There are plenty of reasons to believe Tallassee is going into rebuilding mode for the 2019 season after falling short of the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007. The Tigers are turning to several underclassmen with high hopes for the future but coach Mike Battles said the expectations are not going to change because of the youth.
“I wouldn’t want to be at a place where they didn’t have high expectations,” Battles said. “Our fans want a good product out on the field and that’s what our kids expect. We may have to take our time but I’m just as excited because I’m ready to see what they can do. It’s no different than any other year, we’re just having to come along a little slower.”
The Tigers still have their sights set on a region title but they need to get production from several underclassmen on the offense. They return only two starters from last year but Battles is confident he will see progress.
Freshman Tyler Ellis is taking over as Tallassee’s starting quarterback. The Tigers have had all-state seniors play the position in each of the last two seasons so adjusting to the inexperience could be a challenge for the rest of the team.
“I’m looking for (Ellis) to get comfortable with the offense,” Battles said. “He has to be able to adjust in the huddle and do those things he’s been coached to do. Sometimes with being young, you can feel like you need to do more and sometimes you’re pressed but we just need him to do what we coach him to do.”
Joining Ellis in the backfield will be a trio of sophomore running backs who are all expected to get plenty of work. Marciano Smith is currently the front runner for the starting job but Zavion Carr and Jalyn Daniels will spell Smith to keep the rushing attack fresh.
JaDarrion Williams is the lone senior in the backfield and will start at fullback. Battles said Williams will be on the field more often than not but he will use all four of the backs in different ways to keep defenses off balance.
“It really just depends on the game,” Battles said. “We run a multiple offense so sometimes we’ll have real full back but in shotgun it may be more of an H back or tight end type of player. We’ll have two backs on the field at all times, sometimes we’ll have three but it just depends on the team we’re playing and what we’re able to do.”
Despite having confidence in the rushing game, Battles said the team will not shy away from allowing Ellis to throw the ball down field. Matt Justiss returns as a second-year starter at receiver while Tavarious Griffin, Matthew Baker and Napoleon Foster-Reed will rotate in from their defensive duties to help with the air raid. Thomas Battles and Blake Gough are also expected to see time at receiver.
“We have several guys we can rotate in and out to get the job done,” coach Battles said. “That’s how we’re going to have to do it. Our biggest thing was that we wanted to build some depth so we can rest these kids early on in some games.”
Tallassee also has to deal with replacing its entire starting offensive line. Will Blocker is the only senior on the line and is back from an injury to start at left tackle alongside Jowon McCurty Jr. at left guard. Trace Meek will play center with Will Smith and Logan Thompkins making up the right side.
“The future looks great but they have to get out there and learn a little bit,” Battles said. “We just want to move the football and make first downs. The biggest thing that can help Tyler is the other 10 guys around him doing their jobs.”
While the expectations are still high for the offense, the Tigers will look to their experience on defense to carry them this season. Tallassee is returning seven starters on defense including three in the secondary.
Reed and Baker return as the starting safeties while Mason Bell and Dalton Lanier will cover the cornerback spots. All four players are seniors and Battles said it was the most mature group of defensive backs in terms of experience he has ever had at Tallassee.
The Tigers will have to replace three starters at linebacker but this group of starters got plenty of playing time last season. Griffin is the lone returning starter and he will line up at outside linebacker again along with Carr. Tay Briskey-Chappell and Jacob Webster will start in the middle of Tallassee’s 3-4 base defense. Michael Moore returns to start at defensive end while Blocker will play nose guard and Tres Ledbetter slides into the other defensive end spot.
“There’s a lot of experience over there and they’re going to have to make plays,” Battles said. “We need them to keep the score down and give us good field position. The biggest thing on defense is not giving up the big play and we struggled with that last year. As long as we don’t give up those explosive plays, we’ll be in good shape and I think this group can do it.”