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Adam Clayton was a senior on Steve McCord's 1996 team. It was McCord's final year in Tallassee with a 9-3 record. Clayton now coaches the Southside Middle School football team and Tallassee Varsity Tigers baseball team.

A Century of THS Football
Part IX - 1994-99

By Michael Butler

Woody Weaver retired from coaching after the 1993 season or did he? Steve McCord coached just one year at THS - the "I Believe" season of 1984. Both would come back and the 1900s would end with a new coach and one of Tallassee's greatest seasons.

With Weaver's departure from the head coaching ranks after a 1-9 campaign in 1993, the door was open for his replacement. The program brought in a coach that people knew in McCord. He led the Tigers to the semifinals in his only season in Tallassee in 1984.

In retrospect, McCord said his decision to leave Tallassee after one year in '84 for his alma mater at Marbury was one that he wished he could have back.

"Looking back, it was my mistake. I should've stayed."

McCord coached seven years at the Class 1A program going 48-31. He had two 10-win teams in 1989 and '90. The '90 unit reached the quarterfinals. Like Tallassee under Weaver in '93, he went just 1-9.

The first season back at Tallassee in 1994, McCord went 3-7. The '95 team finished 5-5. In '96, the Tigers were 9-3.

"The situation was similar," McCord said of the state of the program when he made his return to Tallassee, "but we weren't quite as talented as in '84. In '96 we made it to the second round of the playoffs."

The Tigers had two regular season losses in in 1996; Wetumpka (34-6) and Stanhope Elmore (31-7). Both were Class 5A programs. Tallassee finished at No. 8 in the ASWA Class 4A rankings.

In the playoffs, Tallassee beat Pike County 34-14 but fell at T.R. Miller 39-13.

McCord's 95 team

After his second stint at Tallassee in the mid-90s, McCord left again taking the head position at Jemison.

"I had some regrets about leaving again, but it's just part of life. Maybe things would've been different with my career if I had stayed and finished up there."

It looked like Tallassee had McCord's replacement in state championship coach Danny Horn from Clay County. At the time, Horn had won the previous three state Class 2A titles in Ashland. The team had a 55-game win streak during his tenure.

After Horn turned down Tallassee's offer, they turned to another former head coach, according to Carl Stewart.

"I called (Woody Weaver) and said, 'Coach, what do you think about one more time?' He said, 'I don't know any of these kids.' He said, 'No.' I called him that morning again. He said, 'If you'll do it, I'll do it.'"

Stewart, who was serving as assistant principal at the time, partnered with Weaver to coach in 1997. Tallassee went 4-7.

The door was open again for a change in 1998. Mark Rose played college football for Pat Dye at Auburn from 1986-89.

Rose's
Tiger Tracks yearbook photo

"I was drawn to Coach Dye. What a great man. A lot of things I patterned after him. No. 1, let's raise good men and hold them to a standard. I didn't ever want to let him down. He was a father figure. The first day I was in Tallassee, he rode up with Wilson Jolly. He came up and talked to the (players)."

After Rose's playing days he served as a graduate assistant with Dye's Auburn staff for a year and a half. He then took assistant coaching positions on the high school level and Demopolis and Smiths Station. He interviewed at Tallassee for the head coaching job in 1998.

"Carl Stewart is one of my favorite guys that I've ever worked with. He has the same kind of heart for kids that I have," Rose said of the THS principal at the time of his hiring. "Coach Stewart called Joe Whitt at Auburn and asked him about Mark Rose. Coach Whitt told him, 'You better hire him.' I think Joe Whitt helped me get in with his relationship with Coach Stewart."

In 1998, Tallassee offered Rose his first head coaching job. He accepted and went 7-5 in his first season. Tallassee beat Greensboro 20-12 in the first round of the playoffs and lost to T.R. Miller 37-8.

