Former Alabama wide receiver wants tough Decatur Heritage football team

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Decatur Heritage will enter the 2022 football season with a new head coach for the first time in over a decade.

Former Alabama wide receiver Nikita Stover succeeds veteran Steve Meek, who retired after 11 years in charge of the Eagles. Stover, who played two years under Nick Saban at Alabama, coached the college program at Decatur Heritage last year.

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“Coach Meek had a pretty good ship, and I just try to get the kids here for practices and buy into the grind and the hard part of football in the weight room,” he said. “I just feel like once you get to the second and third rounds of the playoffs, you’re going to be in for tougher games, and I feel like that starts in the weight room. “

Last season, the Eagles averaged 43 points per game behind quarterback Brayden Kyle, who signed with UNA. This year, they will bring in senior Bo Solley (5-9, 170) to take on the challenge behind center.

“One thing I learned from Brayden last year was his composure,” Solley said. “I mean he may have lost his temper at times, but through it all he always cheered me on when I was playing running back.

“It’s a new journey for me, and I’m learning more about my progressions and being patient in the pocket of what I’ve seen Brayden do and our offensive coordinator, coach (Dylan) Mussleman.”

Solley also plays baseball and was a key part of the Class 1A state runner-up team last spring. Stover says he’s been impressed with Solley’s work ethic and performance in the 7-on-7 drills so far.

The Eagles are also expecting big things from the team’s fastest player, junior Julio Thomas (5-8, 165). He will play the ball carrier and the corner. Sophomore Andrew Rodriquez (5-8, 205) is the strongest player on the team. He will be called upon to boost the offensive and defensive lines.

The Eagles allowed 22 points per game last year and Coach Stover would like that to come down to the lower teenagers. Decatur Heritage will dress 35 players, with many expected to play on both sides of the ball

“We’ve got 10-15 players right now who can play both ways well, but we’re young and guys are going to make mistakes,” Stover said. “It’s not easy to maintain the same execution and focus needed at a high level, but I believe in our guys.”

Junior Benjamin Abercrombie (6-2, 185) will be one of those players called upon to play both ways on the defensive line and also as the team’s primary kicker. Senior Mason Baxley (6-1, 195) will play linebacker, wide receiver and handle punting duties.

Stover says a big lesson he learned playing for Saban is to hold players accountable.

“Coach Saban wouldn’t let us do little things and always taught us that it’s the little things that will get you beat,” he said. “If our kids can realize that we finish the little things well, then we can really be successful because that’s what championship-type teams do.”

Decatur Heritage is coming off 9-3 straight seasons. The Eagles have made the playoffs seven straight years under Meek.

This fall, the team remains in Class 1A but moves from Region 8 to Region 7, which includes teams such as Cedar Bluff and Sumiton Christian.

Decatur Heritage opens on the road in Section on August 19th.

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