August 26, 2009 9:25:00 AM
Josh Harper has a lot on his mind.
The South Lamar High School football coach is about to embark on his first season as a head coach at his alma mater, and he''s faced with the task of preparing for the team''s archrival his first game.
The Harper era at South Lamar begins at 7 p.m. Friday when the Stallions kick off their season at Lamar County in Vernon, Ala.
"It''s, I guess, more stressful, more stressful," said Harper, who was promoted from defensive coordinator this past June. "I''m going through the checklist in my mind and dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts. It''s a little exciting and a little stressful. There are a lot of things going through my head. Right now it''s, ''Do I have the boys ready, do I have the boys ready?''"
But Harper wouldn''t have it any other way. He couldn''t think of anything better than to coach at his alma mater and to have his first game be against South Lamar''s nemesis.
"I guess this is the way it''s supposed to happen," Harper said. "Everything happens for a reason, and I think we''re here in this situation for a reason. It''s going to be a big test for us.
"I couldn''t ask for a bigger game. I couldn''t ask for a better opponent. It''s just all around a great big measuring stick for us to see where we need to be."
Harper was a member of South Lamar''s varsity football team from 1989-92 and the Stallions went 3-1 against Lamar County those years. The only year Harper experienced defeat in the rivalry was his senior season when the Stallions lost 38-0.
South Lamar had beaten Lamar County in five consecutive season openers before losing last year''s meeting 28-16 in Millport, Ala.
Harper''s voice hinted it''s special when South Lamar plays Lamar County regardless of when the teams play.
"This is Vernon week," Harper said. "Just having Vernon on the horizon, that is exciting and overwhelming. It''s been a long, traditional rivalry between South Lamar and Vernon. There''s a lot on our shoulders. We''ve got a lot to live up to. We''ve got a lot to make up for losing to Vernon last year in the fashion we did. It was a hard-fought ballgame last year, and I look to have the same type of atmosphere this year."
This will be Lamar County coach Ken Adams'' third taste of the rivalry with South Lamar. He lost in his Lamar County debut 32-18 before the Bulldogs won last year''s game.
"It''s rough," Adams said. "This is one of the harder games Vernon has on the schedule. You know when you play them they''re going to play hard for four quarters."
Adams said Harper''s debut gives the Stallions even more incentive. He said it''s not a matter of going easy on Harper in his debut as a head coach.
"I hope he goes easy on me," Adams said. "They''ve got some really talented players, and he''s done a good job. He''s been there and they know him. I see them continuing the success they had last year (when the Stallions made it to the third round of the playoffs and finished 9-4). They were a very good football team when we played them and they just got better and better all year."
Friday will be Harper''s first chance to see his players in a game situation, while Lamar County played Winfield in a jamboree this past Thursday, suffering a 14-0 loss.
"I think it was good for the kids to play and go against other people," Adams said. "You can get it on film and show them their mistakes. The things we''d been trying to tell them came up Thursday and they didn''t realize it until they played somebody else."
Meanwhile, Harper is anxious to see how his players respond under the lights with just seven returning lettermen, which includes two offensive starters and three defensive starters.
The returning offensive starters are junior center Cory Jones and freshman guard Tremaine Willingham. Senior Brad McCool (free safety), Malcolm Willingham (cornerback) and Tremaine Willingham (tackle) return on defense.
South Lamar has to replace Justin Brock (2,101 yards) and Nathan Funk (1,748 yards) in the backfield, and Harper is looking for Malcolm Willingham and Ken Mitchell to succeed them.
"There are going to be some kids Friday night who are going to come out of their shell and there are going to be some, unfortunately, who have worked hard at practice and, all of a sudden when those lights come on, it changes for the worse," Harper said. "We hope we have the ones who come out of their shell more than those who sort of shell up. That''s the exciting thing. I''m not really worried about them shelling up. I think we''ve got a good group of kids that are ready to play."
n Hamilton at Sulligent: Three weeks after having colon surgery, Sulligent coach Dwight Bowling will be on the sideline for his team''s season opener Thursday against Hamilton.
Bowling was on the sideline for Sulligent''s jamboree against Marion County a week ago Thursday, and he practiced with the team for the first time Monday.
"I''ve been feeling real good," Bowling said. "I made it pretty good (at practice). I''ve tried to take it real easy. It went pretty good for the first day.
"The doctor told me I''d be out for six weeks, but two and a half weeks is plenty for a coach. I''m taking it pretty easy. He said it would be six weeks for me to completely heal. I''m not at school. I may go Friday, I don''t know. I may wait to the first of next week. It depends on how Thursday goes. I''m just going to practice in the afternoons right now."
Sulligent beat Marion County 38-6 and Bowling credited the assistant coaches for getting the team prepared for the season.
Bowling said Sulligent running back Steven Stewart rushed more than 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in less than a half in the jamboree.