No one who follows Alabama high school football needs to hear the explanation of Clay County football. But we'll give you some high points anyway. You probably already know they have won state championships six times since 1994. That they won 55 straight games between 1994-1997 allowing only 42 points. The Panthers have won the state championship three times since 2002.
You probably also know that Leeds has won the state championship two of the last three years. They have a gaudy three year record of 41-3, with two 15-0 championship seasons. They boast Division I talent.
These two rich and storied programs will play in the last regular season meeting. Clay County will merge with Lineville after this year, and this new rivalry that stands with a 2-2 record will become a part of Alabama football lore.
The Green Wave rides their high tide into Horn-White Stadium to face the Clay County Panthers where both will put their undefeated records on the line.
Coach Kris Herron from Clay County took the reigns for Danny Horn in 2008. He joined us this week to talk about the game.
Rebecca Johnston: What have your preparations and expectations been this week?
Coach Kris Herron: "We have had two pretty good days of practice, we need a good week of preparation, and we've got to play very close attention to details, the little things and techniques. Defensively, we've got to play with great technique and sound fundamental football.
"Eleven guys at a time doing their job and be as consistent as we can for 48 minutes. The effort has got to be there with the intensity level. One or two plays here and there, and one guy missing his assignment, not carrying out his technique and they can gash you quick."
RJ: Last year you played two games at their house, this year they come to your house.
CKH: "We did have to go up to their place twice last year, and we had a lot of the same players that we had last year as juniors. They are back for their senior year, and I really don't know about our team yet. I tell them the jury is still kind of out, but we are going to find out this week what we've got.
"It's a challenge, but these are the games we enjoy preparing for and hopefully our players enjoy playing in. I'm going to be disappointed if we don't at least compete with them and get good effort and hopefully win the game. If we do the things that can cause us to be successful we will have that opportunity."
RJ: Talk about senior Shawncy Simmons (6-0, 170-pounds) and who else might make a difference for you this week.
CKH: "Shawncy Simmons is in his second year as our quarterback. He went through 12 games last year and got better as the year went along, and now he's a senior. We ask a lot from him. He's one of our better athletes, but we don't ask him to win the game. If the opportunity presents itself for him to make plays then we expect him to do that, and he expects it of himself. He distributes the ball fairly well in the passing, but we don't throw a whole lot. But through two games we've been successful there.
"Lamar Jones (Senior, 5-10, 170-pounds) is our starting tailback, and he's had two good games for us. He has about 250-260 yards, five or six touchdowns. He's one that if we can get him in the open and get him through the front then he's got an opportunity to score from anywhere on the field. But again, it's going to come down to our execution.
"Defensively, Rob Smith (Sophomore, 6-2, 235-pounds) is one of our defensive lineman. He doesn't play any offense. He is just a defensive player for us, and he's the one we look to on the front to help make some plays and keep that front intact. Make sure everybody is doing what we need to do there."
RJ: Last year you played two very good defensive games against Leeds.
CKH: "I think that is where this game will be won or lost on defense for either team. A lot of times the bigger the games with two teams pretty even and competitive the difference is going to be from the defense. Offensively, you are just waiting for the defense to make a mistake, and the one that makes the fewest mistakes and gives up the fewest big plays then that team is going to have the best chance to be successful.
"We defended them well last year in those two games. We played them to a 3-0 overtime loss in the first game, and then 17-6 in the second (playoff) game. We made a mistake or two on defense, and obviously they didn't make many on defense. I look again for a hard slobber-knocker defensive game out of this."
RJ: Let's talk about your position a little bit. You have come into Clay County and followed such a beloved historic coach such as Danny Horn. That's not for the faint of heart is it?
CKH: "I was an assistant with him for 19 years, and I used to always wonder if he ever left what kind of moron would want to follow him (laughter). I guess I got the opportunity to find that out. It was an opportunity that presented itself. We really didn't want someone else coming in here because we felt like we had been part of a good thing for a long time, and we wanted to keep some continuity to it the best we could. So I guess out of the assistants that were here I just took a shot at it.
"It's been trying. It's been challenging, but I have to just say Coach Horn was and still is a super football coach and basically everything I know about football I learned from him. This is the only place I've ever been, but I have had to be myself.
"Some areas Coach Horn and I are different. I've tried to keep the physicality and the intensity level, but a few things we've tried to do different just because I'm a different guy. That was the best advice Coach Horn gave me. He told me ‘you've got a good foundation in football, but you be Coach Herron, you don't try to be anybody else.'"
RJ: The town is probably really buzzing about this game. These kinds of games is why we love football.
CKH: "Oh yeah. A lot of talk going on at the coffee shops, gas stations, and at church last Sunday everybody was already asking about it. It's got a buzz to it, but with the team you try to approach it the best you can but they know. They hear it too.
"You tell them it's the next game. It's a region game for us. In the region standings it doesn't carry any more importance than the game last week or the game in four weeks from now. But it's got a kind of different feel to it and these are the kind of games that are exciting to play in, and the town is talking about it We're all looking forward to it."
Leeds and Coach Keith Etheridge is a formidable opponent for Clay County . Ladarius Rodgers is the player to watch. The senior won the MVP in last year's state championship after the starting tailback was injured.
Alabama HS: Leeds vs. Clay County
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