"I thought we had a positive first year. We won the first round game that gave our guys a taste of it. We went down to T.R. Miller and was 6-0 at the half. T.R. Miller was a power at that time. I encouraged our guys. I said, 'It's not our fault. They've been in the weight room for six years and we've been in there for six months, but I know how to fix it."

Rose fixed it. The 1999 Tigers put up their first undefeated regular season since the O'Brien era dating back to 1946. It was the first season with a 10-0 regular season record in program history.

The Tiger Tracks yearbook recapped the 1999 campaign.

"When the 1999 football season began, the Tallassee Tigers were not expected to make much noise. The team quickly proved the skeptics wrong. They were the most outstanding team to ever put on a purple uniform."

Jack Venable's scoreboard shot from the Tallassee Tribune as the Tigers celebrate the Dadeville win and 10-0

"The next year in the semifinals, we were still playing and (T.R. Miller) wasn't. It was a hungry group of kids."

Derrick Ansley was a senior for the Tigers during the '99 season. He was a first-team all-state selection and played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. Ansley went on to play collegiately at Troy. He has coached at Huntingdon, Alabama, Kentucky and now serves as Tennessee's defensive coordinator.

Ansley
Courtesy of UT Athletics

"It's unbelievable how fast he's risen in the coaching ranks," Rose said of Ansley. "He's a winner. We had a few run-ins the first few months. He bought in and the rest is history. He was a great leader for us. We got a championship standard. It was on the field, off the field. If you've never been exposed to that kind of standard like Coach Dye taught us, you can't stay around Nick Saban, John Gruden, Jeremey Pruitt, those guys he's been around. My high school coach did it for me."

Ansley spoke of his bond with Rose.

"Coach Rose came in '98," Ansley said. "We set the foundation of what kind of football team we wanted to have. The first was always toughness. He instilled that menatality. We bought into it and had really good leadership. That carried over to '99. We felt like we had a chance to be pretty good."

Rose remembers a visit at practice prior to the '99 season opener from former O'Brien era star Davis Melton.

"He came out to practice and we were doing pursuit drills. The effort was absolutely unbelievable. I remember coach Melton looking at me and smiling, 'Coach, we might have something.' I said, 'Well, what you don't know is we're four hours and 45 minutes into practice.' He smiled wide and said, 'Yeah, we might have a chance.'"

The team was limited in numbers, but that did not matter Ansley noted.

"I think we had 28 guys. A lot of guys played both ways. That's a different mindset. When a guys plays tailback and corner like Justin Williams. Ron Griffin plays wingback with Chris Thompson to linebacker and defensive end. Brad Peters played fullback and linebacker. Jared Blair played tight end and linebacker. Our guys never came off the field.

"You don't need a lot of guys if you've got the right formula, chemistry, leadership and personality. All of those things gelled in '99. We had a good group of guys, not a lot of guys but the right guys."

Ansley with coach Mark Rose.
Tallassee Tribune photo by Timm Timmerman.

Ansley was among those warriors as a quarterback and defensive back.

"I contribute the defensive back play to coach Sylvester Atkins, the defensive coordinator. When he came in with coach Rose he said, 'If you want to go to college, you better play defensive back.' That kind of stuck with me. I was a decent quarterback. We had a really good running game and did a lot of play action. I had the luxury of seeing what good quarterback play looked like at Tallassee growing up watching Jonathan Rivers and Brent Timmerman. I kind of looked up to those guys.

"Flipping over to play defensive back, that's something I did growing up in the neighborhood - reading the quarterback's eyes and thinking like a quarterback.

Ansley intercepted 12 balls as a senior. He had 23 picks in his career in the THS secondary. In college he followed suit with 19 career interceptions.

"It really wasn't my doing," he said. "In high school, nobody could run the ball on us with Dan Williams and Eric Cagle inside, Chris Thompson and (Brandon) "Bouke" Peters on the edge and Jared Blair and Brad Peters inside. Nobody could run the ball, so they had to throw the ball to try and move the ball. That played into my hands. We had Justin Williams at the corner and Cody Goodman at the other corner. I just kind or roamed around and read the quarterback. If you can stop the run, you can make the quarterback play left-handed.

