2009 Hoover Bucs Football Season
By Wayne Wood
When Hoover Head Coach Josh Niblett took over the Bucs football program in early 2008, he wasn’t having to rebuild it but rather redirect it. The Bucs under Coach Rush Propst had won state titles in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 with runner-up spots in 2001 & 2006. However certain forces had attempted to damage the success in 2007 and someone strong was needed to be a guiding force to get it back on track.
Coach Niblett and his staff worked hard to replenish the success in ways he felt best. It would take some time and adjustments. There was obviously talent available going into 2008 and the players were used to winning.
The Bucs won all but one of their regular-season games that year. The one loss was a mid-September 44-16 home defeat at the Met to Camden County (from southeast Georgia), It was the worse loss for the Bucs since the 2001 state title game loss to Daphne 48-21.
The Bucs regrouped, improved through the season and made it to the state title game in Legion Field where they lost 16-13 to Prattville on a late field goal. Camden County went on to win their state title that year.
Going into the 2009 season, the Bucs had several experienced players and dedicated seniors to provide leadership. On offense, they were led by junior QB Ryan Carter who was backed up by sophomore Sam Gillikn, senior Travis Gipson & sophomore Caleb Sims (who came in exclusively in certain run situations).
The running backs were senior Reuben Carson, juniors Justin McArthur, Brandon Cochran, Phillip Crochen, Jimmy Cain & Caleb Sims. The wide receivers were Josh Magee, Maudrecus Humphrey, Gerald Bryant, Bill Mitchell, Evan Pierce, and juniors Jaylon Denson & Scott Head. Starting on the offensive line were senior Ben Thrasher at center, senior Ross Saxon & junior Blake Burks at guards, senior Charlie Stocks & junior Brandon Morgan at tackles backed up by senior Trevor Sutton, junior Carson Haley & sophomore J.D. Salter interchanging positions.
On defense at the ends, there were seniors Antonio Gaylord & Eli Brown, juniors Tyler Roberts & Taylor Mason, Will McCallum, Ahmad Martin and sophomore E.J. Sledge. At tackles were juniors Michael Nysewander, Max Elliott, Ahmad Martin & sophomore Trent Dunne. At linebackers were seniors John Propst & Landon Moore, juniors Marcus Matthews, Braxton Lowe & Teryence Glaze. At defensive backs were seniors Leon Carlton, Sterling Young, Justin Dunne, Lorenzo Fitch. Antwan Williams & Nathan Bailey and juniors Preston Sanford, Brett Bowden Connor Coskery & Montez Carlton.
Sophomore Larsen Real did the placekicking & kickoffs while senior Cater Wood did the punting and placekick holding. Senior Matthew Lord was the PAT/FG snapper.
The Bucs opened the 2009 season on the road at Gardendale winning 51-21 and returned home to Buccaneer Stadium to defeat Homewood 38-24. However, the minds of the Bucs most of the summer and early pre-season focused on a long road trip to southeast Georgia in the city of Kingsland (just above the Florida line near Jacksonville). This was a rematch against the Camden County Wildcats.
As we traveled through Alabama into south Georgia going from one small town to another viewing the farmlands & pecan orchards, the minds of everyone was intensely on Camden County as we bused nearly 500 miles.
The Friday night game of September 11th was broadcast on ESPNU. Although Camden had a young team that year, they were still very talented and certainly more than confident since they whipped us the year before at our place & now this was their place.
The Bucs struck first with a 55-yard TD pass from Ryan Carter to Jaylon Denson giving the visiting Bucs a 7-0 lead and a quick boost of confidence. However, that was short-lived as Camden returned the kickoff 91 yards for a TD to tie the score at 7-7. Soon they intercepted a pass setting up a 31-yard field goal to go ahead 10-7 and later scored on a 72-yard TD run to extend the lead to 17-7.
