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Stanhope wide receiver Conner Bradford (14) goes up for a pass against a defender during Monday’s spring practice.

The Stanhope Elmore football team has seen major improvements in each of the first two years under coach Brian Bradford. The Mustangs look to continue that trend this season and it all starts with the team’s performance during spring practice. 

“There has been a lot of energy and the kids are fired up,” Bradford said. “They’re ready to play. There has been a lot of talk all offseason and they’ve been ready to bust some heads.”

After a week of practice, the Mustangs took the field with even more energy Monday with the start of the season’s first game week. Bradford said he wants his players to use that excitement to help build as a team in the early parts of a new season.

“We look for intensity,” Bradford said. “We want to see guys getting after it and running to the football. We look for our leaders to step up and you want to see your team start to gel together. You learn a lot on the football field.”

Stanhope lost 14 seniors from last year’s team, including 11 starters and the team’s top two quarterbacks, Kerenski McGhee and Jeremy Powers. Bradford said the Mustangs have the numbers to help fill those roles but there is still plenty of time to find someone to step up and earn it.

“Every position is still wide open,” Bradford said. “We have multiple people pushing each other in every spot. We lost some key players last year but we have some great young guys stepping up and we’re excited to see them lead this team.”

On offense, the Mustangs will key in on finding a new quarterback. McGhee and Powers took a bulk of the snaps last season but both were seniors and the coaching staff has been in the process of finding the next man up. 

“Jalen Walker is taking snaps right now,” Bradford said. “Him and Teddy Harris are pushing for that spot. They’re both competing for the job.”

Harris was one of the key receivers in the limited passing attack last year and the Mustangs would likely want him to stay at receiver if possible. Walker has played receiver and defensive end during his high school career but the senior has the build of a quarterback and if he pans out, Stanhope can keep Harris at his top position.

The Mustangs have already started their search for new leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Despite losing three key linebackers in the heart of the unit, Bradford said this team’s focus will on that side of the field.

“Defense is the key to any football team,” Bradford said. “Defense is always what carries you, especially early on, and we’ve always been a defense-first football team. That’s the way we’ve always been and we’re never going to change.”

Stanhope will travel to Jacksonville State this weekend for its spring game. The Mustangs will face Central Clay County, the reigning Class 5A state champions with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m.

“We’re just working on the basics,” Bradford said. “We don’t want to show too much of a game plan but you want the guys to get out there and have some fun. They want to showcase their talents on a stage like that.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.