Since Wetumpka returned to the football field for summer workouts, every week seemed to bring new hurdles for the players and coaching staff. And while a first-round exit is falling short of the standard the program has set for itself, Wetumpka is not letting last week’s loss to Opelika define the season more than everything the team has overcome this year.
“We are extremely proud of this team,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “If you don’t put things into perspective, it can feel like a disappointing season. But they are the first team in the history of this program to deal with the obstacles they had to deal with. We’re disappointed in the fact we didn’t make it past the first round but when you consider all the changes we had to make and having to shut down for a week in the season, making it to the playoffs was an accomplishment. It’s not fair to compare this season to previous seasons because of that.”
Wetumpka finished the season with a 5-6 record marking its first season below .500 since 2015. The season was filled with multiple highs and lows seemingly switching with every passing week but there is one week that stands out which Perry said may encapsulate the season as a whole better than any other week.
While COVID-19 had already affected Wetumpka’s season just like any other team in the state, the program was hit by the virus firsthand when a positive test showed up, forcing 15 players to move into isolation for a two-week period. The team had just two days of practice after finding out they would be without several starters before it traveled to Benjamin Russell for a crucial region game but Wetumpka still came out victorious in one of the more memorable games of the season.
“To have that many starters out and play in a region game and still making enough plays to come out with a win, that was a major point in our season,” Perry said. “That speaks to the competitiveness and the pride our guys have in our program. There was no one sulking or pouting about the guys we were missing. They never lost confidence in each other and that says a lot to me and to our coaches about how much they care about this program.”
The obstacles kept stacking up just a couple of weeks later though when starting running back Stone Minnifield went down with a gruesome injury during the de facto region championship game against Pelham. The team’s leading rusher did not step back out on the field for the rest of the season and it had a big affect on the offense.
“The other young men that stepped in, Jaedyn Peterson, Quin Wilson, Michael Dilliard, they all stepped up and played good football but Stone was our leading rusher,” Perry said. “He was getting more comfortable and getting better with every game. To lose a player of that status, (not many teams) have that kind of depth to replace a guy of that caliber. It’s just tough to replace starters.”
With the rushing attack not at 100%, even more of the offense was put on quarterback Robert Rose who was already dealing with the pressure of filling in at a position which was home to all-state players at Wetumpka in the last three seasons. However, Rose delivered in big moments several times and Perry said he saw only improvement from the first day he took over the job.
“I thought he did a great job handling the pressure of the position,” Perry said. “He’s a different kind of athlete then the guys we have had there but that doesn’t mean he’s not as talented. He did a great job of competing and winning the spot. And as each week went by, he was playing with a lot more confidence. He has a very high football IQ so he improved a lot on reading coverages and he just became more relaxed.”
Defensively, Wetumpka took major strides from where it was last season. With many young players starting on defense a year ago, many opposing teams could move the ball at will especially on the ground but that was not the case this season and Perry gave the credit to the players and how they rose to the challenge against a tough schedule.
“We challenged the returning guys after last year and just that extra experience is invaluable,” Perry said. “I think both of those things contributed to seeing that improvement. A lot of those guys started as sophomores last year so this year, that experience really contributed to them and you could see it.”