As Handley began football practice a season ago, they did so under the backdrop of cranes and construction crews that were finishing up work on extending the visitors’ side bleachers at Wright Field.
Back then the stadium and the team were both a work in progress.
Now the stadium is complete. And while a coach’s work is never done, in many ways the team is also as complete as it has been since Handley conquered the state in 2016.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s an answer for every question for this team. Here are some of the things that head coach Larry Strain and his staff will have to figure out over the next three weeks as they prepare for their preseason game against LaFayette on August 23.
Who’s at receiver?
All summer Strain had constructed his offense with the idea that two of his top options at receiver would be 6-foot-5 Dylan Brooks and 6-foot-2 Seidrion Langston, who had planned to transfer from Lanett.
But due to family reasons, Langston will not be at Handley and instead will return to his original school.
“We don’t have the two big receivers to put on both sides, which is what I was really wanting to do,” Strain said. “So that’s going to affect me a little bit. We’ll have to put more of a speed guy out there.”
Fortunately he has a handful of speed guys that he can choose from, including Tae Snead (more on him in a bit), Tae Meadows and versatile senior Devontae Houston. Any one of those guys presents a home run threat for whoever ends up as the starting quarterback. Speaking of which…
Who’s at QB?
Coming out of the spring Snead and Evan Cofield were the top two candidates for the starting quarterback spot for Handley. But Cofield is the more experienced of the two, and, according to Strain, Snead played exclusively as a receiver when Handley participated in (and nearly won) the Piedmont passing camp last week.
The wildcard in this position battle is freshman Ty Fetner, the younger brother of Rhett Fetner, who QBed the aforementioned state championship team in 2016.
“He gets it. He understands it,” Strain said of the younger Fetner. “In that passing camp up there at Piedmont he made some throws, not with his arm strength, he just knows the timing of when to throw, knows what to read and the looks.”
Fetner’s size and inexperience may still keep him off the field, but he’s at least a name to remember for the future.
How good will the defensive line be?
The potential is there for a dominant Handley front four, and Brooks is the biggest (though no the only) reason for that.
In terms of raw ability and college potential, Brooks is elite. There’s no other way to put it. Strain’s conversations with the some of the college coaches recruiting Brooks, including Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt and Florida’s Dan Mullen, back that up.
“Pruitt’s already told me and Mullen’s already told me. He’s going to be the number one defensive player in the country his senior year. They already know,” Strain said.
The 247 Sports Composite, which is a combination of rankings from several national recruiting websites, has Brooks as the No. 17 overall prospect in the country, No. 1 in Alabama and the top prospect in the nation at his position for the class of 2021.
“He’s just a big old good young ‘un. He’s going to be able to get it done,” Strain said.
Jake Cottle will line up at the other defensive end, while Ahmad Staples and Brian Joiner will plug the middle.
“Jake Cottle’s a man over on the other side too. Ahmad Staples is pretty dang good, and Brian Joiner is too,” Strain said. “We’re excited about our defensive front. But still the proof is in the pudding. Us talking about it right now doesn’t mean anything until we go down there to LaFayette and do what we’re supposed to do.”
And, by the way, none of those four players are seniors.