MONTGOMERY, AL – Six prep football powers are set to kick off the 2016 high school football season this weekend at the 11th annual Champions Challenge Football Classic hosted by the Alabama High School Athletic Association and its coaches’ wing, the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association, at Cramton Bowl Aug. 18-20.
All six head coaches were on hand Tuesday at the AHSAA office for Champions Challenge press conference. The press conference concluded the AHSAA’s annual Media Day, attended by more than 85 media, coaches, players and special guests.
Sam Adams is beginning his third season as head football coach at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa. He was quick to point at the press conference that while the six head coaches had accumulated more 600 wins between them, he had not contributed many to that total.
Adams, 17-8 in his first two seasons, says just being in the company of such talented coaches and teams is good for his program. The Class 6A Patriots, 8-4 in 2015, plays Demopolis (10-3) in the opening game of the Champions Challenge Thursday night at Cramton Bowl at 7 p.m. Hoover (10-3) faces Central-Phenix City (9-4) in Friday night’s 7 p.m. contest, and Andalusia (11-2) faces Brooks (11-2) in Saturday’s final game, also set to kick off at 7 p.m.
The six coaches have a combined 670-285 record with 12 state championships and a .702 winning percentage collectively. The six teams were 59-18 overall in 2015All three contests will be broadcast live over Raycom Media’s AHSAA TV Network. The cable channels in each part of the state can be found by visiting www.pathwaytotheplayoffs.com.
The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast all three games and all six schools will have local radio stations in the booth. Hillcrest’s NFHS Network School Broadcast Program will also tape-delay Thursday’s game over the NFHS Network platform, Hoover’s NFHS SBP will tape-delay Friday’s game, and Saturday’s game will also be tape-delayed over the NFHS Network by local producers.
Adams’ coaching counterpart Stacy Luker, who has a 187-74 head-coaching record with five state championships to his credit, said Adams’ Patriots will be a strong opponent. “We know they have a talented team, and we are looking forward to playing them,” Luker said. The former Sweet Water head coach was 10-3 in his first season at Demopolis last year.
Hillcrest features one of the state’s top running backs in senior Brian Robinson. Robinson rushed for 1,329 yards and 15 touchdowns last season on 227 carries – with his finest showing coming in a wild 43-42 loss to Clay-Chalkville when he set the AHSAA Class 6A single-game state record with 447 yards rushing. Quarterback Cole Frederick, who earned MVP honors last spring while helping Hillcrest win the 6A state baseball title in Montgomery at Riverwalk Stadium, completed 132-of-232 passes for 1,829 yards and 15 TDs last season.
Luker said his team doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in its midst but said, “we have four or five backs who we think can get the job done.” What the Class 5A Tigers do have is a defense back almost intact that allowed only 115 yards rushing per game last season. The defense, led by leading tacklers R.J. Cox (72 tackles), Russ Logan (59), Khyrim Bryant (40) and Logan McVay (28 tackles and two interceptions), gave up only 204.6 total yards per game.
“No doubt we have six of the top programs in the state playing in the Champions Challenge this year,” said Alvin Briggs, Director of the AHSADCA. “We have six outstanding coaches that have won 12 state championships between them.”
For the first time since the inception of the Champions Challenge in 2006, all three games in the Classic will be regular-season openers. The teams have the choice of playing a jamboree game or a regular season game in week zero, he said. “We are looking at three very exciting match-ups.”
Friday’s game pits Class 7A powers Hoover and Central-Phenix City. Coach Josh Niblett, Hoover’s boss, has an amazing 106-11 record for the Bucs in the last eight years with seven trips to the state finals and two state crowns. Jamey DuBose, Central’s coach, is no stranger to Niblett and the Bucs. DuBose was head coach at Prattville facing the Bucs in the state finals in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Prattville won 16-13 in ’08 and 35-34 in ’11 while Hoover won 28-23 in ’09.
“This is the kind of game that lets you find out just where you program is,” said DuBose, 90-35 in 11 seasons as a head coach with stops at Susan Moore, Prattville, Florence and Central. He is beginning his third season for the Red Devils after going 19-6 in his first two seasons. “We are looking forward to this week’s game with Hoover.”
Both thanked the AHSAA for setting up contests like the Champions Challenge, agreeing that these kinds’ of contests are important for their teams and schools.
Andalusia head coach Trent Taylor coached in the Champions Challenge with Straughn in 2013 – winning 35-26 over Walter Wellborn. Saturday night his team will take on Class 5A Brooks. “This is as close as it gets to playing in a bowl game for our high school players. Our entire community is excited,” Taylor added.
The Class 4A Bulldogs (11-2) and Lions (11-2) are meeting for the first time school history.
“That makes this game even more exciting,” said second-year Brooks head coach Brad Black. “Coming to Montgomery to play in a game of this magnitude really means a lot to our program.”
The game will feature two of the state’s premier runners from 2015. Andalusia features senior running back Jamal Hourel, who rushed for 2,396 yards and 35 touchdowns last season on 236 carries. Brooks’ tailback Deandre Hampton, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, gained 1,855 yards on 264 carries in 2015 with 26 rushing touchdowns.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.ahsaa.com by clicking on the PrepTix link or by going to: http://www.preptix.com/ahsaa.
In last year’s Champions Challenge, Madison Academy beat eventual 4A state champ Leeds 19-14, Gordo downed Glencoe 28-21 and Bob Jones defeated Carver-Montgomery 37-33.
CHAMPIONS CHALLENGE HISTORY
Madison Academy 19, Leeds 14
Gordo 28, Glencoe 21
Bob Jones 37, Carver-Montgomery 30
Opelika 20, Carver-Montgomery 16
Dadeville 14, Piedmont 8
Spanish Fort 42, Stanhope Elmore 14
Benjamin Russell 28, Walker 14
Straughn 35, Walter Wellborn 26
Bob Jones 23, Enterprise 20
Spanish Fort 33, Muscle Shoals 22
Central of Clay County 25, Beauregard 13
McGill-Toolen 27, Northridge 0
Hueytown 36, Thomasville 27
Hamilton 38, Sweet Water 35
Daphne 24, Clay-Chalkville 21
Opelika 34, Greenville 6
Auburn 30, Spain Park 3
Jackson 30, Trinity 8
Prattville 37, Carver-Montgomery 0
T.R. Miller 27, Leeds 7
Hoover 32, Oxford 27
Prattville vs. Oxford, canceled due to inclement weather
Prattville 36, North Gwinnett, Ga. 3
Hoover 38, UMS-Wright 0
Clay-County 41, Addison 6