It didn’t take long for Tony Joe White to learn that football in Birmingham, Alabama, comes very close to being on par with religion.
“The fans and the students here at Birmingham-Southern are very passionate about wanting to have a successful program,” the second-year BSC coach said. “Football here in Alabama is about as big as it gets.
“We inherited a situation that wasn’t the best, but we’re doing everything we can to change the culture and change the mindset,” White said. “We’ve made great strides and we’re looking forward to what this year holds.”
Alabama NewsCenter is continuing its tour of college football programs in the state. Next up is White’s Panthers, who were 3-7 in his first season at the helm.
Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?
Tony Joe White: We’re very encouraged for this year, simply because last year we started seven freshmen on offense and five freshmen on defense. Over the course of any game, through special teams or giving guys a breather, we played about 20 freshmen per game. With those guys having a year under their belt, learning and adjusting to the speed of the game and learning to speak the language, we’ll be a year further along. I think that bodes well. From an execution standpoint, I think we’ll be in a much better situation.
ANC: What is the strength of your team?
White: The biggest strength is the retention we will have from last year going into this year. We started all those freshmen, but every player on the roster was learning a whole new system. Everybody that’s back – I think we have nine starters back on defense and eight on offense – I think we’ll be able to execute better, too.
ANC: Who are the standouts on your team?
White: The first person who comes to mind is our outside linebacker, Sy Butler from Childersburg. He’s just an incredibly athletic defensive player. He’s a very physical, very fast athlete with a great nose for the ball. We’re expecting big things from our quarterback position. We started a kid who was a freshman last year from Hartselle, Alabama, named Trevor Oakes. Having the experience that he gained last season and this past spring, he’s gotten his mind wrapped around what we’re trying to do with the quarterback position. I think he’ll be able to step up, as well. And then we have another young man on the offensive line named Austin Lewter, who I feel is the anchor of that group up there. All five starters are back on the offensive line and he’s kind of the glue that holds them all together.
ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?
White: The first game (against LaGrange), obviously for us; you’ll be able to tell a lot from that game – what kind of progress you’ve made, what kind of team you’ve got the potential to have. And we open up Thursday night at home. That’s always a fun atmosphere. Homecoming against Austin College, that’ll be a big one. And the Huntingdon game is one we’re going to play on a Saturday night in Montgomery. Being an in-state rivalry, everyone’s going to be kind of fired up. There’s a lot of familiarity with those two programs.
ANC: What is your lingering question?
White: We feel really, really good about saying we’re going to be a better football team. What we’re really excited about finding out is, exactly, what does that mean? How much better are we? There’s no doubt that we will be improved. Are we going to be improved to the point where we can compete for a conference championship in Year 2? Are we going to be improved to where we can have a winning season? How much better are we actually going to be?