Yet the Bucs kept their pose. A nice Buc punt of 55 yards was downed on the Camden 1-yard line followed by a defensive stand and then a nice punt return by Caleb Sims to the Wildcat 21 set up the Bucs nicely. They scored on a 6-yard Carter TD run & the PAT narrowed the score to 17-14. But then big-play Camden scored later on a 72-yard pass play & later a 31-yard field goal to make the halftime score 27-14 in their favor.
The Buc still kept their poise making halftime adjustments. Into the 3rd quarter, it was a totally different half as the defense continually stopped Camden on their possessions. The Buc offense scored early in the 4th quarter on a 1-yard Carter run.
Sophomore kicker Larsen Real kicked a 21-yard field goal with little more than 4 minutes remaining to tie the score at 27-27. The Bucs stopped Camden and then used the clock wisely on their last drive as they eventually set up Real to kick a winning field goal. With 3 seconds left, Real kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired to win the game 30-27. Obviously, the Hoover sideline and fans in the stands were ecstatic with excitement & jubilation afterward.
In hindsight, it was a pivotal & Critical win for the Buc program in many ways. It was a fun night at the motel & into the next morning at breakfast. We would look at ESPN at the winning replays & field goal of our game. We found out later that the main ESPN network had switched from the ESPNU to the main station in the last moments of the game.
After the big win over Camden County (who went on later to win their state title again), the Bucs returned home to the Met where they beat Thompson 28-0 and the next week beat Oak Mountain 27-0 at Buccaneer Stadium. While the Bucs acquired solid confidence the first half of the season, they had also developed a little sense of complacency in places. It obviously showed the next week when the Bucs played Spain Park at the Met.
In the first half. the Bucs played poorly in nearly facet of the game and fell behind the Jags 21-0 going into halftime. However, the Bucs came out strong in the 2nd half to tie Spain Park 21-21. They drove down late to set up a 30-yard field goal attempt for Real with 7.5 seconds left. Real made the kick to give the Bucs their first lead of the game at 24-21. The kickoff ran out the clock and the Bucs had a big comeback win.
The next week, the Bucs went on the road and beat Mountain Brook 30-0 ye they still had that problem of consistency & complacency going into the next week at the Met vs. Vestavia. Against the Rebels, that is a dangerous and often fatal approach to a game with bad results.
Again the Bucs self-destructed at times in addition to the fact that the Rebels were playing solid ball and the score was soon 27-0 for Vestavia. However, the Bucs came storming back to tie the score at 27-27. Yet this time it was Vestavia which drove ahead to kick a go ahead field goal to win at 30-27.
The Bucs went on the road to Pelham and played sloppy barely winning 21-14. After the game, the players were waiting on the buses for the traffic to thin out and go home. On the defense player bus, senior linebacker Landon Moore stood up & boldly announced to spread the word to the rest of the team that there would be a players-only meeting that Saturday morning and everyone better attend.
Senior linebacker John Propst remembers that time. John had been a starter on the varsity since he was a 9th grader in 2006. Being the nephew of former Hoover head coach Rush Propst & the son of Phillip Propst, he had followed the program since he was a little kid in 1999. His older brother Simon was the starting QB for the Bucs the year before and he certainly understood the tradition, expectations and standards for the program.
John explained, “We had a close group of guys on that team especially in the senior class that had played together from middle school ball. We all knew we were better than we were playing and that we wouldn’t reach our ultimate goal of a state championship playing the way we were.”
“I felt that we had gotten a little complacent in the middle of the season after a big win against Camden County earlier in the year. I think that meeting after the Pelham game went a long way in holding each other accountable the rest of the season.”
“No one on the team at that time had won a state title and that wasn’t the legacy we wanted to leave Hoover with. The rest of the year I felt like we were on a mission and everyone was playing loose & having more fun.”
The Bucs won the final regular season game at the Met over Sparkman 31-6. In the 1st round of the state playoffs at Buccaneer Stadium, the Bucs beat Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 58-14. In that game, Propst suffered a slight concussion and would miss the 2nd round against Jess Lanier at Bessemer. (Note that Vestavia lost 21-0 to Minor in the 1st round & Minor lost 14-0 to Spain Park the next week).