"That carried over to Troy. I had the luxury of playing with a lot of good defensive linemen down there, Osi Umenyiora and Demarcus Ware. That made my job easy."

'99 Tigers

One of the Tigers' toughest games came in Hanover vs. Central Coosa. It was the fourth game of the season and Tallassee had yet to be challenged. THS escaped with a 16-14 win.

"Coosa beat us in '98," Ansley remembered. "The '99 game goes back to having the right guys. They didn't have a lot of ball players. We all know Central is known for basketball. They had Justin Tuck playing defensive end and tight end. (He) went on to play at Notre Dame and played ten plus years in the NFL. They were a really good football team, one of the toughest teams we played outside of Reeltown."

As for the Reeltown game, Tallassee won 37-20 in Reeltown the week after the Coosa game.

"I played in the game three years," Ansley said. "Every game was tough. I remember the '99 game particulary because Reeltown was young. They had L.A. O'Neal (and) Joe Mack Hutcherson. They were tenth graders. They played us toe to toe. I knew they were going to be really good the next two years. In 2001, they won the state championship. Anytime you play against your rivals, your friends, your relatives, that's going to be a knockdown, dragout fight no matter how big the schools are or how many people on the team. You only put 11 out there at a time."

The win in '99 was the Tigers' fourth straight since the renewal of the series in 1996. It is also Tallassee's last win against the Rebels in the series that has not been played since 2003. The game returns to kick off the 2020 season.

Tiger Tracks snapshot of Justin Williams

"It's something that needed to happen a long time ago," Ansley said. "It's tragic that we missed a generation of kids playing against each other. It's very healthy when you have people that know each other that are so closely located in living and related as far as relationships. You're always going to have that rivalry. I'm glad they brought it back. It needed to be done. I'm excited to see it come back. Hopefully we'll keep that tradition going every year."

Justin Williams went off against Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee after a 21-6 win over Handley the prior week.

"We got beat by Booker T. my first year (in) a one-point game, so we were champing at the bit to get a hold of them the second year," Rose said. "I think (Justin) had 34 carries for 377 yards. He was unbelievable. He was always going to find a crease in there somewhere."

Williams' total against BTW was a single-game record at the time. He broke his own single-season rushing record of 2,051 yards from the previous season with 2,517 yards in '99 and added a record 37 touchdowns.

"Justin Williams didn't say a whole lot. He led by his perfomance," Rose said. "I remember watching film with him in there at the tail end of his sophomore career. I said, 'This guy's got a little bit of ability. I don't think he had but about 200 yards the whole season, but he had one good game toward the end of the year.

"You talk about tough. He weighed about 160. He was special. He's one of the best players I've ever coached."

Tallassee Tribune front page after Tallassee's quarterfinal win at St. Paul's

Tallassee outscored its opponents 454-176 in '99 averaging 32.4 points per game and allowing 12.6.

After beating Dadeville 21-16 in the regular season finale, Tallassee reached No. 3 in ASWA Class 4A poll - the highest ranking since Jackie Davis' Tigers peaked at No. 3 in 1960.

"When we got to Dadeville, everybody knows Dadeville is always fast. They were tough and big," said Ansley. "We ended up winning the game late finishing 10-0. Sitting at 9-0 with a chance to make history playing Dadeville at home, we weren't going to lose that game."

Rose talked about how close the Tigers were to losing the tenth game of the season.

Commemorative mug for the '99 season

"We were down 10-0. I called a timeout. I think they expected me to give them a pretty good blistering, but I really didn't. We were just a little overly excited. I said, 'Look, I believe in y'all. Let's calm down and play ball. We fought back and won the game. It was a special year."

The Tigers won the first-round playoff game ove Dale County 42-13. In round two, they blew out Dadeville in a rematch 31-0.

