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Blue Devils coach: Class 4A, Region 1 similar to SEC


News Staff Writer

When Vincent Harris accepted the challenge of trying to rebuild a once-proud Escambia County High School football program, he knew there were going to be obstacles.
He knew that a loss of tradition, built over more than a decade of poor and mediocre seasons, a dilapidated field house and a lack of interest in the program by students who could help on the field would all get in the way of his effort.
The fact that the school, with an average daily attendance of 307.5, can’t escape the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA) classification as a Class 4A school is another stumbling block.
“Class 4A is like the Southeastern Conference,” Harris said. “Region 1 in Class 4A has about as tough a football presence as anywhere.”
Local education officials and football coaches have hoped for the past several years that ECHS might move down to Class 3A, but the attendance figures have prevented that.
Other schools that competed in Class 4A last year have moved up and down the ladder over the past few years, and this year is no exception. However, it seems that each time a tough opponent is reclassified, another tough team takes its place.
T.R. Miller and Bayside Academy, each of which represented the region in postseason play last year, have moved down to 3A, as has former region opponent Wilcox Central.
However, in their place are two tough teams that will move into the seven-team region, which was pared down from an eight-team league.
“We lost T.R. Miller and Bayside, but we picked up the Class 3A state champions (Mobile Christian) and W.S. Neal, which went to the playoffs in 3A last year,” Harris pointed out. “Those teams are not shabby, so the region will still be extremely tough. We’ve still got Jackson and St. Michael Catholic, and we’ll play against Alabama Christian, which has a good program. There are still a lot of heavy hitters in our region.”
Further compounding things for the ECHS coach is the graduation of 16 seniors who saw extensive playing time over the past two years. Still, he remains hopeful the combination of tough opponents, a new field house and a renewed interest among potential student-athletes will eventually pay dividends.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that we’ll put on the field this year,” he said. “A couple of years down the line, we could be in a position to compete in this region or any other region.”
The Blue Devils are scheduled to open the season August 23 against Alabama Christian, in a non-region contest. They will then host Monroe County before starting region play with home games against Jackson and Mobile Christian and a trip to Mobile to take on St. Michael Catholic.
After a non-region encounter with Northview, Fla., ECHS will play the remainder of its region schedule with successive games against Orange Beach, Satsuma and W.S. Neal, all on the road. The final regular season game will be a home contest against Hillcrest-Evergreen.