Savage era is off and running for the Decatur Red Raiders

Decatur High School new football head coach Aairon Savage conducts summer workouts at Ogle Stadium. Photo by Jeronimo Nisa of the Decatur Daily
Decatur High School new football head coach Aairon Savage conducts summer workouts at Ogle Stadium. Photo by Jeronimo Nisa of the Decatur Daily

A late morning ride down Seventh Street Southeast past the south end of Ogle Stadium can give a driver a quick glance at the return of high school football.

The Red Raiders are back on the turf field with workouts in preparation for the upcoming season.

This will be a landmark season for the Red Raiders. There’s change at the top. Aairon Savage, 37, is the new head coach. The former Auburn player and college assistant coach takes over from Jere Adcock, who retired after 27 seasons.

“Those are some giant shoes to fill,” Savage said.

There are a lot of positive adjectives to describe the tradition-filled Decatur football program. One word is “continuity.” Something as big as a change at the top is rare.

Savage is just the sixth head coach for the Red Raiders since 1933. It starts with H.L. “Shorty” Ogle (209 wins) who was head coach for 31 seasons. Wes Thompson had the program for three years. Earl Webb (96) was there 14 years. Steve Rivers (103) followed for 15 years. Then there’s Adcock’s 27 years (187).

To add to the continuity is the consistent and almost unbroken connection at the top. Thompson was a former player and assistant coach for Ogle. Rivers was a former assistant coach for Webb. Adcock was a former assistant coach for Rivers.

The only change at the top to rival the one for this season happened in 1967. Webb, a native of Hanceville, came to Decatur from Lanett. He had previously coached at Falkville and Arab.

Savage is a native of Albany, Georgia. He does have a little bit of a link to Decatur football. He and former Decatur Red Raider great Jerraud Powers were roommates at Auburn.

“We had a tiny room with bunk beds. He slept on the top and I slept on the bottom,” Savage said.

When the Decatur job came open, Powers suggested that his old roommate apply. After impressing the interview committee, Savage was named head coach on Feb. 14.

Savage comes to Decatur after having coached in college at Auburn, Georgia Tech, Arkansas Tech, Georgia State, Northern Iowa, Army, Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Western Illinois. In 2013, Savage was an assistant coach at Valdosta High in Georgia.

Unfortunately for Savage, the continuity of the Red Raider program does not include a lot of experience returning for this season.

A group of 17 seniors led Decatur to a 9-3 record last fall after four losing seasons. It was the program’s best record since going 10-2 in 2016. Decatur’s three losses were to Hartselle, Muscle Shoals and Gardendale, which all advanced to the Class 6A playoff quarterfinals.

“We want kids that love football, have mental toughness and are willing to work hard every day,” Savage said. “Just show up every day and give us your best. That’s all we ask.”

The Red Raiders do have some experience returning in the offensive line with Crawford Fite (Sr.), Reeves Harbin (Sr.) and Harris Penley (So.). Tommy Cazier (Sr.) returns at linebacker.

“They are the bell cow of our team,” Savage said. “That’s where our leaders come from.”

When it comes to offense, Savage says he wants one that “holds on to the ball and scores points.” Whatever style of offense the Red Raiders use, it will need a new quarterback to replace Daily 5A-7A Player of the Year Ellis Dickman. The three-year starter had a senior season with 2,423 yards of total offense and accounted for 27 touchdowns.

Right now there’s a quarterback competition between Bradin Dupper (Sr.) and Zayne Pointer (Jr.).

For a team with a new head coach and short on experience, the way the season schedule works out could help. Three of the first four games are at Ogle Stadium vs. Mae Jemison, Austin and Cullman. Then two of the next four games are at home, including one with Hartselle.

“We want players to play with a passion. We want to break the other team’s will. You really don’t have to be the most talented team or have the most experience to be able to do that,” Savage said.