Powers collide in 11th Champions Challenge
Six prep football powers are set to kick off the 2016 high school football season this weekend at the 11th annual Champions Challenge Football Classic this weekend at Cramton Bowl.
“No doubt we have six of the top programs in the state playing in the Champions Challenge this year,” said Alvin Briggs, Director of the AHSADCA. “We have six outstanding coaches that have won 12 state championships between them.”
The classic opens Thursday with Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa facing Demopolis in a battle of west Alabama teams.
Patriots coach Sam Adams was quick to point at Tuesday’s press conference that while the six head coaches had accumulated more 600 wins between them, he had not contributed many to that total.
"It’s exciting to be a part of this and you see the great coaches that are part of this," Adams said.
The six coaches have a combined 670-285 record with 12 state championships and a .702 winning percentage collectively. The six teams were 59-18 overall in 2015.
Adams’ coaching counterpart Stacy Luker has a 187-74 head-coaching record. He said the Patriots will be a strong opponent.
“We know they have a talented team, and we are looking forward to playing them,” said Luker, who led Sweet Water to five state titles in 12 years.
Hillcrest features one of the state’s top running backs in senior Brian Robinson. Robinson rushed for 1,329 yards and 15 touchdowns last season on 227 carries – with his finest showing coming in a wild 43-42 loss to Clay-Chalkville when he set the AHSAA Class 6A single-game state record with 447 yards rushing.
The Class 6A Patriots, 8-4 in 2015, plays Demopolis (10-3) in the opening game of the Champions Challenge Thursday night at Cramton Bowl at 7 p.m. Hoover (10-3) faces Central-Phenix City (9-4) in Friday night’s 7 p.m. contest, and Andalusia (11-2) faces Brooks (11-2) in Saturday’s final game, also set to kick off at 7 p.m.
For the first time since the inception of the Champions Challenge in 2006, all three games in the Classic will be regular-season openers. The teams have the choice of playing a jamboree game or a regular season game in "Week 0."
Friday’s game pits Class 7A powers Hoover and Central-Phenix City. Hoover coach Josh Niblett has a 106-11 record for the Bucs in the last eight years with seven trips to the state finals and two state crowns.
Central coach Jamey DuBose faced Niblett and the Bucs in the state finals in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Prattville won 16-13 in ’08 and 35-34 in ’11 while Hoover won 28-23 in ’09.
“This is the kind of game that lets you find out just where you program is,” said DuBose, 90-35 in 11 seasons as a head coach with stops at Susan Moore, Prattville, Florence and Central.
Andalusia head coach Trent Taylor coached in the Champions Challenge with Straughn in 2013 – winning 35-26 over Walter Wellborn. Saturday night his team will take on Class 5A Brooks.
“This is as close as it gets to playing in a bowl game for our high school players. Our entire community is excited,” Taylor said.
The Class 4A Bulldogs (11-2) and Lions (11-2) are meeting for the first time on Saturday.
“That makes this game even more exciting,” said second-year Brooks head coach Brad Black. “Coming to Montgomery to play in a game of this magnitude really means a lot to our program.”
The game will feature two of the state’s premier runners from 2015. Andalusia features senior running back Jamal Hourel, who rushed for 2,396 yards and 35 touchdowns last season on 236 carries. Brooks’ tailback Deandre Hampton, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, gained 1,855 yards on 264 carries in 2015 with 26 rushing touchdowns.
All three contests will be broadcast live over Raycom Media’s AHSAA TV Network, locally on WSFA Ch. 12.2 Bounce channel. The cable channels in each part of the state can be found by visiting www.pathwaytotheplayoffs.com.