PIEDMONT – Piedmont football coach Steve Smith has had the same hair cut since his junior year of high school – nice and short.
But during the 2020 offseason, he’s let it grow out to mullet proportions. It’s not really by his own choice, but rather him making good on a bet that dates back to the end of the 2018 season.
“When we lost in the championship game to Flomaton in 2018, some of the guys who were returning to last year’s squad asked me ‘Hey Coach, if we win state, how about you grow a mullet like they used to wear in the 80s?'”
From his perspective Smith thought it was a pretty safe bet. The Bulldogs lost 18 seniors from that 2018 Class 3A state runner-up team. Only two offensive starters and four defensive starters were returning.
“We were going to be extremely young last year,” Smith said. “I believe in our guys, don’t get me wrong. I always feel like we’ve got a chance any time we go out on the field, but winning a state championship last year, we were long shots in the beginning. I kind of felt like it was a pretty safe bet when I told them I’d do it.”
Well, Piedmont did win the championship with a dramatic 26-24 comeback victory over Mobile Christian. It was the Bulldogs’ third state title in five years.
“We didn’t get out of the parking lot at Auburn on the bus before somebody reminded me of it,” Smith said. “They said ‘Hey, you remember what you said you was going to do?’ I’ve held my end of the bargain. I’m growing it long. My hair is a lot longer than it’s ever been. I’m not going to get a haircut until the end of football season. It looks pretty rough right now, so I can only imagine what it’s going to look like in another three or four months.”
So, what do the players think of Smith’s new retro ‘do’?
“I love it,” Smith’s oldest son, senior defensive end/fullback Sean Smith said. “I hope he wears a visor with it. He needs to cut a little bit of it in my opinion, maybe on the sides, but I think if he wears a visor with it and try to look like (Oklahoma State coach Mike) Gundy a little bit, I think he’ll just fine.
“It looks so much different walking around the house and seeing that. I’m so used to him having it short and straight. We’ve given fits about it every single day. It gets longer and curlier. It’s going to be something we look back on and just think that was a pretty fun time.”
Bulldog senior lineman Hayden Young likes it too.
“It’s different,” Young said. “I’ve never seen him with long hair. It’s kind of funny every time I see him, even when he gets mad at us. The hair starts flowing back and I can’t help but laugh. I think he should keep it.”
“It looks good for a 50-year-old man with a mullet,” senior receiver/defensive back Jakari Foster said.
The Bulldog head coach may be growing out his hair for quite a while. Piedmont has lost just six games in the past three years. The Bulldogs have 10 offensive and six defensive starters returning this season.
“On paper this year, everybody says you should be in contention. You should be one of the top four or five teams, but if you quit working and think people are just going to give it to you, that’s when you find your season ending short,” Coach Smith said. “We’ve been trying to guard them against getting complacent. Just because we’ve got a lot of people coming back doesn’t guarantee anything.”
“I think we’ve got to keep the same mindset going into every week,” said Sean Smith, a two-time Class 3A Lineman of the Year finalist. “Every time we step on the field, we’re going to get their best, so we’re going to have to play our butts off the entire year for 15 straight games. That’s the goal every year, to go 15-0. Having another chance to make a run at it, it’s a great thing, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time. Each week is the next important game. We can’t look ahead.”
Something Coach Smith has put on emphasis on during the summer of COVID-19 is building depth at all positions.
“The depth this year is going to be something that’s more urgent than in the past,” he said. “You go through a football season, you’re going to have the typical bumps and bruises, high ankle sprains, shoulder dislocation. You kind of prep to have that extra guy ready, but this year with the threat of COVID and the possibility of somebody having an infection and having to go into quarantine, now you really have to have a third guy ready.
“We’re working a bunch of people just to prepare for those situations, preparing for those worst-case scenarios where you may have a couple of kids who are quarantined for two weeks, then the next guy gets a high ankle sprain and can’t play for three weeks. You’ve got to be prepared because the other team’s not going to show you any mercy just because you’ve got a couple of kids sick and a couple of kids hurt. You’re still going to play the game. It’s forced us to kind of work more people, both sides of the ball. We’ve never been big playing people all the time on both sides of the ball, but we spent a lot more time during the preseason trying to get more guys prepared in case that does happen.”
Class 3A Back of the Year finalist Jack Hayes returns for his sophomore year at quarterback after throwing for 2,424 yards and 41 touchdowns. His backups are senior Jaden Calhoun, sophomore Max Hanson, and Coach Smith’s youngest son, sophomore Sloan Smith.
Senior Elijah Johnson and sophomore Parker Thornton return as the Bulldog running backs. Sophomore Cody Holloway, juniors Brayden Morgan and Noah Reedy, and Sean Smith will be rotating in.
Juniors Coleman Reid and Austin Estes are back at receiver, with Calhoun slotting opposite them. Junior Rusty Escamilla, sophomore Jake Austin, senior Dylan Melendez and several others are expected to be in the rotation.
Joining Young , the Bulldog center, on the offensive line is junior Jack Tolbert and sophomore Connor Williams at the tackle positions, along with junior Steven Rainey and senior J.T. Coheely. Sophomore twins Braden and Landon McDaniels, junior Jaylon Sherrill, sophomore Caedon Ooten, freshman Jonah Pike, junior Daniel Martin, sophomore Lucas Ledbetter, freshman Fisher Adams and freshman Chance Murphy provide line depth.
Sean Smith helps anchor the defense along with senior Jaden Cantrell at nose tackle. Sophomore Rhett Alford has also been getting work at defensive end. Junior Blake Fortenberry and sophomore Trent Young also return on the defensive line, with the potential to possibly play at outside linebacker along with Reedy.
Junior Landon Smart and sophomore Brody Epps are the Bulldogs’ inside linebackers. Thornton, sophomore Gatlin Gardner and freshman Luke Rhinehart have also been getting work there.
Foster returns to lead the Bulldog secondary. Holloway, Escamilla, Austin, Hanson and junior Omar Foster have been working in the defensive backfield rotation.
The Bulldogs compete in a revamped Region 5 along with Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley, Saks, Wellborn and Weaver. Non-region opponents include Cherokee County, Jacksonville and Alexandria.
“You couldn’t ask for a better schedule from a player’s perspective, a coach’s perspective, a fan’s perspective,” Coach Smith said. “Every Friday night there’s a bit of a rivalry out of all those games. I think that’ll make it fun for the next two years.”
- Today’s Info
- Listen Live
- About Us