yet.

Bryant’s Pick: Both teams only saw three total wins each during 2020. Still, both teams have an enormous amount of growth potential. Tuscaloosa County, however, will have the upper hand. The Wildcats have the pieces, and this game will just be the start of what will be a memorable first season under Coach Winegarden.

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No. 4 American Christian Patriots (0-0, 0-0) @ Parker Thundering Herd (0-0, 0-0):

Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9
Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9

It's obvious that west Alabama runs the 4A classification. Both Gordo and ACA, who are only 27 miles from each other and they are No. 1 and No. 4, respectively. Still, the glaring storyline in Tuscaloosa is the recent and sudden step-down by now-former head coach Chris Smelley. It has been announced that Cody Martin, the former defensive coordinator, will step into the role. Regardless, we won’t spend much time on this topic — instead, we will focus on the blistering scoring averages that the Patriots had in 2020. ACA scored around 35 points a game and only allowed around 15 points a game. American Christian will be without freshman Georgia Bulldog Kamari Lassiter, a dynamic player that played both ways at a high level before he graduated.

Parker has been on a steady incline for the past several years in a highly competitive region that features Ramsay and Pleasant Grove, two teams who had double-digit-win seasons in 2020. The Herd made it to the second round of the playoffs last year, but if they keep improving, then Parker will be just fine.

Bryant’s Pick: Last year’s matchup was entirely one-sided. ACA crushed Parker 47-21, and the Patriots will most likely win this year. Don’t take this result as a sign for Parker, though. ACA will have a chip on their shoulder and will surely be trying to make a statement in the first game without Coach Smelley. For Parker fans, though, don’t worry about a loss. It will be a nice test before you get into region play.

[Thurs., 8/19] Central-Tuscaloosa Falcons (0-0, 0-0) @ Holt Ironmen (0-0, 0-0):

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

It’s now “Year Two” of Coach Rodney Bivens Jr.'s reign at Central High, and Tuscaloosa will surely be looking for an improvement from the Falcons. Last year was slightly disappointing — a 3-7 overall record and only two region wins left the Falcons out of the playoffs for a second straight year. Don’t be fooled, though. Central has some outstanding athletes who are getting better and better. This year, Central can start the year off right with a big win against Holt.

Speaking of the Ironmen, the team seems to be in a similar boat. There is a lot of potential on the team, and there are some very winnable games on their schedule. Between Sumter Central and Wilcox Central, both of who have met hard times, and Dallas County, who Holt is playing at home, it is possible that the Ironmen can find a winning record. Still, they are in a region that features American Christian, who will most certainly win the region.

Bryant’s Pick: Last year, Central defeated Holt 50-6, and this should be about the same — a decisive Central victory. The Falcons will have a tough road ahead of them, but a big win at Holt can build momentum. It will certainly sting for Holt, but they still have a chance to get in the “win” column before region play with a game next week against Dora.

[Thurs., 8/19] Berry-Fayette Wildcats (0-0, 0-0) @ Northside Rams (0-0, 0-0-):

Photo Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9
Photo Courtesy of J.R. Moore, TIDE 100.9

While these two teams are three classifications apart - Berry-Fayette is 1A, while Northside is 4A - they both had excellent seasons in 2020 that they can build on. For the first time in years, the Wildcats made it to the semi-finals of the playoffs before falling to Pickens County, a region opponent that Berry beat earlier in the year. Both P.C. and Berry have recently been ruling the region, and this year shouldn’t be any different.

These two teams renewed a 50-plus game series last year that Northside tends to win. The teams play just 16 miles away and Northside walked away with a 27-7 victory in 2020. The win became the first of an eight-win regular season. This led the Rams to a second-place finish in a tough region that features 4A state-runner-up Gordo. Atr the helm of coach Chris Hilliker, who returned from retirement with state title dreams in mind, Northside is looking to capitalize and try to make the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

Bryant’s Pick: Classification means a lot in high school football. From team size and deep personnel to newer equipment, being a bigger school can provide a big advantage. That is why the Rams will walk away victorious. Still, like almost every Week One match-up in Alabama high school football, this is just a tune-up game to prepare for region play. Both teams should be able to have great 2021 campaigns and make deep playoff runs, like last year.

Other Matchups:

  • [Thursday 8/19] No. 7 Tuscaloosa Academy @ No. 4 Autauga Academy
  • Sipsey Valley @ Northridge
  • West Blocton @ Brookwood
  • Oakman @ No. 1 Gordo

Bye Weeks:

  • No. 3 Pickens County
  • Hale County

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