Thursday, June 28, 2018

Where should Hillcrest be ranked in the 4A preseason football poll?

Hillcrest quarterback Ryan Nettles (12) accepts MVP award.

When you stop and think about it, football season is really just around the corner. Hillcrest High School and Sparta Academy both have their summer workout programs in full gear and full-blown preseason practice will crank up in a matter of weeks.

This time of year, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, especially when it comes to the Alabama Sports Writers Association and its upcoming preseason football poll. Voting in the preseason poll will open on July 23 and will close on July 30.

Alabama High School Athletic Association teams will officially begin preseason practice on Aug. 6 and the preseason poll will be published in newspapers statewide on that day. For those of you who stay up late at night, it’ll be published online at 11 p.m. on Aug. 5.

People have asked me about where I plan to rank Hillcrest in the preseason poll in light of the fact that they won the 3A state title last season but will move into Class 4A this season. Another interesting twist this season is that the Jags will be competing in 4A Region 1 with the defending 4A state champions, UMS-Wright of Mobile.

In a meeting of two state champions, Hillcrest and UMS will meet during the regular season on Oct. 5 in Mobile. The winner of that game will likely win the region title and will likely be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the state playoffs. Another interesting twist is that Hillcrest and UMS could meet again in the playoffs with the winner to advance while the other goes home.

Regardless of how all that shakes out, Hillcrest will be tested this season, but, after last season, I have no doubt that they can handle it. In addition to UMS, other traditionally strong programs in their region include W.S. Neal, Andalusia and Clarke County. Of course, you can’t overlook the other teams on their schedule, which include Greenville, Montgomery Academy, Escambia County, Williamson and Monroe County High School.

Taking all of that into account, this coming season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory for Hillcrest. If they perform at the same high level that they played at last year, they’ll be in every game this season, and they’ve got a good shot at winning them all and making a deep run into the playoffs.

With that said, while it may be somewhat controversial, I plan to vote Hillcrest No. 1 in 4A in my preseason poll. Here’s why: While Hillcrest lost a number of talented players from last year’s team, they still return a solid corps of talented players, mostly notably quarterback Ryan Nettles (the MVP from last year’s 3A championship game) and junior outside linebacker Cam Riley, who has received scholarship offers from a long list of college football programs. Also, Hillcrest kept its coaching staff intact, which will go a long way toward keeping everyone on the same page next season.

In the end, I look for Hillcrest to have a better team this coming season than they had last season, and that’s saying a lot when you consider that last season was the best in school history.

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