Northridge, Hillcrest, TCHS all expect to compete for region title
Wed. August 22, 2012 at 4:36 p.m. | By Andrew Carroll
Jertavious Sanders, Bo Scarbrough and Tyler Gates all return for Hillcrest, Northridge and TCHS as the county's 6A teams vie for their region crown.
TUSCALOOSA | Thirty-two football teams qualified last season for the AHSAA Class 6A playoffs. Three are in Tuscaloosa County.
Hillcrest and Northridge achieved milestones in 2011 as each set a school record for wins in a season. Two of those victories came at the expense of their Region 5 rival, Tuscaloosa County High School.
TCHS had its string of 15 straight non-losing seasons snapped, according to records posted on the Alabama High School Football Historical Society website. The Wildcats went 5-5 in the regular season and lost to Bob Jones in the first round of the playoffs. TCHS, coached by Lee Gibson, will have the home-field advantage this year against Northridge and Hillcrest.
Hillcrest, which has a new coach in Scott Martin, won 21 games over the past two years, but last season’s success was unprecedented. Under the direction of Adam Winegarden, the Patriots went 10-0 for the first time as a Class 6A team. Hillcrest also ruled the region with a 7-0 record, including a 28-7 victory over TCHS.
Hillcrest improved to 9-0 with a 35-14 win over Northridge and closed out the regular season with a win against Demopolis. In the playoffs, Hillcrest downed Decatur and Vestavia Hills before losing to Hoover and finishing 12-1.
Northridge, coached by Mike Smith, won eight straight games before losing to Hillcrest. The Jaguars finished the regular season with a victory over Paul W. Bryant. Northridge, which opened as a Class 5A school in 2003, earned its first playoff victory by beating Hazel Green. The season ended with a second-round loss to Oxford, but the 10-2 record was the best in school history.
What happens next in the rivalry between the county’s three biggest schools? That will be determined largely by the performance of the players.
The competition doesn’t seem to be as inflammatory as, say, Alabama vs. Auburn. And the players don’t seem to hate each other, because they know each other. If it’s not a friendly rivalry, at least it seems respectful.
Hunter Smith is a defensive end at Northridge, where his father is the head coach. The younger Smith attends Valley View Baptist Church, located right in the middle of Hillcrest territory. He said some of his church acquaintances call him “Northridge.”
“They’re friends until that one week of the year that we have to play them,” Hunter Smith said. “It’s just enemies that whole week. After the game, back to friends.
“You just put it aside for that one week. Just because they’re your friends it makes you want to play harder.”
Riley Nix is expected to be the starting quarterback for Hillcrest.
“Every game is a big game, but I guess those are special because everybody knows everybody and we’re so close together,” Nix said. “It’s always been a big rivalry, so it’s nothing new.”
Nix said he won’t do anything to antagonize the local opponents.
“We play on Friday nights,” Nix said. “We don’t do anything extracurricular. Everything is handled on Friday, and none of that really goes on. We try to keep to ourselves. You try to get ready like it’s another game, and all that other stuff just leave it to the student body and fans. We just do our normal thing.
“It’s not hate. I don’t think it’s bitter. There’s a respect there. It’s just a school thing.”
Keith Holcombe, a Hillcrest linebacker, competed in youth sports against some of the guys he’ll be facing this fall.
“I grew up playing with them pretty much my whole life,” Holcombe said. “I love the rivalries. It’s what makes football fun to me.”
Tuscaloosa County’s Rasheed Artis, a senior wide receiver, attended Northridge as a sophomore. Artis said he’s good friends with Northridge wide receiver James Cox and running back Bo Scarbrough.
“We’ve been friends ever since middle school,” Artis said. “We played football together. We show each other respect. It means a lot to be a part of a rivalry, playing against some guys I grew up with.”
Marshall Eads, a defensive tackle at TCHS, got to know Scarbrough when both were rehabbing knee injuries at the same facility. On Oct. 5, Scarbrough might try to run over Eads, while Eads might try to slam Scarbrough to the turf.
“It’s more like you want to show out in front of them for bragging rights down the road,” Eads said. “After everything’s done, we’re still good friends and all because I grew up with a bunch of kids from Northridge. Their quarterback (Tanner Cline) has been one of my good friends forever. I know Bo. I rehabbed with him. I talk to him every now and then. We’re friends off the field, but when we get on the field it’s pure business. I told a couple of friends, ‘Look, I’m coming for you. I’m going to hit you, and I’m going to make you feel it.’”
Eads said the students add to the rivalry, but they don’t have the same perspective as the players.
“They like to brag about stuff, but they don’t know about the hard work that both teams put in,” he said. “They say, ‘Marshall should have done this. Bo should have done this at this point in time.’ They like to have a good time, and the season wouldn’t be the same without them. When they’re yelling in the stands up there, that just gets you going. You can’t help it when your friends are painted up with your number on their back.”
Cline is a junior who has a chance to start at quarterback for the Jaguars.
“It means a lot more because you know the kids that you’re playing against,” Cline said. “Since you’ve always been competing against them, you really want to beat them more. It’s more friendly respect because you’ve known them forever.”
Hunter Jenkins, a defensive end and tight end, is preparing for his senior season at TCHS. He’ll have one last chance to face the Patriots and the Jaguars.
“It’s just a great challenge, really,” he said. “We get to go out there and face some of the best teams in the state. We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the state. It’s like a war out there.
“We’re going to save it all for that night. Nothing’s going to happen before. Nothing’s going to happen after. We’re just going to show respect for each other, be good sportsmen and just wait for that one night.”
Reach Andrew Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0223.