An Escambia Academy Cougar running back blows past a Fort Dale Eagle player in last year’s matchup.

Early season test

Published 4:25pm Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Escambia Academy football team not only has a new head coach, the team also has a lot of new faces on the field. One of last year’s star players Jaylen Henry graduated, along with a host of others from last year’s squad. Head coach Hugh Fountain inherited a younger team after last year’s more experienced team finished the year with an 8-5 record.

“The thing you have to look at is last year really doesn’t have anything to do with this year for us simply because we only returned three starters from last year’s team,” Fountain said. “We lost a lot of seniors. We lost a lot of guys with a lot of experience.”

Replacing Henry in particular should prove to be especially challenging. Henry earned the distinction of being an AISA All-State football player and he played a big part in the team’s change of fortune the last two years. In Henry’s absence, the Cougars will rely heavily upon senior quarterback Michael Thompson.

“Any time you lose a guy the caliber of Jaylen, you know he’s going to be hard to replace. Nearly impossible to replace if you add his speed in there because he had top-notch speed,” Fountain said. “He was the fastest kid in the AISA based upon one of his track meets. You’re not going to be able to replace his speed exactly, and so everything rolls back to Michael because Michael’s been the starting quarterback here for three years. So, therefore, he’s your experienced guy on the offensive side of the ball. He’s been around this team. He knows the caliber of competition we’re gonna’ be playing. So, obviously Michael’s going to have a huge impact on our season. His leadership is important, just as all of our senior leadership is important.”

While Thompson will play a big role throughout Escambia Academy’s season, Fountain said every senior on the team has a chance to be a team difference maker.

“In this particular year, we’re relying on a lot of younger kids to come in and play well for us,” Fountain said. “But I think the key to our whole season will be whether our older kids come in and do the job for us.”

Escambia Academy will kick off the season at home against Fort Dale Academy and Fountain knows it certainly won’t be an easy test.

“We know some things about them, of course, through their history,” Fountain said. “They’ve been a good football team for a long time. Their coach, Coach Sampley, does a great job with their program there. They’ve always had a tough football team and a tough football program there. Their history speaks for itself.”

The meeting between the two teams last season ended in a 32-30 win for Escambia Academy. This year, the game holds even greater significance because Escambia Academy has gone from the 2A division to the 3A division. Fort Dale was and will continue to be in the 3A division.

Fort Dale focused heavily on their running game last season, but this year the Eagles will have a much more balanced attack. Fountain believes Fort Dale is moving to the pistol formation on offense this season, but they have traditionally relied on the shotgun formation and run the shotgun well.

“They came out in the spring game and they threw for 600 yards in their two spring games and rushed for another 350 or something,” Fountain said. “So, you’ve got to be ready to stop both areas, which is not going to be easy this early in the season. I think they scored something like 12 touchdowns in the spring games.”

Having a balanced offensive attack is something Fountain covets for his own team.

“The critical thing for us is that we come out and play physical football in every game that we play this year,” Fountain said. “I think we’re in the stage of trying to figure out what fits us best. I’d like to have balance on offense. But it’s going to come down to us being able to run the football. If you can run the football, you can do a lot of good things. One more critical thing is whether we can find that balance and be able to sustain a good running game and a good passing game and be a balanced football team.”

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