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'It's Time to Go': Central-Phenix City squares off with Hoover in season opener

'It's Time to Go': Central-Phenix City squares off with Hoover in season opener

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What a difference a day made for Central-Phenix City head coach Patrick Nix this week.

On Monday, Nix was gearing up for the Red Devils to hold an intra-squad scrimmage Friday after its would-be season opener against Peach County (Ga.) was canceled. By Tuesday night, he was quickly putting together a game plan for Central to face one of Alabama’s premier football programs.

Nix and his Red Devils crew are set for one of the state’s top games of Week 1, as Central will take on Hoover tonight in Garrett-Harrison Stadium. Although the matchup came together late, it will be one of the most highly-anticipated thanks to Central’s No. 2 ranking and Hoover’s No. 4 ranking in the ASWA’s Class 7A poll.

The game will prove to be an incredible test that also serves as quite the debut for Nix, who was hired in the offseason after an impressive three-year run at Pinson Valley.

“When you pick up Hoover on a Tuesday, it changes life real fast. Life went from getting things ready — having a few days to continue to prepare to all of a sudden it's here. It's time to go. There's no time to even breathe,” Nix told WTVM on Wednesday. “It's exciting. I think it's very exciting for this community and both schools. It's great for this state. It's something I think this state and our communities desperately need. I know on both sides the kids are excited and looking forward to it. Overall, I think it's a great thing.”

Nix is one of countless coaches across the country who faced the unexpected task of adjusting to a new team in the midst of a health pandemic. He explained that while at times the situation was difficult — especially once new assistants did their best to hit the ground running with players — but he lauded the Central players for how they handled everything thrown their way.

Nix said in April and May that the Central coaches were either on Zoom calls or Google Hangout sessions with players for about an hour Monday through Friday watching film or studying the playbook in order to not get behind.

The task hasn’t been the easiest for a Red Devils squad that was well-versed in how things worked during Jamey DuBose’s time at the helm, but Nix had nothing but positives to share about their efforts.

“They've done a great job. It's a whole new system for them on both sides of the ball. It's totally new. It's nothing remotely the same. It's a foreign language for them,” Nix said on the Red Devils Coach’s Show on Wednesday. “They've had to get after it, learn and grow. Our kids, they've really worked to learn it. They've really been like sponges and soaked it up.”

The combination of quarterbacks Caleb Nix and Trey Miles along with running backs Joseph McKay and Zion Morris will be expected to hit the ground running Friday in order to keep up with a Hoover offense that averaged nearly 29 points per game one year ago. Of course, Central is in good shape on defense thanks to the expertise of new defensive coordinator Tony Hatmaker — who Nix said was a must-have in order for him to come to Phenix City in the first place — and standout players such as defensive lineman Jamorey Jones, who has been so disruptive up front during summer practices that the coaches have politely asked the senior to take it down a notch from time to time.

Jones and the rest of the Red Devils will have to bring their A-game in order to tangle with the Buccaneers, who have been the class of Alabama football for years and years.

Hoover has won 13 state titles in program history, with 11 coming in the last 20 years. The Buccaneers have been incredibly consistent in that time span, as they’ve posted double-digit wins in 18 of those seasons and made it to at least the quarterfinals of the playoffs every single season.

Talent is ever present at Hoover, but more than that is the belief among the Buccaneers that they can win every time they strap their helmets on. That, Nix explained, is something Central must instill within its program in order to be considered the best of the best.

“They're going to play extremely hard, and they're notorious — you have them beat, have them beat and all of a sudden they find a way to win. That's just Hoover. They believe in it,” Nix said on the radio show. “They have that confidence about them that they believe they're going to win every game. That's something that quite honestly we have to have. We have to get to that point to where every game and every day — no matter what it is and no matter what the situation — when we walk out we're going to find a way to win.”

Friday’s game is set up as a top-five showdown in which the Red Devils will have to do everything they can to slow down a talented Bucs team featuring running back Dylan Betts-Pauley, outside linebacker Josh Smith and receiver Malik Thomas. Nix explained the preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing and any clout must be earned, and it all starts tonight.

Nix explained that sometimes it’s important in the growth of a team to play in down-to-the-wire games rather than blowouts. By scheduling Hoover, it’s evident Central is looking for a 48-minute fight.

From team dinners to arriving back home at 3 a.m. local time, the Central-Phenix City traveled to Montgomery for the first game of the season. The Opelika-Auburn News followed the team from pulling out of the high school at 2:15 p.m. local time to arriving back home at 3 a.m. local time. Take a look at what it's like to be a member of the defending 7A State Champs.


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