Stanhope offense

File / The Herald Stanhope Elmore needs to establish an offensive attack after graduating so many key pieces from last year's squad.

There are not many student-athletes remaining on the Chilton County roster who played for coach Brian Bradford during his time there. However, the ones who do may be cause for concern for Bradford and his current Stanhope Elmore team during this week’s season opener at Foshee-Henderson Stadium.

“This is a big game for us because it’s the first game,” Bradford said. “You always want to start off strong and have a good showing in your first game. Chilton County is a good football team and there’s going to be a little extra emotion to it. They want to beat their old coach so they’re going to come and play hard but we expect that.”

The Mustangs received plenty of attention for their defense during the offseason and they should get put to the test right away by an experienced Chilton County offense. Three-star athlete Shi Keem Laister is in his third year as the starting quarterback and he is joined in the backfield by Devonte’ Robinson, who started some games as a freshman under Bradford.

“The group that’s seniors are the last ones I really know,” Bradford said. “They have a very good quarterback and he’s very dynamic so keeping him under control is going to be tough.”

Laister is a dual threat and showed off his talent with a 42-yard touchdown run against the Mustangs last season. Robinson also scored in the loss last season so Stanhope’s defense will be focused in on that duo.

“We don’t ever want to play bad competition because we want to get better every single week,” Bradford said. “Seeing two guys like that will only make you better as the season goes on and our guys know that so they’re excited about the challenge.”

Despite winning last year’s meeting by 32 points, Bradford believes he has his players focused on the season opener. He said there is no talk about last year’s game and the Mustangs are just ready to hit the field for the first time.

The Tigers managed to shake off the loss in last season’s opener to go 4-2 in region play and made it into the postseason before losing in overtime to Jackson in the first round. Bradford said he expects to see a team even better than the one it turned into by the end of the year.

“We approach it just like that we approach every game,” Bradford said. “It’s not going to be any different than we approach next week. We want to worry about ourselves. We can’t change who Chilton County is or who Prattville is but we want to take care of ourselves and put ourselves in position to win the game.”

Friday’s contest will be Jalen Walker’s first start at quarterback for the Mustangs. Bradford said the team continues to grow in its confidence for Walker but he still knows the first game at a new position is always going to be difficult, especially being in the quarterback spotlight.

“We just want him to be comfortable,” Bradford said. “It’s a different role for him so we just want to work on making sure he doesn’t let the nerves overcome him. He just has to relax and realize he doesn’t have to win the game on his own. That’s a tough spot to play but he’s going to be just fine.”

After hosting Chilton County, Stanhope will hit the road for the next four weeks so Bradford is embracing the chance to play at home in Week 0. He said it may not change the outcome of the game but it feels good to get things started in front of your own fans.

“That will help us a lot just to be set to our own routine,” Bradford said. “There are not too many variables when you’re at home. It’s more familiar and easier build up to the game. But once you get on to the field, the game is the game.”

PREDICTION: Stanhope Elmore 30, Chilton County 13

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.