Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final installment of a series analyzing the top players to watch for every Elmore County football team this season.
There is very little doubt as to what will be Wetumpka’s strength during the 2019 football season. The Indians return a bulk of their production on the offensive side of the ball and they are looking to use that force to make a run at the trophy which has eluded them in the last two seasons.
Wetumpka has its sights set on a state championship and it will need to rely on the offense early and often due to the lack of experience on the defensive side. Over the last two seasons, the Indians have averaged 36.7 points per game and they are not ready to see that mark drop any lower this year.
The rushing attack was the key to success last season and despite some heavy losses in the power game, there will still be plenty of opportunity for the two 1,000-yard rushers to top their previous career highs.
There was some talk of allowing Rawls to move back to the secondary full time for his senior year but it is clear the Indians need his skill set at quarterback again this season. Rawls was named to the all-state team and was the all-county offensive player of the year as a junior after filling in for an injured JD Martin.
Rawls completed 55.1 percent of his passes last season for 1,487 yards and 18 touchdowns but most of his damage came in Wetumpka’s read-option attack. He finished with 1,778 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 9.1 yards per carry.
It is tough to imagine Rawls having a better season this year but after a full offseason as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said he has seen a lot of improvement. The offense would still be fun to watch without any major improvements from Rawls but if he can make the necessary adjustments this season, Rawls could be the difference in winning the school’s first state championship.
As the team’s third option out of the backfield last season, Thomas rushed for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. With the graduation of De’Angelo Jones, Thomas will now be the top running back for the Indians and opponents will certainly be wary of the speed threat he provides.
Thomas, who also made it to the state championships in track as a junior, provides another element of explosiveness to Wetumpka’s offense and more carries means more opportunities to show that off. In a first-round playoff victory over Daphne last season, Thomas scored a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown.
With the Indians relying on Thomas as the No. 1 running back, he may not be used as often on special teams and defense but he will get plenty of opportunities to touch the ball on offense. Expect to see at least a handful of plays with Thomas sprinting through defenders and into the end zone this season.
One part of Wetumpka’s offense which needs to be replaced is top receiver E.J. Rogers. Rawls and Rogers had a clear connection last season, especially in the red zone, but the Indians appear to have a front runner for the new go-to-receiver this season.
Perry said Johnson has stepped up more than anyone else in the offseason and his improvements will be welcomed to an inexperienced receiving core. Johnson caught just one touchdown pass last season but he expects to add to that total this season.
There will be a few players competing on both sides of the ball for Wetumpka this season and Davis is expected to be one of them. He provides the Indians with another explosive weapon on offense but his skill set on defense may be more important for a young secondary.
Last season, Davis finished with 612 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions. On the defensive side of the ball, Davis has recorded three multi-interception games in his career including one in the quarterfinals last season against Spanish Fort.
Davis has been working with the offense and the secondary since fall practice began but it is likely he will see some snaps off early in the season, specifically in the non-region games. However, when the postseason arrives, expect to see Davis in on both sides of the ball in crucial situations.
There are not many returning starters on defense for the Indians but Nowden provides the unit with leadership and plenty of talent.
As a linebacker/defensive back hybrid, Nowden racked up 43 tackles including two for a loss while recording eight pass breakups and three interceptions.
Nowden is the only returning player from the 2018 all-county defense and a second appearance will be expected this season. While players like Rawls and Davis focus on the offensive side of the ball, Nowden will be the key to Wetumpka’s defense this season and he could end up being the key to the team’s success in 2019.