Calhoun County Media Day: Anniston has 'teams on our list'

·4 min read

Jul. 29—Preseason media-day events live in the most recent season while hyping the next, and Rico White had a foot in both seasons during Calhoun County Quarterback Club Media Day.

"There's some teams on our list," the fifth-year Anniston High football coach said during Friday's fourth edition at Anniston Country Club. "That's all I'm going to say."

White said that when asked if this season had a theme. His teams have played to themes in past seasons, memorably the "revenge tour" of 2021 after an 0-5 start to 2020.

White said the Bulldogs don't focus on revenge, but it's not hard to figure what he had in mind with "teams on our list."

Anniston returns two Southeastern Conference commits, quarterback Kamron Sandlin (South Carolina) and offensive lineman Ryqueze McElderry (Alabama), on a talented roster with 23 seniors. The Bulldogs hope to improve on 2021's fourth-place region finish and first-round playoff loss.

That's because of off-field circumstances that kept Anniston from a better region finish and, potentially, a better playoff fate.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association ruled the Bulldogs had to forfeit a non-region victory over Ohatchee and a region victory over Jacksonville, citing an ineligible player.

The news came soon after Anniston beat Handley on the road five games deeper into the season and appeared headed for a region title. Region winners play their cross region's No. 4 qualifier in first-round playoff games at home. No. 4 finishers go on the road to play the cross region's champion.

Anniston wound up going on the road and lost to Region 2 champion St. James, 28-26, instead of playing host to Region 2 No. 4 qualifier Geneva.

How the season ended, and the circumstances that affected Anniston's region finish and playoff lot, clearly have stuck in the craw of Anniston's coach, who sought to clear the air Friday.

White disputed that Anniston knowingly played an ineligible player, citing Dragonfly, the AHSAA's eligibility and roster system. In the version of Dragonfly that coaches and administrators see, names appear in red letters until proper documentation is attached to certify eligibility. Once a player is certified as eligible, his name changes from red to black letters.

"A lot of people thought, 'Well, coach, you played an ineligible player,'" White said. "Well, no, we didn't. We had a kid in Dragonfly that was black, which, black means you're ready. You're good to go, and then, after a couple of games, he turned red, so we had to forfeit those games.

"For whatever reason, it changed back. There's a million stories out there. One thing about it: what can we do about last year? We're going to handle it this year, so we're going to make sure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' crossed."

White said he reached out to AHSAA executive director Alvin Briggs to check the Bullogs' records.

"We're going to report ourselves and let him check everything and make sure everything it's on point," White said. "This year, when we get out there, we ain't going to leave no doubts."

As for which teams White had in mind when he referred to a list, Jacksonville is the only team to which Anniston forfeited last season that waits on Anniston's 2022 schedule. The Bulldogs' beat Jacksonville 20-9 in a game in which Jacksonville quarterback Jim Ogle didn't play.

Anniston's region alignment remains largely the same in the new two-year realignment cycle, with Talladega replacing Cherokee County. Besides Talladega, Anniston shares Class 4A, Region 4 with Munford, Jacksonville, White Plains, Handley and Cleburne County.

White's references to last season's forfeits stood out in a day that saw coaches and players from all 12 football-playing schools in Calhoun County take their turns at the head table at Anniston Country Club.

Among notable topics were new head coaches, with Donoho's Jeremy Satcher and Ohatchee's Chris Findley making their first appearances. Findley took over Ohatchee's program as an interim head coach at midseason in 2021, and Satcher was hired during the offseason.

Oxford's new "Oxford gold" helmet, which replaces the traditional black helmets, drew lots of questions.

Another hot topic was the county's returning star quarterbacks, including fourth-year Piedmont starter Jack Hayes, who stands near multiple AHSAA records.

White was asked about Anniston's Sept. 9 home game against Jacksonville in the context of a quarterback showdown between Sandlin and Ogle.

"I'm sure there will probably be fireworks," White said. "At the same time, we're going to try to control that.

"Jacksonville has a great quarterback, great coach. Last year, we beat them, but unfortunately, due to Dragonfly and some more issues, we had to forfeit that game. I don't even want to go into details about that, because it's just strange when you beat people, and then, all of a sudden, problems come up.

"At the same time, I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the Jacksonville game, especially. As a team, we'll be ready for that."

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.