Aug. 4—Editor's note: High school football practice has started, and Anniston Star Sports Writer Joe Medley has begun his annual round of preseason visits to all 12 football-playing schools in Calhoun County. Check The Star's Facebook page for live interviews each weekday. His columns and fun facts will also appear on The Star's website, social-media platforms and in print editions.
Rico White has made one thing clear already this preseason. The Bulldogs are mad.
Mad at how the 2021 season ended, with two AHSAA-imposed forfeits taking Anniston from region champions to fourth-place finishers and opening the playoffs on the road instead of at home.
White, Anniston's fifth-year coach, made it clear at Calhoun County Quarterback Club Media Day how much he and his team look forward to a region game against Jacksonville. Forfeiting a victory over Jacksonville a year ago made all of the difference in a region where all four playoff qualifiers finished either 5-1 or 4-2 in region play.
White said the player in question was eligible, then wasn't in Dragonfly, the AHSAA's eligibility clearinghouse.
"It's just strange when you beat people, and then, all of a sudden, problems come up," he said.
Indeed, the Dawgs gone mad ... just not mad like that.
Not mad like some in Calhoun County pockets outside of Anniston's city limits seem to think.
Not mad in urban-legend ways that make some schools hesitant to play the Bulldogs in non-region games, especially in Anniston's Lott-Mosby Stadium.
That's something else that White wanted to get off his chest at Media Day, while talking about the difficulties in scheduling non-region games. Maybe it's time minds opened and ears listened.
A look down Anniston's schedule this year shows two open dates, Oct. 7 and Oct. 28. White said it could've easily been four, had Anniston not scheduled a home game against Villa Rica (Ga.) and agreed to play Piedmont on the road two years in row, with Piedmont agreeing to split the gate.
"I've done heard all kinds of stories from before I came here," White said.
Most infamously, gunfire rang out near Oxford's Lamar Field in 2006, forcing players and coaches from Anniston and Oxford, game officials and fans to duck and cover. The person who fired the gun was found to have no connection to Anniston High School.
Anniston and Oxford haven't played since, though White said he has reached out to resume one of Calhoun County's most historic rivalries. He offered to play at Jacksonville State with a split gate.
Ask people, and you'll hear similar heres and theres about things allegedly happening outside of Lott-Mosby Stadium. What I never hear are things happening within the confines of Anniston's home venues ... things that couldn't happen in any other school's venues.
Wellborn and Ohatchee played non-region football games at Lott-Mosby and saw Anniston return the favor to their venues over the past two seasons. Anything?
Yours truly has worked in this area for nearly 26 years. I've yet to hear a story of harm to opposing team personnel or fans involving things that couldn't happen anywhere, when sports heat passions.
I've covered games and interviewed folks within Anniston High, at Lott-Mosby, in the fieldhouse and on the practice field regularly, every year I've worked in this market. It always came off without a moment's alarm, and I never expected differently.
I've felt nothing but the presence of good people. It's amazing what body language that gives folks the benefit of doubt can unlock.
Want to talk to teachers and coaches who care, come to work and do their best every day? Like every school. Anniston has those.
Want a warm smile and handshake? Try big Ryqueze McElderry, the offensive lineman who has committed to Alabama. He's only scary from across the line of scrimmage.
Want to talk to a kid whose humility belies his production? Talk to quarterback Kamron Sandlin, who recently committed to South Carolina.
Those who have experienced Anniston kids cutting loose with a "H-A-P-P-Y" cheer in their locker room have experienced happy young people celebrating. Is there anything better?
"Anniston ain't what people perceive it to be," White said. "Anniston is a great place."
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.