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Who Are the AHSAA Coach of the Year Candidates Entering the Second Half of the Season?

Former Thompson assistant Jake Ganus has led Moody to a 6-0 record in his first season.

One of the greatest awards any high school football coach can receive is a Coach of the Year award. It can be particularly rewarding in regards to the Alabama Football Coaches Association presentation, in which the winner is selected by his peers.

So what criteria is generally considered in picking winners of such awards? First, those coaches who are having great seasons in terms of victories jump to the front. Later, those who make it to the championship games are always considered. Second, coaches who have taken their teams from losing seasons to winning seasons since taking over as head coach. Some coaches come into a program and change the attitude and culture of the school's football team within a year or two. Teams that have played tough schedules with success or had big upsets thrust their head coach into the conversation.

These awards will be determined by what happens in the second half of the season as well as the playoffs. But there are some coaches who have certainly distinguished themselves in August and September. Here is a look at three of the early leaders in each classification.

Class 7A

Tim Carter, Fairhope- The #2 ranked Pirates have lived on the edge in the first half, beating Spanish Fort by 6, Gulf Breeze by 7 and Choctawhatchee (Fl) by 4 to go 5-0. Coach Carter's team last year lost the first game, but then reeled off 9 wins in a row. There are some tough tests in the second half, but don't be surprised if Fairhope runs the table before hitting the playoffs.

Keith Etheredge, Auburn- Yes, they are ranked #1, but Coach Etheredge has brought his winning ways to the Tigers. They started with a huge opening season win over Hoover, but have looked more and more dominant each week. A semifinalist last year in his first season, Coach Etheredge's Tigers must still play rival Opelika and Central Phenix City, a team they lost to twice last season on the way to a 10-3 record.

Adam Winegarden, Tuscaloosa County- Leaving Auburn for Tuscaloosa County was a family thing for Coach Winegarden when he took the job to rebuild the Wildcats two years ago. Last season his team went went 1-9 and were competitive in only two games. But that seems to have changed, as County High has already won more games (4) than in any season since 2014. Look for the Wildcats to have a winning season as they have taken a giant step forward in 2022.

Class 6A

Jeff Kelly, Saraland- Success at Saraland is nothing new for Coach Kelly. In his 12th season with the Spartans, his teams have already had six 10 win seasons and two trips to the championship game. But this year Saraland has been especially dominant through a tough first half schedule. Undefeated Theodore looms ahead in late October, but expect the #1 ranked Spartans to make a deep playoff run before the year is out.

Richie Busby, Helena- Helena moved up to 6A in 2016 and won only four games in the first two seasons. But Coach Busby took over in 2018, and after a 4-6 opening campaign his teams have averaged over 8 wins a year. Good coaches win close games and in the past month his teams have lived on the edge of the cliff, winning two overtime games over Chilton County and Pelham, and last week notching a 16-13 win over Jackson Olin.

George Bates, Center Point- No one wanted to be the coach at Center Point when Coach Bates took the job in 2018. The Eagles had won only 3 games in 4 years. He has had nothing but winning seasons since his arrival. Moving up to Class 6A this season, Center Point is 5-1 and although they have a tough second half schedule, look for Coach Bates to keep his team in the running for a playoff berth.

Class 5A

Jake Ganus, Moody- What kind of year in Moody having? They are 6-0, and only once in the last 25 years has Moody won more than 6 games. The Blue Devils have lit up the scoreboard in Coach Ganus' first year, averaging almost 50 points per game. Locals are already talking about the possibility of a Leeds-Moody meeting on October 14th with both teams being undefeated.

Jerry Hood, Leeds- Coach Hood knows how to win and he has gradually returned the Leeds football program to success. His first team there went 2-8, but jumped to a 9 win and a 10 win season in the last two campaigns. The Greenwave is 5-0 and although some challenges remain, look for Coach Hood to make a deep playoff run.

Terry Curtis, UMS Wright- There have been more talented teams for Coach Curtis at UMS Wright, but the Bulldogs have had an impressive first half with wins over St. Pauls, T.R. Miller, LeFlore, Gulf Shores and Vigor. This team just plays hard, and has handled the extra burden of being ranked #1 in Class 5A. Look for UMS Wright to make a strong bid for an undefeated regular season and a deep playoff run in one of Coach Curtis' best coaching jobs.

