Getting upfield

Handley running back Tae Meadows prepares for contact with a Notasulga defender during Friday's spring jamboree at Notasulga.

As the Handley Tigers took the field for Friday’s spring jamboree at Notasulga, the team showed an evident difference in one very important aspect of high school football – size.

“We’ve gotten bigger,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain.

The uniforms aren’t swallowing up the Handley players anymore, and that’s one of many reasons that the Tigers have to be optimistic about a continued upward trajectory for the team in the upcoming season.

“A lot of the kids that we had playing last year were young, so they were going to naturally grow in some respects,” Strain said. “But it has a lot to do with that weight room too. We’ve got a lot more bulk than what we’ve had before, a lot more strength. We can get off blocks and escape blocks and go make a tackle.”

Handley played against Ellwood Christian and Notasulga Friday, a pair of 1A teams that could not stack up against Handley talent-wise. Handley thumped Ellwood 32-0 in their two quarters of competition, then overcame an early hiccup against Notasulga to come away with a 28-6 victory.

Strain and his staff did not keep offensive stats for the game, so there aren’t any numbers beyond the score to quantify the team’s performance.

But Handley scored at will early against Ellwood, which allowed Strain to go deep into his bench for that matchup. Ellwood Christian will enter 2019 on a 36-game losing streak dating back to 2015, so Handley’s dominance was expected. The Tigers got a bit of a wake-up call against Notasulga when that dominance didn’t immediately carry over.

“I’m sure they thought to start with when we came into the game that we were just going to steamroll that team as well,” Strain said. “Of course Notasulga goes down and scores, and of course I wasn’t happy with that. But we regrouped. The offense went down and scored, and we pretty much shut them down from that point on.”

The scrimmages also gave Strain an opportunity to size up his quarterback situation for the first time, as Tae Snead and Evan Cofield battle to replace graduated starter Bootsie Lyons.

“The biggest concern really coming into the spring was the quarterbacks and what they were doing. Right now I don’t know who the one is,” Strain said.

Cofield is the more experienced of the two contenders. He got the start against Ellwood and drew praise for his decision making early on.

“As a matter of fact on the very first play he made the right read, he pulls it, everybody goes with [running back] Tae Meadows. [Cofield] pulls it and gets us a first down right off the bat,” Strain said.

But Strain said he saw enough out of both players to know that the competition between them probably won’t be decided until August.

“The decision-making process and how they handle the team and how they control the team was what I was looking for,” Strain said. “And I thought that both of them exhibited good leadership qualities and led us in the right way, kept us calm.”

One player that drew some buzz for Handley was newcomer Seidrion Langston, a rising junior wide receiver and defensive back who transferred to Handley from Lanett.

Langston is another player who fills out his uniform in impressive fashion.

“You’re talking about a 6-2, 6-3 guy out there at wide receiver that kind of looks the part and separates himself from everybody else simply because of his stature and his size,” Strain said. “So he commands respect just by looking at him to begin with. I think he’s somebody that’s going to really help us.”

But Langston has been much more than a physical presence for the Tigers.

“He is a very positive kid, and that really helps us in the leadership roles and points us in the right direction,” Strain said. “That’s one thing that we kind of missed last year. We had some kids that didn’t lead us the way I would like for them to lead us. They may have tried to lead us, but he’s doing it in a positive way.”

And of course Dylan Brooks, the Handley defensive end who has received a river of big-time Division I offers over the offseason, made his first on-field appearance since bursting onto the recruiting scene. Brooks had a relatively quiet night, compared with the elevated expectations that surround him. But his coach wasn’t worried.

“I think Dylan was actually pressing himself a little bit,” Strain said. “He needs to just relax and realize that it’s the game of football, and let it come to him. He’s got all those tools, and I think he was trying to press himself to make every play. He’s got 10 other kids on the field. But Dylan’s going to be fine.”

Handley will have the rest of the month off before returning for summer workouts starting June 3.

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