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Thomas and Mike Battles

Coronavirus will not be an excuse

By Michael Butler

Much of the talk in the off-season preceding the 2020 kickoff to high school football has revolved around COVID-19. Tallassee High School coach Mike Battles is finally getting to talk about what might happen between the lines on the playing field and is as excited as ever.

Despite the cancellation of spring practice and the doubts of the season this fall, team Battles are remaining optimistic. Mike's oldest son Thomas is a senior on the squad.

"I absolutely can't believe it's my senior year," Thomas said, "This senior class is the group I grew up with from (youth football). I'm feeling really good about it."

The father/coach fondly remembers his own time as a senior playing for his dad.

"If there was a period in my life where I could go back and do it again, that's the only one."

Truck Griffin in 2019 vs. Beauregard. Griffin, a standout on both sides of the ball, signed with Alcorn State

Battles enters his ninth season at the helm in Tallassee, his 24th overall as a head coach. The Tigers have missed the post-season the past two years with 5-4 (2019) and 6-4 (2018) records after ten straight playoff berths from 2008-2018.

"Our kids are ready," Battles said. "There will be no excuses. It's not going to be because of the coronavirus. Everybody has had the same amount of time and had to deal with the same amount of things. Our biggest thing is no excuses. Y'all have dealt with a lot of adversity, but that's the American way. We always come back."

The community shares the Battles family's enthusiasm with the return to high school sports but also in part because of an intriguing schedule in a landmark season ahead. This will mark the Tigers' 100th season with the renewal of a couple of rivalries in its first two contests. It has been 17 years since THS has played Reeltown and Wetumpka.

The game with the Rebels kicks off the slate on Aug. 20, a Thursday night at J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium.

The matchup with the Indians will be played the following week in Wetumpka's all-new facility. Wetumpka is Tallassee's longest running rivalry. The first game was played in the Tigers' first season in 1921. The two have met 67 times.

"I'm trying to think of why I scheduled Reeltown and Wetumpka back-to-back right off the bat. I don't know if I was having a weak moment, but they're two big games. If there's ever been a year to have them, this is it."

Don't expect spirit lines at J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium in 2020

Battles said that his offensive line will be the biggest since his arrival to Tallassee in 2012. It is anchored by tackles Jawon McCurty (6-3/280), a junior, and Hunter Hammock (5-11/300), a senior.

"We have offensive linemen that look like offensive linemen. In the past we've had linemen that looked like linebackers and defensive backs. You like to, as a coach, walk into the offensive and defensive huddle and have to look up at the players. You don't want to be looking eye to eye. I'm 5-10."

Hammock, along with center Trace Meeks and Thomas Battles are the only seniors projected to start on offense. The defense has five seniors to watch including Mason Bell, who is moving from the secondary to linebacker.

"The four linebackers will be as fast as we've had. Mason was a good defensive back. He has that kind of speed. He and Will Smith can fly. They're ball hunters. Zavion (Carr), (a junior), has grown a couple of inches and put on 10 or 15 pounds. He's a potential college recruit."

Mike Battles with the 2020 Tigers during a recent scrimmage

A couple of juniors, Jalyn Daniels and newcomer Duke Washington, are premier athletes that will play on both sides of the football. Washington is the nephew of former Tallassee all-state star and Auburn Tiger Demond Washington.

Tyler Ellis warming up prior to last year's game vs. Rehobeth

"(It) seems like Jalyn's been playing for about seven years. He's played with Thomas all the way through TYFL. (Duke) has good bloodlines. He's learned how we do stuff. He's a tremendous athlete."

Leading rusher Marciano Smith is back for his junior season. Tyler Elllis returns at quarterback with another year under his belt. He started last year as a freshman.

"(It's) 110 percent improvement," Battles said of Ellis. "As a ninth grader, it was on-the-job training. He has control of the offense and knows where everybody's supposed to be. He's not concerned so much about his job as making sure everybody else is where they're supposed to be.

"That's why the guys make so much in the NFL. If you don't have a quarterback in the NFL, you're not going to win. It doesn't matter if you've got the other ten guys. You've got to have this one individual. He's a guided leader. We have a lot of faith in him."

1300 WTLS/106.5 FM has broadcast the Tigers since 1954 and will have a variety of options to listen and watch every week. Spectrum Channel 340 will simulcast the broadcasts. Games are also available on the TuneIn app. Live video streaming and archived footage will be on Tallassee Times TV through YouTube.