It happens every season: Certain teams lose certain players that simply aren’t replaceable. One of those teams is set to play football for Fultondale High School in 2019, and must do so without the services of linebacker Ja’Len Sims.
The 6-foot-1 standout was a four-time ASWA All-State recipient and the 2018 Class 3A Lineman of the Year following a senior season that finished with 114 tackles, including 17 for a loss.
“You don’t just replace somebody like that [Sims],” said Fultondale head coach Don Dover. “It will be a team effort. No one person will come in and just become Ja’Len Sims. We have his two little brothers that we’re expecting to be very good defensive players for us and we’ve go to be solid at the other 10 positions also.”
His younger brothers, Brandon and Jeremy Sims, will be relied upon in the defensive huddle, but both have room to grow, according to Dover.
On the offensive side, Fultondale must fill a void left by a pair of quarterback transfers. Seniors-to-be Jayson Jones, a 2017 all-state selection, and Javon Davis, who served as Jones’ backup at Fultondale last year, have transferred to play for George Bates at Center Point. Those decisions have left the Wildcats with, at least for preseason camp, a two-quarterback system that includes a pair of converted pass-catchers.
Willie Smith and Jo Jo Hamaker might both take snaps in the season opener at Maplesville on Aug. 23.
“Both are very athletic, both fit what we’re trying to do with running the quarterback, get the ball to our athletes and stuff like that,” said Dover. “They’ve both grown since spring, being able to get the ball to our playmakers and also make plays on their own. They’re both receivers that did a great job for us last year, so they’re sharing duties right now and they both bring a skill set that’s a little different from each other that we look to take advantage of.”
“Willie is a senior and we would like to have that senior leadership, but both of them are very capable and whoever gives us the best chance to win will get the job,” he continued.
Whoever takes the snaps will play alongside senior running back Eyren Boyd in the backfield. Boyd served as the Wildcats’ primary ball carrier last year before suffering an injury against Midfield in mid-October. Junior Eltonte’ Reese and sophomore JeMarien Goree will be called upon to provide depth behind Boyd in 2019.
Fultondale will again compete in Class 3A, Region 5:
▪ Fultondale (9-2, 6-0)
▪ Midfield (9-2, 5-1)
▪ J.B. Pennington (6-6, 4-2)
▪ Holly Pond (6-5, 3-3)
▪ Locust Fork (4-6, 2-4)
▪ Vinemont (3-7, 1-5)
▪ Hanceville (1-9, 0-6)
Fultondale is currently riding an 18-game region winning streak, dating back to Sept. 2, 2016.
“These seniors would like to go out without ever losing a region game and having four region championships,” said Dover. “Each region game will be a big game because they want to be the one that breaks are winning streak in the region.”