Last week, sitting in his office, head coach Keith Etheredge made no bones about what the goal of his team is this year.
“It is to win a state championship and go undefeated,” Etheredge said. “That’s our goal from the start. Is it attainable? Yes. And we are not going to dodge anyone along the way.”
Etheredge and his team cannot afford to dodge anyone with new region opponents in Clay County and Handley, a non-region schedule that has 4A Alexandria and St. Clair County, along with 5A Moody, playing all three non-region games on the road and having only four home games all season.
A look back at 2009
Leeds opened last season with a convincing 34-21 over Oak Grove. They went to 2-0 with a 29-0 victory over White Plains.
Ranked number one in the state, Leeds defeated Wellborn 27-7. Their winning streak reached 19 over a two-year period as they defeated Weaver 43-0.
The winning streak came to an end in week five as the St. Clair County Saints upended Leeds 19-14.
The Green Wave started a new winning streak, as they were unstoppable in the 49-18 win over Pleasant Valley and then they upended previously undefeated Glencoe 30-15.
Leeds then won a dramatic 14-13 overtime thriller against Piedmont. The next week against Tarrant was just as thrilling as Leeds won on the last play of the game as quarterback Rush Perkins hooked up with receiver Shane McGinnis for a 55-yard touchdown to pull out a 9-7 victory.
In the last regular season game of the season, Leeds lost to Moody 7-6.
In the opening playoff game, Leeds rushed for 441 yards in the 56-0 win over Sylvania.
In round two, Leeds defeated Glencoe for a second time this season 34-14.
In the third round, Leeds scored 17 fourth-quarter points and got a 29-yard field goal from Keaton Glass to upend Madison Academy 24-21. The win set up a second showdown with Piedmont.
This time, the win went to Piedmont, a 13-7 contest, as Leeds ended the season with a record of 11-3.
Etheredge lost 16 senior players off that championship season of 2008, of which 13 were starters.
“To go 11-3 and make it to the fourth round of the state playoffs the following year, it is an unbelievable accomplishment for our kids,” Etheredge said. “We had some guys step up who were untested at the time and really did a great job for us. They stood out and we’ve got a lot of those guys back this year. Many of our seniors this year played in the state championship game as sophomores in 2008.”
Etheredge moved to Leeds when he was in the second grade moving from the Clay area.
He played football at Leeds for Coach Bobby Fairley and was outside linebacker and wide receiver.
Although he did not play football at the collegiate level, he knew he wanted to be a teacher and coach.
“My coaches had a major influence on me while I was in high school,” he said. “I was hoping and wanting to be just like them.”
Etheredge, 37, received a scholarship to Jacksonville State University and received a B.S. in Physical Education and an add-on in History.
His first teaching and coaching job came at Erwin High School where he was an assistant football and assistant basketball coach.
In his second year, he was named the head basketball coach for the varsity boys, a position he held for three years. All total, Etheredge spent four years at Erwin.
He came back home to Leeds in 2004 and was an assistant football coach for two years under Scott Hendrix before taking over four years ago.
Etheredge led the Green Wave to 8-5 records his first two seasons before going 15-0 in 2008. Last year, he went 11-3 to make his overall record 42-13.
Senior class is loaded
Etheredge said he has 14 seniors who will lead this season’s squad.
With Rush Perkins graduated, Shane McGinnis will be the new signal caller for the Green Wave.
McGinnis said expectations are high and the team has set some very high goals.
“As seniors, we hope to have a great year,” McGinnis said. “We are working hard right now in the weight room.”
Etheredge said senior Jonathan Rose has not committed to any college yet and is weighing all his options.
“Everyone assumes he is going to Auburn because that’s where his dad played,” Etheredge said. “But he is being recruited by just about every team in the SEC along with some big names outside the SEC like Florida State and Southern Cal.”
Etheredge said Rose has received offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida St, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Memphis and Southern Cal.
Rose is 6-foot, 2-inches and 175 pounds. He runs the 40 in 4.46 seconds and has a vertical leap of 36 inches.
“He is a great athlete and person who can play a lot of positions,” Etheredge said. “He has good ball skills and that’s one thing Alabama’s Nick Saban liked about him. He returns punts, kickoffs, does a lot of things on special teams for us.”
A more physical appearance
Etheredge said they have made tremendous strides in the weight room this year.
“We have three guys benching over 300 pounds for the first time since I’ve been here,” Etheredge said. “We’ve got about 20 players benching over 250 pounds. We’re way ahead where we’ve been in the past as far as our strength and I think it will show up on Friday nights. I think we will have the chance to be very physical this year.”
Key players returning
Etheredge said he is exciting about having Ladarius Rogers and Dedrick Forsythe in the backfield again this year.
Other key players include Ladarius Burt, Trevon Strickland, Wesley Hudson, Jonathan Rose, Jermaine Smith, Charles Miller, Javier Mitchell just to name a few.
“Defensively, we’ve got almost everybody back with nine starters returning,” Etheredge said.
Etheredge said almost every year with the Green Wave, it’s always going to be defense and the running game and the same holds true this year.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Etheredge said. “Speed is another strength and I believe we will be faster this year than in the past. I also believe we will be more physical this year than last year.
Etheredge said they have to seal up the nose spot in the middle of the defense.
Moved to the South region
After being in the North region for the past few years, Leeds has been shifted to the South region. Class 3A, Region 3. Region opponents include Clay County, Handley, Marbury, Walter-Wellborn, Central-Coosa, Beulah and B.B. Comer.
“There are some great teams in our region,” Etheredge said. “I don’t know if it is as tough, top to bottom, as last year. Our region last year was brutal.”
Etheredge said Clay County and Handley are the teams to beat in the region because they can compete with some 5A teams.
“Clay County is always ranked in the Top Five,” he said.
Making Leeds part of the mix
When asked if he thought his Leeds team would be ranked in the preseason Top Five, Etheredge said, “Absolutely. We have some players who can make some things happen. The difference in this year and year’s past is that we are going to be more explosive on offense. We will have 4 to 5 guys who can turn a 1-yard gain into a 15-yard gain given the opportunity. It is going to be fun offensively this year trying to get the ball into all of the hands of these capable players. Defensively, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing. We are going to play smash-mouth and run to the football.”
Helping Etheredge this year include Ashley Carlisle, Dale Burnette, Brent Reece, Jeff Thomas and Ryan Shell.
Leeds opens the season Aug. 27, on the road against Alexandria.
Contact Gary Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.