"Dadeville was a rivalry. I told them when we played Dadeville in the second round (that) they were one play away from beating us. If we'd blown them out the first time, it'd been hard to make them to believe that they could beat us."

Then in the quarters, the Tigers had a thriller in Mobile vs. St. Paul's.

"That was a heavyweight fight. It was a real atmosphere," Ansley said. "St. Paul's (has) a lot of tradition. A lot of great players come out of there; Mark Barron, A.J. McCarron. They're well coached and tough. They tried to intimidate us before the game. They were chanting and we were warming up. That intimidation factor was real."

Rose agreed.

"We were on the field warming up. Their team came down that hill hooting and hollering, mocking us and making fun of our poor, little squad. I told my players, 'Don't say a word.' They charged us up and we got off to a fast start with a lot of emotion. We felt like we were disrespected."

Ansley remembers the preparation leading up to the Friday night tilt.

"They had a really good tailback in Beau Flemming, a really good quarterback in Tiger Jones. They were very similar to us built from the running game. I remember we worked on a particular drag route that they ran a lot. We put in a special coverage. The free safety, which was me, jumps the crossing route. They ran that route and I ran it back a long way. It was a big play in the game. I never would've made that play if it wasn't for coach Atkins recognizing the play."

Rose talked about the key play in the game.

"I had about seven films on them. I didn't see a single incompletion that deep drag. I said, 'We'll let Justin Williams cover the wing man and Derrick's going to rob that drag route. The first time they threw it Derrick caught it in stride and ran down the sideline and got knocked out at the three- or four-yard line. That was a huge start to the ball game."

Tallassee won 21-19 when the Saints' last-second fied goal attempt sailed wide of the uprights.

The team might have celebrated a bit prematurely after the miss as time had not yet expired.

"I couldn't yell at the kids for running onto the field," Rose was quoted saying in a Tallassee Tribune article, "because I was the first one out there."

The Tigers picked up a 15-yard penatly but then took a knee to end the game.

"That was rather nerve wracking because the guy had the leg to do it," Rose said. "Fortunately we got out to a lead and he missed it wide right. What a huge win on the road for a little old team that not a lot of people had a lot of high expectations except the coaches and players in that locker room."

Ansley being presented a "Key to the City" by Tallassee mayor Johnny Hammock in 2018.

"We got stops when we needed," Ansley added, "got a couple of turnovers, converted some fourth downs. It was back and forth. It was a huge win."

The semifinal match would be in Tallassee. It was just the second time in school history that Tallassee had reached the fourth round. In 1984 THS traveled to Brewton in the semis and lost 17-7 to T.R. Miller. Getting a semifinal game at home set the stage for a huge crowd J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium.

The entire day was an event with Tallassee hosting a fourth-round game, one win away from reaching the championship match. Sports writer Timm Timmerman wrote about the time leading up to the game in the Tallassee Tribune.

"The day after Thanksgiving was a festive day in Tallassee," Timmerman wrote. "The first tailgater arrived at 8:30. Tallassee coaches arrived at noon. By 2 p.m. the lot was filling fast. Beginning at 3:50, a steady stream of fans filed into the fabled O'Brien Stadium. By 7 p.m., there were spectators in every conceivable location, even on some structures outside."

It is estimated that approximately 5,000 fans attended the game. The population of Tallassee is about the same. It was likely the highest attendance ever at any event in the city's history.

"You have to be a complete team to make a run in the playoffs. You've got to be able to beat them in the air and on the ground," said Ansley. "I've had the luxury of coaching in some big games; SEC Championship, playoff games, National Championship games, coaching in the NFL on Monday Night Football, in London. I go back to that game on Friday night, nothing like that atmosphere.

"Coming out of the locker room and not really being able to breathe because there were so many people in one small location. The atmosphere of having Reeltown, Elmore County and Dadeville people there to support you. It was surreal. To me in my career playing or coaching, it's top two or three that I've ever been a part of."

