Aug. 23—2022 was a banner year for Morgan County teams with eight of the nine schools reaching the state playoffs.
Could 2023 bring similar success? And what about a bounce-back year for Lawrence and Limestone counties?
Here's a look at each region with records from last season and our picks making the playoffs. Note that four teams from each region will make the playoffs:
—Class 7A, Region 4: Austin (7-4, 6-1), James Clemens (4-6, 4-3), Bob Jones (5-6, 4-3), Florence (8-3, 6-1), Sparkman (5-5, 3-4), Huntsville (6-5, 4-3), Grissom (3-7,1-6), Albertville (1-9, 0-7).
Austin shook off an 0-2 start last season to win seven straight and win its second region championship in Class 7A. Despite losing two-year starting quarterback De'Air Young, the Black Bears are talented and experienced and should be even better this year.
Prediction: Austin (winner), Florence, Bob Jones, James Clemens.
—Class 6A, Region 8: Hartselle (12-1, 5-0), Muscle Shoals (11-2, 4-1), Cullman (7-4, 2-3), Decatur (9-3, 3-2), Athens (5-5, 1-4), Columbia (0-10, 0-7).
Hartselle once again finished with an undefeated regular season last year and won its second straight region championship. The Tigers are replacing eight starters on offense, but there's no reason to doubt their ability to reload under coach Bryan Moore, who's 29-6 in three seasons at Hartselle.
Decatur finished third in the region last season, but the Red Raiders have a new coach and lost a significant number of seniors.
Athens is primed for bounce-back season with seniors with multiple years of starting experience at nearly every position.
Prediction: Hartselle (winner), Muscle Shoals, Athens, Decatur.
—Class 5A, Region 8: Russellville (7-5, 6-0), Fairview (7-4, 5-1), Brewer (5-6, 3-3), East Limestone (5-6, 3-3), West Point (3-7, 3-3), Ardmore (3-7, 2-4). Lawrence County (3-7, 0-6).
Russellville has dominated the region in recent years so the Golden Tigers are No. 1 until they're not.
The rest of the spots are all up for grabs.
Fairview has had plenty of recent success, reaching the semifinals in 2021 and finishing second in the region last year.
Brewer and East Limestone both finished strong down the stretch last season and reached the playoffs. Brewer is entering year three under coach Matt Plunkett and East Limestone is entering its second season under Clint Woodfin, who wasn't made head coach until right before the season in 2022. Both teams should be even better in 2023.
Trent Walker is in his third season at Lawrence County. The Red Devils went from zero wins in 2021 to three in 2022 and now have a slew of juniors that all started as freshmen.
This region could be one of the most exciting to track.
Prediction: Russellville (winner), East Limestone, Brewer, Fairview.
—Class 4A, Region 8: Deshler (12-1, 7-0), West Morgan (10-2. 6-1), Rogers (7-4, 4-3), Central-Florence (6-5, 4-3), Brooks (6-4, 4-3), West Limestone (5-5, 2-5), Wilson (1-9, 1-6), East Lawrence (0-10. 0-7).
After finishing second in the region in 2022 thanks to a close loss to Deshler, the region is West Morgan's for the taking in 2023. A ton of talent is back for coach Drew Phillips' third season, including third-year starting quarterback Braxton Peters and All-State running back Jalen Fletcher. With Deshler losing a large class of seniors, the only thing that might stop the Rebels is themselves.
Prediction: West Morgan (winner), Deshler, Brooks, Rogers.
—Class 4A, Region 7: Priceville (11-1, 7-0), Randolph (10-3, 6-1), Westminster Christian (6-5, 5-2), Madison County (4-7, 4-3), St. John Paul II (4-6, 2-5), New Hope (4-6, 2-5), North Jackson (2-8, 2-5). DAR (1-9, 0-7).
Priceville didn't take long to assert itself in its new region, winning the championship in 2022. Priceville's tough, hard-nosed style proved tough to deal with for the other pass-happy teams in the region.
The Bulldogs will be the top contender, although Randolph will once again be a tough challenge. A Westminster team with an explosive offense could also make a play for the region's top spot.
Prediction: Priceville (winner), Westminster, Randolph, Madison County.
—Class 3A, Region 8: Mars Hill (10-2, 6-0), Lauderdale County (7-5, 5-1), Colbert County (7-5, 4-2), Phil Campbell (7-4, 3-3), Colbert Heights (4-6, 2-4), Clements (2-8, 1-5), Elkmont (1-9, 0-6).
Mars Hill continues to move up in classifications and also continues to dominate every region it's in. This season should be no different.
Prediction: Mars Hill (winner), Lauderdale County, Colbert County, Phil Campbell.
—Class 3A, Region 7: Madison Academy (9-3, 6-0), J.B. Pennington (9-2, 5-1), Vinemont (5-6, 3-3), Danville (3-8, 3-3), Susan Moore (3-7, 3-3), Brindlee Mountain (2-8, 1-5), Asbury (1-9, 0-6).
Madison Academy took quick advantage of the move down to Class 3A, easily winning the region. Danville only won three games, but it was the three the team needed. The Hawks reached the playoffs despite having just two seniors.
Prediction: Madison Academy, J.B. Pennington, Danville, Vinemont.
—Class 2A, Region 8: Lexington (9-3, 6-0), Falkville (7-5, 4-2), Hatton (7-3, 4-2), Red Bay (6-5, 3-3), Sheffield (5-5, 2-4), Tanner (4-5, 2-4), Tharptown (2-8. 0-6).
Lexington was last year's region winner, but the Golden Bears graduated several seniors and also have a new coach.
Falkville and Hatton both lost key players, but also both have some great young talent.
Tanner is looking for a bounce-back season after injuries and other circumstances derailed what could have been a great season. Quarterback Karl Parham and receiver Skylar Townsend are both back and a defense that surrendered 36 points per game should be much improved.
Prediction: Tanner (winner), Hatton, Lexington, Falkville.
—Class 1A, Region 7: Valley Head (10-2, 6-0), Coosa Christian (9-5, 5-1), Appalachian (5-6, 4-2), Cedar Bluff (4-7, 2-4), Gaylesville (3-6, 2-4), Decatur Heritage (4-6, 2-4), Woodville (2-8, 0-6).
Youth and inexperience plagued Decatur Heritage last season in Nikita Stover's first year as head coach. The Eagles struggled to finish games, losing four by 10 points or less.
This season, Decatur Heritage should be back where it belongs, competing for a region championship.
Winning won't be easy, however. Valley Head won last year and runner-up Coosa Christian was a play away from reaching the 1A state championship game.
Prediction: Coosa Christian (winner), Decatur Heritage, Valley Head, Appalachian.
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