Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in a series of six articles looking at the top players for each area football team.
Stanhope Elmore saw a number of playmakers graduate last year and will need to have several players to step up to replace a lot of production on both sides of the ball. Fortunately for the Mustangs, there are plenty of returning players who are more than capable of making some noise on their own and it once again starts with the defensive front.
William Whitlow Jr., senior defensive lineman
Whitlow Jr. put himself on several people’s watch lists last season when he posted some eye-popping numbers as a junior. The three-star defensive end racked up offers from Tennessee, Missouri, Memphis and others after recording 39 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. Stanhope Elmore coach Brian Bradford said there’s going to be some extra pressure on Whitlow Jr. to perform and he’s likely going to see some more complex blocking schemes but he should still be ready to perform.
“One thing is he’s about 25 pounds heavier and he’s stronger and faster,” Bradford said. “Physically he’s better. He’s ready to take on that role and he’s going to be just fine. You have to know where he’s at every play. He’s an animal and can totally take over a game. He’s one of the most explosive players I’ve ever coached.”
Azlan Williams, senior defensive back
The Mustangs are looking for Williams to replace the production and leadership in the back of the defensive, returning as one of the team’s starting safeties. Last year was Williams first season with Stanhope Elmore and after spending a few weeks working out with the receivers, the coaching staff moved him to the defensive side and he made an immediate impact. He moved to strong safety and became a regular in the secondary by Week 4. Now with more experience under his belt, the Mustangs are looking to get even more out of Williams this season.
“He understands what’s going on more,” Bradford said. “Now he’s had a whole offseason to focus in on what we want him to do. He’s going to be that quarterback back there for our defense. He’s very smart and he’s a head hunter.”
Teddy Harris, senior athlete
After losing most of the team’s starting skill position starters from a year ago, the Mustangs are welcoming back Harris who took a year away from Stanhope Elmore to help Autauga win an AISA-AA state championship. He was named an all-state receiver, finishing with 1,263 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns for the Generals. Bradford said he will be looking to get Harris the ball 12 to 13 times a game, whether it be in the backfield or as a wide receiver.
“Anytime you can add a playmaker is great,” Bradford said. “Teddy is an outstanding kid and we’re excited he’s back. He’s going to be a big part of the offense. Last year, we didn’t have that bell ringer that could take any play to the house. He brings that explosiveness and excitement that we didn’t have last year.”
Joel Hughes, senior center
The Mustangs have four starters returning to the offensive line but it’s clear which one is leading the way. Hughes has three years of experience at center and Bradford called him the team’s best lineman and alpha of the offensive line.
“You have to have that guy out front,” Bradford said. “He’s our quarterback. He calls all of our blocking schemes and he is the captain of our offense. He knows everything. He can tell everyone what to do in every play. When he speaks, everybody listens. He knows the blocking schemes probably better than anyone on the staff.”
Antonio Trone, sophomore running back
There was no hiding Stanhope Elmore’s intent to run the ball last season and although Tray Duncan was one of the biggest workhorses in Class 6A last season, the Mustangs needed someone else to lighten the load for Duncan when possible. Trone became that second guy early on and he found himself with a handful of carries per game plus four touchdowns on the year. Now, Trone is expected to be the full-time starter in the backfield and the Mustangs are excited about what he has to offer.
“He’s phenomenal,” Bradford said. “I think he can surprise a lot of people. The only reason he didn’t play anymore last year was because of Tray. He has great vision and great feet and he’s put on some weight. He’s stronger and faster. He’s more than ready.”