SUPER 7: Wetumpka seniors follow through on promise
By Tim Gayle
WETUMPKA – It isn’t your normal week at Wetumpka High, but it’s something a group of seniors promised each other six years ago.
That’s when several football players looked into the future and predicted they would be playing for a state championship one day as high school seniors.
“It would mean a lot because we’ve been talking about this since about the sixth grade,” Rico Bozeman said. “We’ve been working for it. This team’s really special. We’ve always been playing together and we’ve always been winning. We’ve got a good chemistry.”
Bozeman is one of those seniors, a guy who contributed as a defensive end two years ago and earned a starting role a year ago before emerging as one of the state’s best in 2017.
“He’s an incredible young man,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “Tremendous work ethic, extremely coachable. Once you teach him something or correct something, he doesn’t make that mistake again. He’s a great weight room guy. He’s one of several guys in the offseason that even as a freshman came in (for voluntary offseason work) four days a week.”
Last year, Wetumpka had a good team that went 8-2, then lost in the first round of the 6A state playoffs at McAdory. The juniors, who would have one last shot at a state title in 2017, knew they would need to improve during the offseason.
“I needed to get more physical,” said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bozeman. “I was always hitting the weight room hard, coming out to the field and going through the tires, too, staying in shape.”
The emergence of Jadarious Martin at quarterback to complement Kavosiey Smoke in the backfield gave Wetumpka all the weapons it would need on offense, but the defense through the first three weeks was struggling to keep up its end of the bargain, allowing far too many points (an average of 25 per game) and far too many yards (310.3) to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Suddenly, everything changed.
“It clicked,” Bozeman said. “At the beginning of the season, we were kind of lacking a little bit. Against Stanhope, it just turned around. I don’t know what happened, but it just turned around.”
A lot part of the success starts with the team’s leading tacklers, linebackers Bubba (141 tackles) and Chase Adams (80), but it extends to the leader of the defensive line as well. Bozeman, as one of the team captains, is the third leading tackler on the team with 58 stops, along with 12 sacks and 10 quarterback pressures.
“He’s a great student of the game,” Perry said. “He studies film on the weekend and at night, studies the opponents’ tendencies. He corrects the defensive line and gets guys lined up.
“As a player, he’s extremely quick off the ball, very good with his hands. Over the years, he’s developed some real good rush moves. Our offensive tackles, he frustrates them. They can’t block him. He disrupts our offense (in practice). There have been very few offensive tackles that have been able to consistency block him without holding him.”
As Wetumpka (13-1) prepares for its first-ever championship game on Friday in Bryant-Denny Stadium against Pinson Valley (14-0), it’s been anything but routine for the Indians. Perry said he believes his team can remain focused at practice this week but is concerned about the reaction of the players once they arrive for the game.
“The concern for me as a head coach is I hope we don’t get too distracted once we get there with all the events,” he said.
“I just hope we don’t get overwhelmed, that we can go out and play like we’re capable of playing.”
Bozeman believes his team can focus on the task at hand, but admits the hype surrounding the playoffs – where the city has sponsored a pep rally before every home playoff game each Thursday – can be exhilarating at times.
“Just making it to the third round,” he said, “we were like, ‘wow.’ Even the second round. We knew we were going to do it, but it was a ‘wow’ moment.”
Wetumpka High has reached the semifinals just twice in school history and the 1995 team lost to Blount in its first trip, so a trip to the Super 7 is unique for both teams playing for the 6A championship. That’s why the Indians will be making the trip a day early.
“We’re doing that for the players,” Perry said. “Since this is the first time we’ve made it to the finals, we wanted to make it a real special event for the players. The coaching side of me said let’s just treat it like another game and take the same approach. The other side of me said that since this is so special and such a hard goal to achieve, we want to make it special for them.”
The Indians will arrive in Tuscaloosa on Thursday evening, then go out for a night of bowling.
On Friday, they’ll wake up and eat a catered meal for breakfast at a local church.
After a walk-through at the University of Alabama’s Hank Crisp Indoor Practice Facility, they’ll return to the motel for lunch.
A pre-game meal at the same church follows and they’ll return to the indoor practice facility for a walk-through before making the Walk of Champions to the north entrance of Bryant-Denny Stadium for the 7 p.m. kickoff.