Click here for highlights of Roberts vs. Smiths Station.
Click here for highlights of Roberts vs. Hoover.
Opelika, Ala. – As the Alabama High School playoffs begin Friday night, Brian Blackmon's Opelika Bulldogs are four weeks into a new-look squad with Alabama commitment Stephen Roberts playing quarterback as Matthew Christian suffered a broken collarbone in week 7. The Bulldogs travel to McGill-Toolen on Friday at 7 p.m.
"We're a lot better than we were a few weeks ago," Blackmon said. "We're finding out who we are offensively. Stephen is doing a tremendous job for us offensively for a guy who has not played quarterback. He's unbelievable the things he is doing. We'll continue to work the passing game a little bit and clean up things."
Opelika started the season 6-0 and ranked third in the state in 6A when Christian was hurt on the final play of a 3-0 loss to Smiths Station. Roberts got the start the next week versus Jeff Davis, a 37-6 win.
"We've come a long way since our quarterback got hurt," Roberts said. "Our offense has been working really well in practice, and we're getting better as the season progresses."
In the game against Jeff Davis, Opelika ran a total of eight different plays.
"The playbook has gotten bigger," Roberts said. "Like you said, at first we ran four passes and four rushes, but we've putting more in the playbook and we're starting to execute better on both sides."
Roberts noted that he is enjoying the quarterback role because he gets to run the ball, but that he has zero experience prior to three weeks ago. The closest thing to experience throwing is playing centerfield in baseball.
Opelika finished the regular season last Thursday with a 29-7 regular season loss to Hoover. It was a rematch of the 2012 state championship game which Hoover won 31-0, and was much more of gap between the two teams.
"We're a heck of a lot closer right now as a football than we were this time last year," Blackmon said. "We finished 7-3. Last year 6-4. Regardless of the score, the level of play in game 10 was way better than last year."
Despite the 6-4 regular season record last season Opelika got the ball rolling and went on a four-game tear beating Pelham, Daphne, Auburn and Carver-Montgomery to reach the championship.
This year that starts with McGill-Toolen on the road.
"Everybody is 0-0," Blackmon said. "Every team. It starts a new season. Nobody has an advantage. The only advantage is that some teams have to travel. We're one of those teams, but we've got the same record as the team we're going to play.
"They're a very well-coached football team," he added. "They've got two really good wide receivers, one who is committed to Southern Miss (Chris Knowles), one who is committed to Northern Illinois (Wil Young), a running back, Ito Smith, who is a great player. They'll be well coached. Bart Sessions does a tremendous job."
Roberts committed to Alabama on April 24 prior to his senior year. He said that he is feeling pressure from teammate Jakell Mitchell, who is committed to Auburn, and is still being recruited by the Auburn coaching staff, but the offer to play defensive back at Alabama is a big opportunity.
"They're just the right fit for me," Roberts explained. "They're a defensive team. They're just the best fit for me. When they get after you, they get after you. They're pretty cool people when they come up to meet you, but if you mess up something they'll get onto you. That's kind of what I like. I don't want to be pushed into what I'm going to do."