Gardendale enters its second season under head coach Chad Eads who, for the second time, will take a stab at what many consider the toughest region in Class 6A.
The Rockets qualified for the 2018 playoffs as the 4-seed coming out of Region 6, behind No. 8 Oxford, No. 3 Clay-Chalkville and No. 1 Pinson Valley. Those teams rank seventh, fourth and first, respectively, in the 2019 AHSAA preseason poll.
Eads hopes to attack a tough region slate with with offensive and defensive units that go together like fun and games.
“I think our offense and defense are perfect compliments of each other,” said Eads. “If we can keep our defense off the field with our offense and our defense is rested when they come out on the field, I think we’re a perfect compliment of each other.”
“Our offense needs to be best friends with our defense and the other way around,” he continued.
That relationship starts with junior quarterback Will “Goose” Crowder, who enters his second season as a full-time starter. Standing at 6-2, Crowder posted 2,000-plus yards of offense last season as a sophomore and collected his first Southeastern Conference scholarship offer this summer when Arkansas pulled the trigger.
“Just this summer he kind of saw the light at the end of the tunnel and he’s just pushed even harder than he ever has and every day you go in there and you can just see a look of determination on his face,” said senior tight end Bailey Parsons of his quarterback. “There’s something he’s striving for and that’s to be the best he can for Gardendale and then wherever he goes to college.”
Parsons, a Stanford pledge, is part of a talented group of pass-catchers that includes Stephen Lewis and Kendal Fowler.
“Bailey [Parsons] is a weapon for us at tight end. He’s kind of a security blanket for our quarterback,” said Eads. “He’s the guy to go to when we need a five-yard catch and he can make that catch with a crowd around him and get away from people and that gives us that security to feel good about dropping back to throw the ball on third-and-5, third-and-6.”
New offensive coordinator Heath McCoy will get the call in such situations this fall. McCoy coached the Clay-Chalkville offense to nearly 40 points per game last year and his return to Gardendale was a natural fit following the exit of Rodney Bivens. McCoy previously worked under former Rockets’ head coach Matt Plunkett.
“Our philosophies are very much alike,” said Eads of McCoy. “We’re able to do, personnel-wise, what I want to do on offense and that’s what Heath wants, too. He’s not coming in trying to figure out what can Bailey [Parsons] do or what Kendale [Allen] can do. He already knows them.”
Senior Jayson Brooks returns as the team’s most experienced call carrier and his guidance could be central to the growth of sophomore running back LT Sanders, who flashes big-play potential, but continues to work on his grasp of his offensive responsibilities.
Defensive coordinator Eric Firestone returns for his second season at Gardendale. His unit allowed 28 points per game last year and returns six starters to the field in 2019, including Kendale Allen, Kenny McShan, Kaniji Chandler, Corey Tamper, Justin Parks and Derek Carter.