Region reshuffle

Published 8:33 am Monday, November 21, 2011

Although the school was rumored to be on the border for Class 5A, Escambia County High School will remain in Class 4A Region 1 following the release of the new classifications by the Alabama High School Athletic Association on Wednesday.

The Blue Devils stay in Region 1 with Thomasville, UMS-Wright and Monroe County, welcoming Andalusia, Wilcox-Central, Hillcrest-Evergree and Clarke County.

In the first announcement, St. Paul’s Episcopal dropped down from Class 5A, but after AHSAA officials discovered a school was left out of the classification, St. Paul’s moved back up and Andalusia moved over to Class 4A Region 2.

The Escambia County Blue Devils will see four new opponents in region play beginning in 2012. The Blue Devils will face new opponents Andalusia, Clarke County, Wilcox-Central and Hillcrest-Evergreen. They will also continue to play Thomasville, UMS-Wright and Monroe County.

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The change made no difference to ECHS head coach Mark Heaton, who said that a talented program was joining the region either way.

“They had to make some changes yesterday when it was discovered they left off (Huntsville’s) Pope John Paul II, which begins varsity play this year,” he said. “When they made that change, they shuffled up some regions and placed St. Paul’s as the largest 4A school back into 5A and pushed Chelsea up into 6A. For us, it really doesn’t change anything because it just keeps brings another talented team into our region.”

The new classifications, which move four teams from this year’s Region 1, create a ripple effect because of how many teams moved, but the competition level remains the same with each new team looked at as a trade off.

With Jackson being moved back to Class 5A and Andalusia coming to Region 1, the Blue Devils will still be challenged by a competitive Bulldogs team, Heaton said.

“Jackson moves out and Andalusia moves in,” he said. “Andalusia finished the season undefeated and won Region 2 the last two years, so we pick up another competitive football team. Southwest Alabama has some of the best football in the state from Classes 1A-6A.

The changes to the Region 1 move Jackson (now 5A), B.C. Rain (now 5A), Saraland (now 5A) and W.S. Neal (now 3A) out.

With playoff teams Jackson and Saraland out of the region, the challenge of playoff positioning does not soften up, Heaton said.

“I think it will still be a competitive region,” he said. “When you look at us still playing Thomasville and UMS-Wright and then throw in Andalusia and Hillcrest-Evergreen then it still shows that we are in for a fight.”

With half of the teams in Region 1 being new, the Blue Devils are unsure where they fit into the picture.

How a team grows during the offseason and then in the midst of a season will be what determines the teams that make the playoffs, Heaton said.

“No one really knows year-to-year because of how a football team can develop,” he said. “For example, UMS-Wright was looking at having a down year because of all their youth, but here they are still in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. It’s all about how teams progress week-to-week. We just hope our kids work hard to be in a position for reaching the playoffs.”

Now that the Blue Devils have four new opponents to take on for the next two seasons, the school and community will get a chance to see new faces and school colors on the visiting sidelines.

Having the opportunity to coach against new teams is something that Heaton, his staff and players are embracing, Heaton said.

“It’s neat being able to line up against new teams,” he said. “I’ll enjoy playing Andalusia in the regular season because coach (Brian) Seymore and I are pretty good friends. They do a great job and run a class act program. I’m excited to go up against coach (Jason) Massey at Clarke Prep. He and my defensive coordinator Andy Lambert have a good history. It’s going to be great going up against good guys like that.”