The Adairsville and Woodland football teams will face off in a preseason scrimmage Friday night in a meeting between two programs that have a lot more in common than the county in which they reside.
Both the Tigers and Wildcats are in a transitional period of sorts, and their fans will get a first view at their respective school’s progress at 7:30 p.m. in Adairsville.
Most notably, each team will look to replace a versatile standout who signed with a Division I school in Alabama.
For Adairsville, that star was Mason Boswell who excelled at quarterback, safety and in the return game ahead of joining North Alabama. Woodland, meanwhile, will look to somehow replicate everything Alabama A&M signee Titus Jones provided, including top-notch ability as a running quarterback, wide receiver, safety, kick returner and kick blocker.
One thing is for certain: Neither team will have one player able to check all of the boxes like Boswell, who is listed as a receiver on the Lions roster, and Jones, a safety for the Bulldogs. Instead, the hope is that several solid players rise to the occasion and fill in at different spots.
For the Tigers, Conner Crunkleton will take over as starting quarterback, while Savaun Henderson steps into the leadership role in the secondary. J.T. Thomas will be under center for the Wildcats. Jaden Johnson will step into a few of the holes vacated by Jones, including being a leader in the defensive backfield — although he plays cornerback instead of safety — and a key part of the return unit.
Adairsville and Woodland are also both coming off 4-6 seasons. The Tigers finished 3-5 in Region 6-AAA and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. The Wildcats began the year 4-0 before ending on a six-game losing streak.
It means there will be plenty of motivation on display Friday night with players across both sides looking to start the season on a positive note. To some people, it might not mean much to play well during a scrimmage. Adairsville’s Eric Bishop and Woodland’s Tony Plott, the team's respective head coaches, are not among that contingency.
“It’s real important,” Plott said. “It’s just an opportunity for them to go through everything from our game-day rituals that we go through to help prepare to traveling and when we get to the stadium, how we act and how we prepare there. Everything is going to be a learning experience for them. They’ve all done it, but they haven’t done it when they’re the ones who are going to play. It’s a lot different when you’re the one preparing to be on the field for 80-90 % of the time.”
Plott has seen his youthful group, which includes just six seniors, have to experience a lot of firsts as they prepare for the scrimmage. The extreme swings in weather from earlier in the week were an added hurdle for the Wildcats to overcome.
“We’re extremely young, but we feel like our kids are a talented group. All they’re lacking right now is experience,” Plott said. “We’ve seen a little bit of that this week, as far as learning how to prepare for a game. Between the heat and having to move off the field Tuesday due to that to then [Wednesday] being shortened by thunderstorms, weather-wise it hasn’t been a great week of practice. Just getting them focused and how to prepare with a good week of practice, we’re still teaching them that.”
Friday’s contest will be a good barometer for how ready Woodland is to compete week in and week out. It will also offer an indicator as to the areas in which the Wildcats still need to improve. Perhaps most importantly, Plott will get the chance to see who puts forth the effort necessary to represent the Wildcats.
“I expect our kids to show up and compete, play hard and leave everything on the field,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve tried to get our kids to believe in and to do, that no matter the outcome whoever we play is going to get our best effort every week.
“This is no different. It’s a county game. It’s a scrimmage, but it’s still a rivalry. We expect our kids to give the best effort they can and fight on every play.”
Yet another similarity between Woodland and Adairsville is that both teams (along with Cass) will debut new turf playing surfaces, together with a few other upgrades, this season. It’s caused a more stressful and disjointed offseason than years past, but the programs are looking forward to showing them off.
The Tigers get the first chance to display their new features. While the scoreboard isn’t expected to be fully functional until the regular-season opener against Cass on Sept. 6, Bishop said everything else football-related should be in working order.
"They're still telling me that we're on track for everything to take place as normal," he said Wednesday. "If you were to drive up out here, right now, you'd say no way. But these guys have been working around the clock and dodging weather issues to try to get it done. ... It looks like there's a ton of stuff to do, but it's mostly just cleanup and closeup stuff, at this point. I think we're going to be fine."
As far as the product Adairsville will be putting on the new field, Bishop will be focused on seeing a few of the typical scrimmage points of emphasis. However, he also has a couple of expectations specific to this year’s team that he’ll be looking for Friday night.
"We've been talking the whole offseason about playing fast," Bishop said. "Tempo and toughness is kind of our mantra for this coming season. We'll definitely be looking to evaluate where we're at in those two aspects.
"Then the usual things you look for in a scrimmage, seeing how players look on film against opponents you don't go against every day in practice. We'll definitely be looking on defense for 11 hats to the football, something we've been talking about all offseason. Also personnel groups, so how kids perform when other kids are around them and seeing kids at different positions. Continuing the evaluation process leading into the non-region games and hoping to have all the pieces of the puzzle in place by the time you reach the region schedule."