Somewhere, Eugene Cooper is smiling.
On the field that bears his name, football magic has returned.
Suddenly, Ardmore is a football team trending upward. Under first-year coach Clint Legg, the Tigers are enjoying a turnaround season, surprising fans and foes, alike, at every bend.
For the first time since 1969, Ardmore heads into Week 4 unbeaten. And now, in a town that hasn’t celebrated a postseason team in seven seasons, the talk has shifted from playoff possibilities to something much bigger:
The chance of contending for a region title.
Ardmore (3-0, 2-0 in Class 4A, Region 7) travels to Randolph (2-1, 1-1) on Friday.
“Since practice started, we have improved,” Legg said. “But at the same time, we’ve also got a lot of room for improvement. No one around here can afford to get complacent, because we’ve only played three games, so there’s still a lot of football to be played.
An old-school statement from an old-school coach. Once again, Cooper has to be smiling.
In Cooper’s day, Ardmore perennially fielded teams that contended for league titles.
The former Tigers coach, who was inducted into the Limestone County and Alabama High School Athletic Association halls of fame, amassed a 151-49 record from 1948-1973 while winning two mythical state titles (1958 and 1961).
Just three games into the season, no one can say Ardmore is on the verge of matching its glory days. But one thing is clear: The Tigers are improving. Since making their last playoff appearance in 2006 with an 8-3 record, last season’s 5-5 mark was the first time the Tigers did not finish with a losing record. In the past 30 seasons, Ardmore averaged only 2.83 wins.
Ardmore is enjoying this turnaround by referencing a few chapters from yesteryear. With Legg at the helm, old-school football is the way.
The offense is built around downhill, power running, and the players believe games are won with physical, pad-thumping defense.
Big, loud and proud: Ardmore’s players have latched on to Legg’s coaching personality.
They’ve taken that identity onto the field, grinding out wins while gaining confidence with each week.
Last week, Ardmore’s 36-34 overtime win against North Jackson was the program’s first-ever against the Chiefs — a perennial Class 4A power that’s usually paired by the AHSAA in the Tigers’ region.
Was that a significant moment? Perhaps, especially in this season’s Region 7 playoff race. But Legg is not celebrating, and he is steering the Tigers in the same direction.
“We’re not talking about any of that stuff,” Legg said. “We haven’t won anything yet. One game, one week at a time. That’s the mindset our players have to maintain if they want to have a shot at achieving their goals.”
Ardmore’s strong start should not surprise the program’s loyal fans. All the pieces for a turnaround are in place.
Legg’s football philosophy is a tough, physical brand, and the Tigers’ roster is filled with players who fit that bill.
Ardmore has at least four running backs who are suited for Legg’s downhill, power scheme, and Hayden Durrett is arguably the area’s best pure tight end. The 6-foot and 215-pound senior is athletic with a big, muscular frame, and his soft hands make him a big-play threat in the Tigers’ passing game.
Quarterback Garrett Miller also has been a major factor. The junior, a third-year starter, is emerging as an accurate passer who is clutch under pressure. Miller has passed for about 400 yards, including a 2-point conversion pass to Durrett in overtime that secured the win against North Jackson.
“These kids have worked hard,” Legg said. “They came in here and made a commitment, and they’ve stuck with it. That’s why they’re seeing results.”
Movers and shakers
For area football teams, there was some movement this week on the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s prep football polls.