Class 4A

Trent Taylor, Andalusia- It is no news that Trent Taylor has a good team. But this #3 ranked Andalusia team might just be special. The Bulldogs can make the big play on offense, and have returned to 4A after two years in 5A. They beat a talented Milton (Fl) team the second game, and have not been challenged since. How close is Coach Taylor's team to #1 ranked Montgomery Catholic? The two play in Andalusia on October 21st.

Chris Foster, Priceville- When Coach Foster took over as head coach at Priceville in 2019, the team had won only 4 games in 3 years. Priceville has had nothing but winning seasons since, and last year his team won a school record 10 games. Look for the Bulldogs to continue their win streak and play for the region championship on October 21st against Randolph.

Rico White, Anniston- The last time Anniston started a season 6-0 was over 20 years ago. Coach White's team has won three close games, including last week's upset over #1 ranked 3A Piedmont, which moved them into a #4 ranking. The Bulldogs have #2 ranked Handley this week, and another upset could propel Anniston into the playoffs with a lot of momentum.

Class 3A

Roger McDonald, Dadeville- After two 6-4 campaigns, the veteran coach has the Tigers running on all cylinders with a 5-0 record. Known for his desire to run the ball on almost every play, McDonald has Dadeville ranked for the first time since September of 2015. It appears that Randolph County may be the only thing standing between Dadeville and a region championship and undefeated regular season.

Ashley Kilcrease, Straughn- When Coach Kilcrease took over Straughn football last season, he pushed the Tigers to their first winning season since Trent Taylor left in 2014. This season Coach Kilcrease's team is 4-1 with victories over Pike County and Clarke County. The Tigers have big region games with Houston Academy and Opp coming up in the second half.

Eddie Brundidge, Houston Academy- When Coach Brundidge was elevated to the head coach spot last year, he led the Raiders to only its second winning record in the last 8 seasons. HA has been as dominant as anyone in the first half of the year- outscoring teams 212 -22 in 5 games. Big region challenges loom in the second half, but Coach Brundidge's team is shooting for its first undefeated regular season since 2006 and a possible playoff run.

Class 2A

Steven Kilcrease, Ariton - When Coach Kilcrease arrived in 2016, he brought a new brand of football to the Purple Cats. They have been a consistent playoff team and have had three 10 win seasons. The Cats have been ringing up points this season and have victories over some good teams - Straughn and G.W. Long. Their only loss is to an undefeated Highland Home team by one point. Look for Ariton to go deep into the 2A playoffs.

Tate Leonard, Isabella- The Mustangs opened the year with big victories over Maplesville and Thorsby that has positioned them to a #5 ranking. Coach Leonard's team has averaged over 50 points per game. Since taking over in 2016, Coach Leonard has led the Mustangs to a record of 63-15. Isabella looks like they could have their fifth10 win season since Coach Leonard's arrival.

Will Pouncey, Highland Home- No doubt, the Flying Squadron has been flying high since the season started. Coach Pouncey's squad is 6-0, ranked #2, and has victories over the likes Ariton, Lanett and Brantley. After a 5-5 regular season last year, the Flying Squadron made it all the way to the semi finals. Look for Coach Pouncey to push his team to a deep playoff run and don't be surprised if they make it to the Super 7.

Class 1A

Berry Bess, Georgiana- They call it a "turn around". After suffering through a 0-10 season last fall in his first year at Georgiana, Coach Bess has the Panthers undefeated. There have been four close games and there are some of the big 1As (Elba and Brantley) left in the second half schedule, but 0-10 to 6-0 in one year is worthy of Coach of the Year consideration.

Charles Hammon, Valley Head- It has been a wild first half for Coach Hammon, winning every game by averaging 44 points each Friday, but also giving up 30 points a game. The Tigers have some size and a strong running game and the offense is filling the stands. If the defense can improve, the #6 ranked Tigers might just win their first playoff game since 2007.

Houston Powell, Meek- When Coach Powell became the head coach at Meek in 2020, the orange clad Tigers had only 2 winning seasons in 18 years. That culture has changed and after an 8-4 mark last season, Meek is undefeated after 5 games. The Tigers look to make the playoffs and attempt to make it to the playoff quarterfinals for the first time in nearly 30 years and possibly their first 10 win season since 1990.


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