Two seven-point losses in region games cost the Sonoraville Phoenix a trip to the state playoffs in 2021, and coach Denver Pate and the Phoenix have been working hard all off-season getting ready for a new region and a chance to possibly get to the playoffs after posting the school’s first winning record in five years. 

“Our attendance this off-season has been really good. The kids have been working hard in the weight room and out on the grass. We’ve done some 7v7’s with some teams, and our kids have gone out there and competed well,” Pate says. “Overall, I’ve been pleased with our guys’ efforts.” 

Sonoraville has spent the previous 10 years in Class 3A but moves up to Class 4A this fall into a new region, 7-4A, which brings a few challenges. 

“We’re going to be one of the smallest schools in Class 4A. But it’s a six-team region which is different because we’ve been in a larger region the past few years. This new region means if we can grab a couple of region wins, we could get to the playoffs,” he says. “But the teams in this region are going to be tough. Cedartown is strong as are Central, Southeast Whitfield, and Northwest Whitfield.” 

The smaller region brought some good and bad news, as the Phoenix struggled a bit to fill out the non-region schedule. They managed to add Dalton and Calhoun as well as LaFayette, Pickens, and Darlington, providing the squad with some serious tests before they begin region play on Sept. 30. 

“It’s good to get to play Dalton and LaFayette again, and playing those non-region teams is going to help prepare us for the region,” Pate says. “The atmosphere we will see against Calhoun and Dalton will help get us ready for what we will see with Cedartown and the others.” 

While Sonoraville has to replace some talent on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Phoenix bring back a wealth of talent, specifically in the skill spots on offense and linebacker. 

Quarterback Jaxon Pate returns for the Phoenix after throwing for more than 2,000 yards and rushing for another 600-plus last season.  

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Zach Lyles is back at tailback after rushing for almost 500 yards in 2021, and Pate will also have several returning receivers to target. One of those targets, Brant Bryant, will feature prominently at receiver and at defensive back for Sonoraville. 

Tight end Ridge Reed has some big school scholarship offers and is a big tight end target for Pate. Linebackers Tristan Mullins and Zach Mcafee are both back and will be key leaders for the Phoenix defense, while big Preston Gilbert will be an anchor for both the offensive and defensive lines. 

“It all starts up front and we are really working on getting the new kids together on the lines to gel and work together,” Pate says. “I think we are coming along and their execution is getting better.” 

With a lot of senior talent returning and the solid off-season work, Pate says there is a lot of excitement in the air for Sonoraville. 

“I think our expectations are high, and I think this group can be a playoff contender,” he says. “With a lot of these senior guys that have been multi-year starters, they have a lot of expectations for themselves and we’ll see where it goes.” 

A new region could be the answer for the Phoenix who just missed the playoffs a year ago. That near miss coupled with the returning talent could help pave the way for this year’s version to possibly reach the playoffs. 

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An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.