Piedmont head football coach Steve Smith elected to play his Class 3A team against the big boys at the Jacksonville State University 7-on-7 competition on July 23. The Bulldogs were 2-0 and defeated two larger schools from Georgia, Cartersville and Calloway, before rain and lightning ended the competition much earlier than anticipated.
In their own 7-on-7 tournament on July 27, Piedmont was 8-0. The Bulldogs were 3-0 in pool play with wins over Cleburne County (36-13), Sand Rock (28-14) and Talladega County Central (24-7). They edged Susan Moore, also 3-0 in pool games, 21-20 in their crossover game. In elimination bracket play, Piedmont defeated the Piedmont junior varsity, Gaston, Ranburne and Jacksonville in order to win the tournament.
“I really thought our defense played well the first three games of the day,” Smith said of the Saturday competition. “I thought our pool play games were really good and then I thought we hit a little lull in our cross pool game with Susan Moore and then in the first game of the tournament against our team, our junior varsity squad. Then I thought we picked it up against Gaston, Ranburne and Jacksonville at the end. It was good, then it was kind of medium and then it was good again at the end.”
Smith said he thought the Bulldogs had a dozen interceptions in eight games. He particularly liked the picks by inside linebackers Neonta Alexander and Taylor Hayes. Jaret Prater had in interception in the end zone against Ranburne. C.J. Savage returned a pick for a touchdown and Smith credited Darnell Jackson with three interceptions.
As pre-season practice begins, Smith has three capable candidates to follow Cade Bradley at quarterback. The trio includes senior Ty Sparks, junior Tyler Lusk and freshman Taylor Hayes. Sparks, a transfer from Randolph County, and Lusk have gotten the bulk of the work with the varsity in 7-on-7 play.
“I think both those guys have proven that they can lead our team, at least in 7-on-7 competitions. It still remains to be determined in football. I think it would be safe to say they’re both going to play. Obviously, they’re both good enough athletes they can play other positions, too, but I think they both bring something to the table as quarterbacks that can help our team win,” said Smith.
Then he added, “Mixing Taylor into the mix, he does a lot of good things also. … We’re going to make it work out. It’s a tough situation for everybody to be in but it’s a good situation to have three guys that you feel that comfortable with that can lead the team. They’re all team players and they’re all three great kids. We’re going to make it work out.”
Smith also noted the play of receivers Savage, Denard Spears, Chase Keener and Cody Daughtry.
“I think Denard has come a long way. … C.J. was our go-to guy last year and we expect a lot of good things out of him but we like having another speedster on the other side in Denard, who’s just playing with a lot of confidence right now. I thought he really looked good out there,” Smith said. “And then our inside receivers, Cody Daughtry and Chase Keener, they’ve both really come a long way and improved a lot. I think we’re potentially the deepest we’ve ever been at receiver.”
Smith also praised the work done by members of the Piedmont booster club to make the passing competition at Piedmont run smoothly.
“The tournament is getting larger and larger every year. … We had a tremendous turnout again from our booster club,” he said. “They actually are the ones that put it on. Really, all I do is get the teams in it and draw up a bracket. They do all the work and they did a tremendous job again.”