The Alabama High School Athletic Association recently released its high school football regions for the 2022-23 seasons.
The latest round of AHSAA reclassification led to one local school changing classes, one school seeing its region change three times in less than a week, scheduling adventures and a three county rivals remaining region foes.
Now that the process is complete, Jackson County high school football coaches breakdown their teams’ new regions and schedules:
Class 5A Region 7 — After a two-year stint in Class 6A, Scottsboro will return to Class 5A, going from one of the smallest 6A schools to one of 5A’s largest.
Scottsboro head coach Cris Bell said the move to Class 5A gives the Wildcats no guarantees, but the move is good for Scottsboro in several ways.
“I think the playing field has leveled a little bit,” Bell said. “The biggest difference is when you get to the playoffs, that’s the biggest area we’ll see, because you’re not having to worry about playing teams, like in 6A, were there’s a 400-student difference. There are some really good teams in 5A, and at some point you’re going to be matched up with them. But the numbers (student-wise) aren’t as big a difference.”
Bell also said the Wildcats are excited to compete in a more localized Class 5A Region 7. Many of the Scottsboro’s new region opponents are old ones, as it is joined in the seven-team region by Arab, Boaz, Crossville, Douglas, Guntersville and Sardis. Like Scottsboro, Arab also moved down from 6A while the other teams were members of 5A Region 7 the past two years.
“The thing that is the most exciting is who is in your region,” Bell said. “Everybody is about in a 45-minute radius from one another. I think that’s a big deal. It gives us more traditional rivalries. The old region, we had Fort Payne and Arab. Now you pick up Guntersville and Boaz to that. It’s a lot easier to get excited about playing Guntersville than Springville. No knock on Springville, but people here grow up competing against Guntersville. Getting back those geographical rivals is exciting.”
Scottsboro starts the season with a pair of rivalry showdowns, hosting Fort Payne in Week 0 and visiting archrival North Jackson in Week 1.
“Fort Payne and North Jackson, I like playing those big games early.
Gives you something to focus on all off-season, all summer. Got two big rivals on back-to-back weeks. Two emotional games, but I think it will help us. In the playoffs, you’ve got to play at high level every week, so having those games back-to-back will give us a change to practice that.
It’ll create some excitement early on and it’ll be up to us to maintain it and build on it throughout the season,” Bell said.
Scottsboro’s non-region slate also includes a home game with Priceville in Week 10 and a Thursday night matchup at Decatur in Week 10. Scottsboro has never played Priceville while it play Decatur for the 27th time but for the first time since 1991.
“(Priceville and Decatur) are really good, playoff caliber teams,” Bell said. “(Those are) going to be a challenge for us. Those games that can prepare us for the playoffs.”
Class 4A Region 8 — It’s been a whirlwind of a reclassification cycle for the teams in Class 4A Region 8, which includes North Jackson.
When the AHSAA released its reclassification for the 2022-23 football seasons, Madison Academy was in Class 3A. Two days later, Madison County was moved up to 4A, making 4A Region 8 a nine-team region. Later that day, the coaches from those nine teams met to complete their schedules. Five days later, Madison Academy was moved back to Class 3A after winning an appeal with the AHSAA, which reverted 4A Region 8 back to an eight-team region with North Jackson, DAR, Madison County, New Hope, Priceville, Randolph, St. John Paul II and Westminster Christian. The coaches from the remaining eight team then had to meet again to re-schedule their schedules.
“It was a unique experience that’s for sure, but just like we ask our kids to do, we adapted and adjusted,” said North Jackson head coach Joe Hollis, Jr. “At the end you’re just trying to make sure you’ve got five home games. The most difficult thing was getting our non-region games back that we had to drop when it went to a nine-team (region). It took some communication and teamwork by the coaches in the region and all around the area to work through all that, but everyone worked together and made it work.”
After the dust settled, seven of the eight teams in the region were the same ones that played in 4A Region 7 last year. The only difference is Priceville replacing Madison Academy.
“It’s a really competitive region,” Hollis said. “There are a lot of high-quality team. You’re going to have playoff caliber teams that don’t get in. It’s exciting to play in a region like that. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every week.”
In non-region play, North Jackson has as localized a non-region schedule as ever.
The Chiefs open the season with “The Battle of the Valley” at home against archrival Scottsboro, then visit state-line rival South Pittsburg (Tenn.) in Week 5. The teams played last season for the first time and this year’s game with be North Jackson’s first time to play at South Pittsburg, which won the Tennessee Class 1A state championship in 2021.
North Jackson will play another first time opponent in 2022, hosting fellow Jackson County school Pisgah. The teams will play at Pisgah in 2023.
When North Jackson’s region first went to nine games, the Pisgah games were off as the Chiefs would’ve closed the season in Week 10 against Madison Academy. But when Madison Academy went back to 3A, the Chiefs were able to reschedule Pisgah.
This season’s game with Pisgah will be North Jackson’s first game against a fellow school in the Jackson County School System team since playing Section in 1989. Pisgah was a longtime opponent of Bridgeport and Stevenson High Schools before they consolidated to form North Jackson in 1988.
