August 20, 2014 9:29:10 PM
REFORM, Ala. -- Don't feel sorry for Nick Roberson.
He's not having any of it. Sure, Jermarcus Brown, Devonte Simon, Zev Finch, and 12 other seniors who led the Pickens County High School football team to the program's first state championship have moved on. Coach Patrick Plott also left Pickens County to become the head coach at Greenville.
If the changes weren't enough, Roberson, who was the defensive coordinator last season, is preparing for his team's season opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Addison as if he will have to be offensive and defensive coordinator this season.
If it sounds like the deck is stacked against Roberson and the Tornadoes, consider they have moved from Class 1A to Class 2A in the Alabama High School Athletic Association's latest reclassification.
Daunting? Yes. Impossible? No. That's the thinking Roberson is trying to pass on to his players as they prepare to move on with some of the state's best players from 2013.
"It was good to have stability, and I believe they like that I am here," said Roberson, who spent the past three seasons with Plott. "It is somebody they know, and I feel the same way because we know each other and we have been through a lot. It is time to see some of these younger kids grow up an, hopefully, blossom into some of these Jermarcus Browns and Simons."
Brown was named MVP of the Class 1A state championship game after rushing for a classification record 329 yards on 26 carries. He rushed for three of the team's five ground scores in a 38-18 victory against Maplesville. He and Finch signed to play football at Stillman, while Simon signed with Alabama A&M.
As explosive as the 15-0 Tornadoes were on offense, their defense was pretty stout, too. That unit appears to be ready to have another strong season, as does the offensive line with the return of key performers Malek Steele, Tyshawn Washington, Chris Cobb, and Devin Spruill.
Roberson knows he won't be able to replace the exploits of Brown and Simon, but he feels the team returns plenty of depth at running back. At quarterback, he believes sophomore Zach Thomas understands what he will have to do to be successful. He said he has stressed to Thomas the importance of taking care of the football and not trying to do too much.
"I don't know if they feel that pressure yet (to live up to what last year's team accomplished)," Roberson said. "The main thing is trying to keep them from being complacent. When you have that success for so long and you were not 'the man' that was up there and has been working, some of the younger ones, you have to watch them because just because you put on that cardinal jersey you are going to win every Friday. That is the thing to guard against with some of these younger ones. They were supplements, but a lot of them were not in those key roles, leadership roles. That is what we're working on. There was a lot of work that went into those (past) three years with those five losses."
At running back, Roberson said. Darrien Latham is one of a handful of players who could get work in the backfield. Tavarius Steele, Javarius Jackson, and A.B. Hamilton are in the mix at receiver.
"We're trying to keep the same work ethic to make them stay here with us and to keep their minds on the task," Roberson said. "We are young, but we are returning the majority of our offensive and defensive lines. The biggest concern will be a 10th-grade quarterback. The main thing with him is confidence. I want to get his confidence up because he needs to be that leader."
Pickens County, which is ranked No. 9 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason Class 2A poll, will have to contend with Fayetteville, Francis Marion, Holy Spirit, R.C. Hatch, Thorsby, and Vincent in Class 2A, Region 4. It moves into a classification that Tanner has dominated the past two seasons en route to back-to-back titles. The road doesn't begin with a cupcake, either, as Addison is No. 7 in Class 2A in the preseason poll.
But just Roberson doesn't allow all of the things that appear to be working against him faze him, he said the Tornadoes are eager to show they aren't rebuilding and that they will be heard this season.
"We have to find some leaders," Roberson said. "I try to draw on what happened last year with those 15 seniors because we had a lot of leaders. A lot of these young ones don't know how to be leaders yet. We're trying to ease them into the role and protect them a little bit and give them a little confidence to keep them moving forward."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.