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2022 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW: Piedmont gearing up for another successful run

Piedmont quarterback Jack Hayes prepares to throw a pass at a recent Bulldog practice. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

PIEDMONT – Piedmont senior quarterback Jack Hayes is on pace to set several records during the 2022 high school football season. Among them are state marks for career touchdown passes and touchdowns responsible for.

But there’s really only one number that matters to Hayes and Bulldog head coach Steve Smith.

“Really just another state championship to end my football career,” Hayes said at Calhoun County’s Media Day back in July. “There’s no other goals really other than just to win a state championship.”

“At the end of the day, Jack will have a lot of numbers. He’ll have some records and all that type stuff, but the only thing I look at, at the end of the day, is how many times you checked off the ‘W,’” Smith said.

“I think the neatest record for Jack to shoot for is I think it’d be really cool to start 60 games at quarterback. There isn’t but one way that could happen (by reaching the 3A state title game in December). That’s what I’m focused on, and that’s what Jack is focused on.”

Hayes has 45 starts under his belt for the Bulldogs. His first start came as an eighth grader. He’s got 15 as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore, and 15 as a junior.

“That aligns to what my focus always is, for our team to make as deep a run in the playoffs as possible,” Smith said. “If the individual records come along the way, then so be it, but I think being able to take your team deep in the playoffs is any quarterback’s goal for any school. That’s certainly what we’re going to focus on here.”

Last season, Hayes passed for 2,673 yards and 38 touchdowns. He was only intercepted twice in 258 pass attempts. Hayes, the reigning Alabama Sports Writers Association 3A Back of the Year, also rushed for 1,027 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Bulldogs earned their fifth state title.

One weapon he’ll have to throw to in 2022 is senior wide receiver Max Hanson, who himself has had quite a journey. Hanson started at receiver as a freshman, played safety as a sophomore, come back as a receiver last year, but suffered a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss seven games in the regular season. When Hanson did come back, he played as a safety for the Bulldog defense, but this season, Hanson’s back on the offensive side of the ball.

“It was hard going through an injury like that, just seeing the guys out on the field knowing you can’t help them in any way,” Hanson said. “I’m just ready to play this year.”
Hayes calls Hanson “a complete receiver.”

“Max is a gritty guy and he’s going to get it done no matter what it takes,” Hayes said. “He can catch the ball. He’s probably the best blocker we have on our team as a receiver. He just goes full speed every play and gives it all he has for us.”

Smith describes Hanson as “the ultimate team player.”

“You’ve never heard Max Hanson complain,” Smith said. “He’s been doing whatever he needed to do to help the team out. You give me a team full of Max Hansons and I’ll play anybody.”

Joining Hanson in the Bulldog receiving corps is senior Gatlin Gardner, who emerged in his absence last season. Senior Thomas Propst, sophomore Ishmael Bethel, senior Jake Austin, and juniors McClane Mohon and Trevor Pike are expected to see playing time in the rotation.

In the Bulldog backfield with Hayes is senior returning starter Parker Thornton and junior Dontavious Jordan. Freshman Rollie Pinto, senior Cody Holloway and junior Luke Rhinehart will also be in the backfield rotation.

A senior-laden group will be blocking for the Bulldog playmakers, including returning starter Connor Williams. Landon and Braden McDaniels, ChrisJon Gurley and Caedon Ooten will also help anchor the offensive line.

On the defensive line, the Bulldogs return their entire front which includes junior Fisher Adams, junior Chance Murphy and senior Trent Young. Senior Cam Lockridge and junior Dalton Griffith have both been working in the rotation there also.

Senior Brody Epps returns as a fourth-year starter at inside linebacker. Rhinehart and sophomore Brodie Homesley will also see playing time there.

Sophomores Jalen Helm, Kale Austin and Cole Wilson join senior Rhett Alford are the Bulldog outside linebackers.

Holloway, Mohon, Pike and Austin will flip from receiver to the secondary, along with junior Jacob McElroy and sophomores Davion Stitts and Demetrius Owen.

Senior Sloan Smith returns as the Bulldog kicker and punter.

“It’s a good group,” Coach Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of playing experience. We’ve got 20 seniors on the team this year. We can’t use inexperience as an excuse this year. We’ve also got some guys who are going to have to step up. We had a lot of production lost last year to graduation. A lot of guys who have been biding their time serving in a backup capacity or B-team guys I’ve got full confidence in to step up and get the job done.”

Piedmont shifts over from Region 5 to Region 6 this season, which also includes Geraldine, Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Ohatchee, Plainview, Sylvania and Westbrook Christian.

Non-region opponents include the Bulldogs’ season opener at Highway 9 rival Cherokee County on Aug. 26, the first meeting with Anniston since 1948 on Sept. 22, and a first-ever meeting with Class 5A Sylacauga to close out the regular season on Oct. 28.

“Our kids, if they hunger for competition, they’ve got a schedule that’s going to provide it for them each and every week,” Coach Smith said. “We have to go on the road a lot. We’ve got six road games this year, starting the 26th at Cherokee County. We’re going into some tough places to play against some people who have high expectations.”

Piedmont receiver Ishmael Bethel snags a touchdown pass over a B.B. Comer defender during a 7-on-7 at Piedmont back in July. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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