Rose also spoke of the setting that night.

"There wasn't an empty seat. They were lined up down the streets. What an atmosphere for those kids. They earned and they deserved it. It was a great experience."

Steve McCord has been on the sidelines for both of Tallassee's semifinal games, once as the Tigers' coach and the other as the opponent's coach. It did not go Tallassee's way either time.

"Jemison had been down a while and had never experienced anything like that," McCord said. "That year, kind of like the '84 year, we got on a roll at the right time. Coach Rose had done a great job, had a super running back in (Justin) Williams and a really fine team."

Jemison entered the game at 12-1. Tallassee had already broken its single season record for wins and was 13-0 under Mark Rose.

"They led most of the first half," Rose remembered. "I think we tied it up with the touchdown pass to Brad Peters right before the half. Probably, they had a little more depth and talent. (We) played our guts out for 48 minutes. It's still one of the greatest memories I have in my coaching career."

1999    
at LaFayette W 44-18
vs. Central Hayneville W 43-0
vs. Dallas County W 46-22
at Central Coosa W 16-14
at Reeltown W 37-20
vs. Bullock County W 62-14
vs. Handley W 21-6
at B.T. Washington W 28-6
at Elmore County W 28-0
vs. Dadeville W 21-16
vs. Dale County W 42-13
vs. Dadeville W 31-0
at St. Paul's W 21-19
vs. Jemison L 28-14

The Panthers ended Tallassee's perfect season 28-14 in front of a capacity crowd at O'Brien Stadium.

"We just had a good night," McCord said. "I thought it was our best night. People ask me if it was some kind of sweet revenge. It had nothing to do with that. It was just another game for me. I really respected the people in Tallassee and the players. It was quite an experience to have that many people there. It was a huge crowd. Everybody was extremely pumped. It was very noisy, the way it should be in high school football."

Along with Ansley, Justin Williams and Ryan Johnson were all-state picks. Williams was named 4A Back of the Year and made the ASWA Super 12 team. He also broke the career rushing record at Tallassee.

Senior Ron Griffin was quoted in the Tigers Tracks yearbook after the historic season.

"It felt great to know that one day, (I'll) be able to look back and share this historical experience with my kids."

After just two seasons in Tallassee, Rose received an offer from North Jackson.

"I had a friend approach me who was actually at Troy. He asked me about that job up there. They basically put an offer that I could not refuse.

"They're a similar community. It's so rewarding. There are a lot of kids I have a thread with. That's what it's all about to me. So much of those kids started off with not much of a chance in life. It's not a job to me. It's a calling, stepping in and teaching kids that may be hurting from a bad situation."

Rose was immediately successful in Stevenson. In just his third year the Chiefs were in the Class 4A championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham. They lost a heartbreaker 7-3 to UMS-Wright.

Lineman Travis Thornell

"It still haunts me. We were up 3-0 with five minutes to go in the game. We picked up a first down and fumbled the ball. They went down and made a diving catch. We had them. That's a hard one to swallow. I took up for my running back that fumbled. We wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for him. It wasn't on him. We had 100 plays we could've made a play to win the game. Our guys laid it on the line. That's all I could ask of them."

Rose coached at North Jackson for eight seasons before accepting the Smiths Station job. He was there for six seasons and then returned to North Jackson. In 2019, Rose took the head coaching position at Russell County. The Warriors have not had a winning season since 1998, the year Rose got his first head coaching gig at Tallassee 22 years ago.

"These guys are as hungry as any kids I've ever been around. Our kids have bought in. I've got no doubt in my mind that we will get there. It means so much to them. They're just going to explode when we get this thing done."

Rose was scheduled to meet Tallassee in a spring football game this year but the coronavirus ended spring practice before it started.

"I've been friends for a long time with coach (Mike) Battles. I'm sure we'll bring it back next spring. Tallassee's a great place. I still have a lot of friends there."