Fighting Patriots, as told by the coaches, players, managers, trainers, administration, band, majorettes and opponents, the first three years of Homewood football chronicles the events and sacrifice by three years of athletes and the entire team. The first year of the school's existence in 1972 began in the old middle school before mid-year when they moved into a brand new, state-of-the-art high school in the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Homewood.
A twenty-three year old head coach, Alvin Bresler, of Sullivan-Beasley-Bresler-Schmalz fame at Auburn University came to the new school with a new way of coaching, a ‘new school’ approach that surprised everyone in the era of Bear Bryant - Shug Jordan football etiquette.
Within three years Bresler had built a program where all 42 of the players on the team played and contributed meaningful roles to the complete team effort. The ultimate goal in 1974 was to win the 4A State Championship, despite general consensus it could never be done against the state powerhouses in the third year as a program. It had never been done before, not even close.
With 26 seniors, and a few standout players, the mad skills displayed by all the players were underestimated by opponents and coaches throughout the region. There was a balance on offense, a tenacity on defense and a finesse on special teams that was built on a foundation of toughness instilled through a strong off-season program.
A three year starter and future All-SEC player at The University of Alabama, Murray Legg was the starting quarterback for all three years. He threw 15 touchdown passes and ran for 800 yards his senior season. “The quintessential coach's son. His father Bill Legg was a football coach at Shades Valley High School from 1956 through 1967. Like Ray Powell, Murray was at the games watching; not just one player, but all of the positions. He was at the practices, the summer camps, hanging out with the players as a six, seven, eight year old. To say this had an impact on his life is an understatement. By the time he got to Homewood Junior High he was not only the best player on the 9th Grade football team, he was the best athlete on the basketball team and for the Fighting Patriots he was a coach-on-the-field from the very first year. By the third year he was calling his own plays much of the time. For the other players he was the leader, the go-to person for all things football. He knew everyone’s assignments and how to adjust those for specific situations.”
On the defensive side of the ball was Rick Powers, “The son of a Woodlawn football player, Rick was a linebacker in the truest sense of the word. A nose for the football, the speed to get there before anyone else and the strength to deliver a hit on a running back that was the envy of Homewood players and the opposition as well. “With Legg on offense and Powers on defense we knew we could win any game we played,” said Wade Kirkpatrick, someone who had played football with both of these guys since they were in the third grade.”
The secondary was led by Mark Robbins. “A hard working achiever, Mark became a two-way starter his junior year in ‘74. He was the best performing receiver and a regular target for long touchdown passes from Legg. It was on defense where he surprised his coaches with 10 interceptions for the season, a record that stands today. Bresler said, “Mark was a junior on the 1974 team, but played like a senior. He was the only player that started both ways all year: a wide receiver on offense and strong safety on defense and a true playmaker at both positions. I was extremely happy to see him sign a football scholarship to my alma mater, Auburn University in 1975.”
It took a ruling by the Alabama State Supreme Court to deliver Homewood it's due, a birth in the playoffs, another ‘first and only’ by a high school in Alabama. As told by over thirty contributors who were there, the story is about how each year built on the last and the early players overcame unusual circumstances to establish a winning program.
Patrick Kirk, author and organizer of Fighting Patriots recalls in his first work of nonfiction, “Trainers, managers, coaches and the Team Chaplain, Dr. Charles Gaddis, a pastor at Trinity, made the trip to Camp Mac. It was in a team meeting on the very first night when two of the coaches, possibly the least likely, got up and told the players how much they loved them. This is not something that ever happened in football, in Alabama, in the seventies or before, in Homewood, in anyone’s experience. But Coach Beason and Coach Clayton did it to a room full of stunned teenagers… this is where the chemistry began, the unity strengthened and the 1974 Fighting Patriots became a team to reckon with in Alabama high school football that season.”
As Coach Sheets wrote in his contribution to the yearbook about the season, “We began THE Game in a misty rain, the cold was unbearable, and the wind was blowing hard. The team fought to a 3-0 lead, then fell behind 7-3 on a broken-tackle 70-yard run. The half gave everyone time to think of the whole season and what might happen in the final twenty-four minutes of the game. The second half began with a drive that fell short. Defense tightened, and our second drive resulted in a 10-7 score. Then we held on as a last minute pass slid off the fingertips of the Dothan receiver to save our 10-7 lead. What had happened? The game was over, the score was still 10-7. What was in our minds? We realized that we no longer had a dream, we were in reality -- State 4A Football Champions of Alabama, 1974.”
The records that still stand are few, but the memories as they fade haven't lost their meaning. The things that are important are told in the book. The forward is written by Michael Gross, the most popular and highly acclaimed school principal Homewood has ever had. The Introduction is contributed by Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Todd Foreman, a West Point graduate, Mr. Homewood 1976, band member, Drum Major for three years and all round outstanding citizen who served his country for over forty years. Todd found time to write several sections of this book and his tribute to the coaches, teachers, community and fellow band members is a major accomplishment.
The young head coach didn't just bring together players and coaches, he built the program around the entire community and included everyone as equals striving for a dream. As Coach Peter Braasch, a Defensive Coordinator at Vestavia High School from 1976 until he retired in 2016 put it, “Alvin’s flare for the college-like atmosphere, the added benefits from relating well to players and the resources he brought to bear are reflected in the way many high school programs are run today. These changes began full steam at the turn of the century and Alvin was thirty years ahead of his time for the most part.”
The players credit the coaches, principal and teachers with building in them a winning attitude that has carried them through tough times in their lives. Some called them Cinderella, they call themselves blessed beyond any rags to riches story.