It was the final high school football game to be played at the old storied Snitz Snider Stadium in Bessemer. The Bucs beat the Tigers 27-17 to advance to the 3rd round against Bob Jones at Buccaneer Stadium. The Bucs won 34-24.
Meanwhile, across town in the far eastern reaches of Spain Park High Scholl, the Jags lost to Gadsden City 49-32. This set up the 4th round & semi-final game to be played the Friday after Thanksgiving up in Gadsden. This was also the day that Alabama was playing at Auburn on national TV. We watched the game at the school until sometime in the 3rd quarter when we had to load the buses & drive up north. We listened to the game on the buses all the way and were pulling into the stadium parking lot as Alabama was driving for a go-ahead score & win. We sat for several minutes listening as that game came to a conclusion.
That night, the Bucs played probably the best game they had all season in defeating a talented Titan team 35-0 on a cold night. This would send us to the state championship game in Tuscaloosa & Bryant-Denny Stadium on the University of Alabama campus against Prattville.
Prattville had taken the dynasty mantel away from Hoover the last 3 years with state titles from 2006-2008. Hoover had won 4 straight titled from 2002-2005 and Prattville aimed to tie that record. The Bucs had other ideas.
The temperature at kickoff on Friday-December 4th that evening was slightly above freezing. The Bucs were dressed in all black and warmed up for the occasion. They struck first with a little over 9 minutes left in the 1st quarter with a 41-yard TD pass from Ryan Carter to Maudrecus Humphrey & the PAT made it 7-0.
Prattville came back with a 38-yard field goal in that quarter followed by a 1-yard TD run early in the 2nd quarter to go ahead 10-7. Midway that quarter, Hoover punted to Prattville and the returner caught it, ran a bit, was hit and fumbled it. Leon Carlton picked it up and ran 10 yards for a TD to put the Bucs up 14-10.
Lo and behold, later the Bucs punted again later to about the same area and the returner fumbles it again and Carlton recovers the ball deep in Prattville territory, The Bucs threw an interception but the Lions fumbled it back and eventually Caleb Sims scores on a 1-yard TD run. The Bucs are up 21-10 after these gifts of opportunity.
With 1:42 left in the 2nd quarter, Buc RB Reuben Carson breaks loose on a 58-yard TD run to put the Bucs up 28-10 before halftime. Now it’s hang on time into the 2nd half. Early in the 2nd half, cold sleet comes down into freezing Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Prattville scored on a 13-yard TD run midway in the 3rd quarter and a 5-yard TD run midway in the 4th quarter. The try for 2 points after that TD failed and the score is still in favor of the Bucs at 28-23. Prattville is gallantly trying for the win late in the game but the Buc defense keeps making one big play after another. And guess who makes an interception in Buc territory & almost returns it for a TD the other way but is tackled short of the goalline? Yes, Leon Carlton and he is later named the MVP of the game. The Bucs run out the clock to win the state title by a score of 28-23.
The Bucs’ celebration is incredible of course. John Propst remembers, “Ultimately, we had our revenge against Prattville whom we had formed a big rivalry with having lost to them twice in the state championship game. Best moment I’ve had in my sports career. Playing in the SEC at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was great but there is nothing like the bond you have with your high school teammates that you grew up with. And going out with a victory after 2 losses in the state title game was an incredible memory that will stick with me forever.”
A few hours after the game when the players had already finished celebrating, changing and waiting in the charter buses for the trip home to Hoover, the sky began to have snow flurries come down on us. When we got onto the interstate, the snow got a little thicker. It kind of made the ride home a bit more fun than it already was and stayed that way for awhile until we arrived at the school.
Ten years ago, that 2009 Hoover Buc Football Team helped redirect the football program under Coach Niblett’s leadership in continuing a standard of excellence we still maintain today.