2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Warriors utilizing the weight room in hopes of successful season

Cherokee County High School football coach Jacob Kelley watches as Jack Amos and Whit Johnson during a bull drill at practice on Wednesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

CENTRE – Cherokee County High School senior lineman Jay Watts calls Warrior head coach Jacob Kelley “the best weight room coach in the state of Alabama.”

Judging by the size of many of the Warrior players at practice, Watts just might be on to something there.

“I’ve been watching all my teammates get their maxes up 30 or 40 percent more than what it was two weeks before. It’s amazing,” Watts said.

It’s been no secret how big Kelley is on the weight room since his Warrior arrival in 2019. And Year 3 might just be the Warriors’ biggest yet, pardon the pun.

“They’ve bought into the offseason program, gotten tremendously stronger, worked extremely hard,” Kelley said. “It’s been real tough on them since we got back from (last year’s playoff opponent) Mobile (Christian). We didn’t even wait until January. We kicked it into high gear right after that.

“It’s just a mindset and total commitment to the program. It’s showing. They have gotten stronger. They have gotten faster. That directly correlates to better play on the field.”

Experience, and a brand new turf field, doesn’t hurt either.

The Warriors return senior all-state and reigning Cherokee County Offensive Player of the Year, running back Damien Ramsey. Ramsey ran for 1,217 yards and 14 touchdowns on 192 carries last season. He also caught 12 passes for 125 yards and another score.

Ramsey also doubles as one of the Warriors top playmakers on defense. At linebacker last season, he made 80 tackles, including four for lost yardage.

“The best thing about Damien is he’s gotten down to 215-220 (pounds),” Kelley said. “He’s probably stronger than he’s ever been, but he’s also faster than he’s ever been. He’s built his gas tank up this offseason. He’s had a tremendous summer and tremendous fall camp. He’s tough to bring down when he gets downhill. Our offensive line has done a great job to make him look extremely good, but he doesn’t do a bad job of making himself look extremely good himself by the way he runs the ball. He’s physical. I’m looking for big things out of him.”

Ramsey is anxious to show off his improved physique.

“I can’t wait to be on the field under the lights, get that ball in my hands and just run. It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “Last year, we had a great offensive line to help me get all those yards and do the things I did. This year, I think we’re bringing back just as good a line, if not better. I’ve gotten bigger, faster, stronger. I think we can have a lot of rushing yards this year.”

Ramsey isn’t the only weapon the Warrior offense has returning.

Junior quarterback Cade Hopper is back behind center after being thrust into the starting role following an injury to Slade Alexander a month into last season.

“Having those reps last year helped tremendously for Cade to see where he needs to be, see where he’s got to go, see what we need out of him to be the leader of this team,” Kelley said. “I would say he’s had a tremendous off-season, adding 15-20 pounds, getting bigger, getting faster, getting stronger. He went to some camps this summer and did well in 7-on-7s, strengthened that arm and got a grasp of the offense.”

Hopper said he’s more comfortable in the Warrior offense this season.

“Last year I got thrown in, but I have a lot of good players surrounding me, so it’s a lot easier for me,” he said. “It makes my job so much easier having Whit (Johnson), Malachi Horton, Jack Amos, Damien. I have a lot of playmakers. I just have to get the ball to them so they can make plays.”

As Hopper mentioned, the Warriors also return a speed burner in Johnson at wideout, along with Horton and Amos.

“Whit is kind of leading the charge right there. He’s always deep threat and a big-play guy if he gets the ball in space,” Kelley said. “You’ve also got Malachi Horton and Jack Amos, those guys have come a long way. They’re just as deadly. You’ve also got Alex Johnson, who’s worked hard in the weight room, got himself to where we need him. He can spell guys or come in. You’ve got Lamycal Mitchell, who’s had a great offseason. He’s like the lightning along with Damien (Ramsey’s) thunder. You’ve got CJ Gresham who came to us in February. He can also play quarterback. He’s another weapon we have.”

There will be some new faces blocking for the Warrior playmakers. Cherokee County lost four of its five starting lineman from last season, returning only Watts at left tackle.

“We were some pretty big dudes last season, but now we have a smaller group,” Watts said. “Now I’ve got to work down and be more conditioned as them because I’m the biggest one on the line this year (6-foot-3, 300 pounds).”

Despite the losses, Kelley feels the Warriors won’t miss a beat.

“I really feel like we have a chance to be better up front than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here, and we weren’t bad last year,” he said. “They seem to get the scheme extremely well. They’ve had a great two weeks of camp just executing and getting after it.”

The Warrior defensive line is also on the younger side. Junior Dalton Chesnut is the lone returning starter.

“He’s one of the strongest kids we have in the program,” Kelley said. “He’s really tough to block. He’s very slippery and kind of wreaks havoc.”

Joining Chesnut along the defensive front is Landon Ransum, Caleb Harbour, Braden Chandler, Aiden Mefford and Tae Diamond.

“All those guys are competing right now,” Kelley said. “The next couple of weeks will tell us a lot on the defensive front seven for us, but we’ve got some healthy competition there right now.”

Joining Ramsey in the linebacker corps is Alex Loyd, Carson Emmett, Harbour and Diamond.

The Warrior secondary returns a lot of experience in Whit Johnson, Horton, Amos and Walker Pruett. Haden Wheeler, Mitchell and Gresham are also expected to be in the rotation.

On special teams, the Warriors return senior Daniel Mejia at placekicker.

“Daniel is a weapon,” Kelley said. “Whenever we get within 55 (yards), he’s in range if he can just get it down the middle. He has a tremendous leg. He can put it in the end zone on kickoffs.”

The ingredients are certainly there for the Warriors to make a run at the Class 4A, Region 4 title, but it won’t be easy. The region features defending state champion Handley, along with Jacksonville, Anniston, Munford, Cleburne County and White Plains.

“We’re very proud to be in Region 4 because of its competitiveness,” Kelley said. “We feel like if we can compete in this region, compete for the region championship, and get in the playoffs, we’re going to be ready for the playoffs. I think our guys are up for the challenge. They better be, because if you’re not, you’re going to get exposed pretty quickly.”

The Warriors open the 2021 season at rival and Class 3A semifinalist Piedmont on Aug. 27.

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