Prep football: Saks, Wellborn prepare for county showdown in opener
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Aug 28, 2013 | 2725 views |  0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks coach Jonathan Miller is preparing for a big Wellborn offensive attack. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Saks coach Jonathan Miller is preparing for a big Wellborn offensive attack. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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After Wellborn High averaged 40.7 points a game last year, including scoring 34 points against Saks to open the season, Wildcats coach Jonathan Miller knows all about the challenge Wellborn brings.

“That’s the last offense you want to see at the beginning of the year,” Miller said. “We did a very poor job last year because we had a lot of guys that didn’t have much experience. Hopefully this year with us being a more mature team we’ll be able to handle it better.”

Saks will have another chance against the Class 2A No. 4 Panthers on Friday as the Wildcats visits for the season opener. Wellborn won last year's matchup of Calhoun County rivals 34-14, breaking a three-game losing streak in the series.

However, neither team is the same as a year ago.

For Saks, Miller has created a huge talking point for opponents by moving former wide receiver Tre Smith to quarterback. Wellborn coach Jeff Smith has certainly taken notice.

“I think they’ll be completely different than they were last year because what Tre Smith does at quarterback adds a whole different dimension,” Smith said. “He’s got a good arm and can throw it, but he switches to the (Wildcat), then you have to make sure you have someone spying the quarterback the whole game.”

However, with a big change like quarterback, and also Devontae Young and Calvin Figueroa taking over in the backfield, Miller said the Wildcats are still working on coming together, something he hopes “won’t take long” for the offense.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “The offensive line is coming along and obviously bringing in a new quarterback takes some time, but the more reps they get every day the better we get.”

Wellborn isn’t without changes, either. The Panthers have former fullback Landon Machristie stepping in at quarterback, but the junior will have Chantz Goodman and Kevin Mixon returning in the backfield to help the transition. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards a year ago.

Despite having only Jaleel Burton returning on the offensive and defensive lines, Wellborn’s wing-T has not sputtered with Machrisite under center.

“You’ve got to be ready for a lot of misdirect,” Miller said. “They have a lot of skill players and that makes it a whole lot tougher to get ready for the wing-T when you have to count for their speed and the guys that can take it the distance.

“You have to hold your breath on the sideline and hope they don’t take it to the house.”

Similarly to Wellborn’s concern about Tre Smith bringing new elements to Saks’ game, Miller said the Wildcats are preparing for the Panthers to throw the ball more after Machristie completed 6 of 12 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns in last weekend’s Champions Challenge.

“You’ve got to prepare for everything a team does and we’re aware they’ve had some success throwing,” Miller said. “We just have to focus on our scheme and players doing their job on every play. There’s a lot going on when you play a wing-T team.”

Although Machristie’s passing game kept Wellborn in the game last Saturday against Class 3A No. 5 Straughn, the Panthers fell 35-26. Saks defeated Class 1A teams Cedar Bluff 25-0 and Gaylesville 25-7 in jamboree play Thursday.

But despite the two wins, Miller said the team focused solely on this week. After all, those two games didn’t count, this one does.

“We’re just trying to stay focused right now,” he said. “This is the first week of putting in a real game plan. Last week is just an afterthought, we’re just focused on trying to beat Wellborn.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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