“Our non-region schedule is exciting,” Hollis said. “Playing all these local teams is just a win for everyone. It’s a win for the kids, the communities, these games are meaningful and builds some rivalries. These are the kind of games kids want to play in. We want to have those kind of games for our kids. Playing local teams is a big focus for us. As long as we’re 4A, we’re not going to have any local (region) games. So playing (local) non-region (opponents) is a no-brainer and these games are really meaningful to our kids and community.”
Class 2A Region 7 — Jackson County rivals North Sand Mountain, Pisgah and Section will continue to be region rivals for the next two seasons.
The region, which Pisgah won in 2020, has five teams returning while changing from a seven- to an eight-team region. NSM, Pisgah, Section, Ider and Whitesburg Christian return to the region while Sand Rock moves over from Region 6 and Collinsville and Fyffe, which has won five state championships (four in 2A and one in 3A) in the past eight years, move back to 2A after playing in 3A the past two seasons.
“ I like that its closer teams we’re playing. We’re playing more DeKalb teams, closer than what we did in the last (region cycle). I think that’ll make for better gates, better crowds for everyone,” said Pisgah head coach Luke Pruitt. “We’re getting Fyffe and Collinsville in from 3A. The last time (they were 2A) they made the semifinals. Fyffe, what Coach (Paul) Benefield has done there is unheard of. Sand Rock, we played them the last two years in the non-region. I’m excited about our region and our kids are excited about playing more teams that know about.”
NSM head coach Keith Kirby and Section head coach echoed Pruitt’s sentiments about a more localized region.
“We had some pretty long road trips to Tanner and Falkville the last couple of years,” Kirby said. “Now I think our longest trip is to Sand Rock or maybe Whitesburg, which plays at Gurley and not in Huntsville. It’s going to be a challenging region, especially with who all came into it. It’s going to be real competitive.”
Added Hammon, “It was kind of what I expected it to be. A lot of the same teams before, teams we’ve played before. The travel is cut way down. I think it’s going to be a competitive region.
The Jackson County stretch of the Class 2A Region 7will be played out in three consecutive weeks. NSM hosts Pisgah in Week 7 before visiting Section in Week 8. Section visits Pisgah in Week 9 in the region finale for both teams, which is also the regular-season finale for Section, which has a Week 10 bye week.
In non-region play, Section takes on Decatur Heritage at home in Week 0, visits Hammon’s brother Charles Hammon’s Valley Head team in Week 1 and hosts 3A Westbrook Christian in Week 5.
“I was really glad that we were in an eight-team region because we struggled finding (non-region) teams to play,” Hammon said. “Valley Head was locked in Week 1 early on, but we had two or three teams penciled in and they decided to go in a different direction. I wanted to play Week 0, so Week 5 had been our bye the last two years but this year it just worked out to be Week 10.”
Meanwhile, NSM’s non-region schedule features a Week 0 game at home against Valley Head, hosts state-line rival Dade County (Georgia) Week 1 and hosts 5A Douglas in Week 10.
“Our non-region (schedule) is pretty challenging,” Kirby said. “I think they all made the playoffs last season. Hopefully we’ll be in the playoffs again and those games will help us.”
Pisgah’s non-region games are road game in Week 1 at Lindsay Lane, a home game against Sylvania in Week 5 and a road game at North Jackson, which will be the first meeting between the Jackson County schools.
“Playing (North Jackson), there will be a lot interest,” Pruitt said. “I’ve heard from some folks that played when Pisgah used to play Stevenson and Bridgeport that are excited about it.”
Class 1A Region 7 — Woodville’s new region isn’t really all that new for the Panthers.
Six of the teams, Woodville, Appalachian, Cedar Bluff, Coosa Christian, Gaylesville and Valley Head, were in the seven-team league the region the previous two seasons. The only change is Decatur Heritage replacing Sumiton Christian.
Woodville played Decatur Heritage in non-region play the past two seasons. And though Decatur Heritage now has a new head coach — former Alabama receiver Nikita Stover replaced the retiring Steve Meek — Woodville is familiar with the Eagles’ personnel.
Familiarity was the word Woodville head coach Matt Sanders used to describe the region.
“There’s a lot of familiarity within the region, so we know who has who coming back and you know what teams like to do,” Sanders said. “I think that helps.”
Woodville will play four non-region games this season, hosting Vina in Week 4 and Brindlee Mountain Week 5 while visiting Whitesburg Christian in Week 0 and Asbury in Week 10.
The Whitesburg Christian game will likely be at Madison County Middle School in Gurley, which will be a 10 minute drive from Woodville’s campus.
The Panthers have a bye week in Week 1. Initially Woodville planned to play Vina in Week 1, Sanders said. But Vina was placed in a nine-team region, meaning it would play a region game in Week 1. It just happened to work out that both Woodville and Vina were off from region play in Week 4 and were still able to play.
“Our non-region games, I feel like we have scheduled (teams) that we can be competitive with and (our opponents) feel the same. I’m happy with that, Sanders said.
“We’re excited about the new year, excited about the region, excited about the schedule,” Sanders said. “We’ve already been working out, but after Christmas we’re going to really pick it up. The thing is we’ve got to work harder — coaches and players — than we ever had. We’re working on our numbers. We’ve got a lot of kids that are interested in coming out, one has already started working out with us. That’s exciting.”