New Lanier coach C.J. Harris instructs players during a recent practice. The Poets open the 2013 season Thursday at Cramton Bowl. (Staff Photo)
(August 29, 2013)
It was early August and new Sidney Lanier coach CJ Harris was bouncing around practice as the team went through position drills. Working mostly with quarterbacks and running backs, he constantly drew an eye to other parts of the field watching and, occasionally, hollering across the way with a reminder of some sort to a player.
"Just trying to keep it moving," he said. "We’ve got a lot of work to do. And we don’t have a lot of time."
Time is now up. Game Day is here for the new coach.
Lanier, coming off another disappointing season, faces Northview Thursday at Cramton Bowl to open the Harris tenure.
"Its exciting," he said. "You work hard to get to this point and this group has worked very hard all season. They’ve made a commitment to the program and want to see improvement."
Lanier hasn’t had a winning season since 2006 when L.C. Cole was roaming the sidelines. The Poets have endured a losing season in all but two times since the turn of the century.
Harris, a Lanier grad, is well versed on the past but he and the Poets are looking ahead.
"You can look at records but we have kids that are hungry," he said. "Like I told them - there are a lot of great teams that existed but had to fight to get there. We are looking for consistency and excitement from this group. We are making sure we have the organization every day at practice."
He and his team face what has been called one of the biggest squads in the state. Northview is known for its size and that could cause problems for the Poets.
"I would say they have the biggest line in Alabama," he said. "They are massive."
Harris would know since he was an assistant at the school last season.
Lanier will have a new starting quarterback in Deandre Bibb, a junior who impressed Harris from the start.
"He is hungry," Harris said. "He wants to better his situation in life. He actually lives up the street from my parents so I see him every day."
Receiver Tristian Buyck returns and could be a record-breaker before he leaves Lanier. Harris wants the ball in his hands as much as possible this year.
"He’s a special player," Harris said. "He’ll get more chances as the season comes around."
Also on Thursday, Stanhope Elmore opens the season against Marbury. The Mustangs lost the bulk of their starters from last year’s 8-3 team and will have to deal with growing pains.
"We will start with very few seniors," SE coach Jeff Foshee said. "I have a lot of faith in this younger bunch."
Marbury felt the pains of skipping up two classifications last season but James Strickland believes his team is better prepared for the 5A class this time around.
"(Lack of) depth took its toll," Strickland said. "But this group has a chance to have a good year."
Northview at Sidney Lanier (7 p.m., Cramton Bowl)
2012 Records: Northview5-5 ; Lanier 3-7
Series Record: Northview leads, 12-11
Last Meeting: 2012 - Northview 16, Lanier 15
Key stat: In 2012 Lanier averaged just 19 points per game offensively with the two best performances coming against 5A Selma and 4A Greenville.
Outlook: C.J. Harris wants to bring the ghosts of Lanier back and with them the winning ways that haunted Poet opponents. He’s spoken with graduates and players long gone from the program looking for that spark. He wants the players to appreciate the history of the program and embrace it. That is the right idea but will it help win games? The Poets lack a lot of experience up front on both sides of the ball. Wideout Tristian Buyck is back and will probably lead the team in several offensive categories. But they need QB Deandre Bibb to grow up in a hurry and a defense that creates turnovers. It might be too much to ask for the first game of the season.
Prediction: Northview 14, Lanier 10
Marbury at Stanhope Elmore (7 p.m., Foshee-Henderson Stadium)
2012 Records: Marbury 1-9 ; SE 8-3
Series Record: Stanhope leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: 2012 - Stanhope 53, Marbury 7
Key stat: Stanhope lost eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Marbury will play its second year at the 5A level after a rough start in the class last year.
Outlook: The question was posed to Marbury coach James Strickland - when will Marbury compete at the 5A level? Possibly this year with the experience coming back. But the Bulldogs still have work to do. Ditto for Stanhope, which will basically be a new team this year. It sets up for what might be a closer game than one might think. The Mustangs are not expected to have starting quarterback Bishop Frazier tonight but should have enough to get past Marbury.
Prediction: Stanhope 25, Marbury 15
Last week: 0-0 Season: 0-0