By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical University plays the villain in the feel-good story of the football season when the Bulldogs visit University of Alabama at Birmingham in Legion Field on Sept. 2. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.
And A&M head football coach James Spady relishes the role as spoiler.
“I hope we get billed as the bad guy,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to spoil their return. That’s our motivation. We understand what the big deal is. And it is a big deal. It’s a great story for college football. For a team to disband or stop playing and then turn around and rise again, I think that’s a heck of a story for college football.
“But we want to put a damper on their rise to prominence,” Spady continued. “That’s our goal. One of the things that motivates us is to spoil this whole thing for them. We’re doing everything we can to get to that point.”
A&M was 4-7 in 2016. Spady talked about the upcoming season with Alabama NewsCenter.
Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?
James Spady: I’ve got a pretty good feel of what our team’s going to look like going forward. We’ve gotten better on defense. I really like our linebacking corps. We’re deeper on the defensive line (but) never deep enough. Our guys are older, veteran players in the secondary. I really like what we can bring to the table defensively. If we can stop people, we can win football games. Then on offense, we’ve got some really outstanding – Did you hear what I said? – outstanding skill players. Our wide receiving corps is as good as anybody’s in this league. We’ve got an offensive line that’s completely intact from last season and we’ve shored up their depth quite a bit. We’re going to have an unproven quarterback but there’s quite a talented group of guys back there competing for the job. The outlook in optimistic. I like what we’ve brought to the table this summer. Hopefully what we’re seeing this summer is going to translate to wins this fall.
ANC: What is your team’s strength?
JS: Defensively, we have a very athletic football team. We have the ability to run from sideline to sideline. The experience that we’re going to have on the defensive side of the ball makes what I think is the strength of our defense. They’re kicking our butts right now during fall camp and I think we’re pretty good on offense. If we’re good at all on offense and our defense is kicking our butt, the strength has to be that group of guys. We want to make sure we have a plan for maintaining depth throughout the season. That was our problem last year. We lost games into the third and the fourth quarter. That, to me, is strength and conditioning, and depth.
ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?
JS: On defense, (I thought) we were going to get slammed because arguably my best player on defense I thought we were going to lose for the season. He got a clean bill of health and he’ll be back for his senior season. Our linebacker, No. 32 Bryan Brower, has been captain since I got here and just a stalwart on defense. He’s been an amazing inside linebacker for us. He’ll be playing as a graduate student. Kenny Davis was the second leading tackler in the SWAC last year. We get him back this year. He’s going to be a leader on defense for us. Averee Giles is a defensive lineman – it feels like he’s been here for 10 years – has just been a starter and a mainstay on our defense for the last four years. Ryan Ducksworth is playing defensive end for us and he’s playing some inside as well. Devonte King is a four-year starter for us; he’s back in the secondary. Tere Calloway, a preseason all-conference player, is back in the secondary. Dexter Reese is a four-year starter for us. I like that group of guys and I’m excited to see them play football. I didn’t mention anybody on offense, did I? There are some great players on offense also. I’m looking forward to the contributions of Jordan Bentley. This guy’s a special football player. I’m looking to see what we can do to highlight him and his abilities. We have Ledarion Heath on the outside. Octayvious Miles is a slot receiver for us. I want to say he was a preseason all-conference player two years ago as a kickoff returner. He’ll be back in that role again as a kickoff and punt returner. And Monte Jones plays outside receiver for us, as well as Marceles Clash. I’m excited to see those guys get out there and do their thing.
ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?
JS: Oh, you know the answer to that – the last Saturday in October. The Magic City Classic is the one all our fans – me as well – look forward to, the one that means quite a bit to our fan base, our alumni. We can’t wait to tee it up against Alabama State in Birmingham. But there’s a lot of football we’ve got to play before we get to that one. We’re also looking forward to our opener against UAB. It’s an important game for us because we feel like Birmingham is home. We’re going to go down there and play a Birmingham team, an FBS team. We want to show up well, really give some pride to our folks and go out and compete against a team that should be better than us. We’re looking forward to our home opener, which is also our SWAC opener (Sept. 23 against Texas Southern).
ANC: What is your lingering question?
JS: Folks want to know who my quarterback is. We lost De’Angelo Ballard, who was a real important cog in our wheel. We’ve got a lot of talented kids vying for the position and the one who gives us the best chance to win is the one that’s going to play. Right now, Damion May is the elder statesman of the three guys who are competing for it. And Dylan Smith is a kid who’s been in our program for a couple of years. (He’s) a really talented, dual-threat. Those are the two guys folks are focused on. But we went out this offseason and recruited a kid who was a three-star prospect who had originally committed to an FBS school in Florida. He’s a true freshman – Aqeel Glass. Aqeel is going to be competing for that position and I feel pretty confident that with anyone of those three guys quarterbacking our football team, we’re going to have a chance to be successful.