A year ago Kyle Shoulders strapped on his battered green helmet for the last time and helped lead Tanner to a redemptive 28-14 win against Washington County in the Class 2A championship game.
Fast-forward to today and Shoulders, now a freshman on a football scholarship at Miles College in Birmingham, is squeezing in a morning class before taking Interstate 20/59 to Tuscaloosa for today’s 2A title rematch between No. 1 Tanner and No. 3 Washington County.
Shoulders, a starting linebacker and fullback on the 2012 champion team, will be among the convoy of fans making their way to the University of Alabama campus for the second time in three years after Tanner lost to Elba in the 2011 finals at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Today’s kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Bryant-Denny. Visit http://www.fox54.com for television coverage listings or tune to My8 WAMY-TV if carried by your cable system.
“The first actual game I went to this season, it was hard and it felt really awkward sitting in the stands,” said Shoulders on Thursday after class. “I kept coming to more games and started evolving into the fan role.
“I’m a proud Rattler now, and it feels good to be out there watching the team doing the same thing we did last year.”
The Rattlers (12-1) were favored to win the championship last year but enter today’s game against the Bulldogs (13-1) as somewhat of an underdog, with some pundits predicting a Tanner loss for a program that has won 51 of 54 games since 2010 and three North Division titles.
Tanner’s lone loss this season came in Week 1 against defending Class 3A champion Madison Academy, which claimed its second consecutive state title in Thursday’s 31-14 win against Leeds.
Last year a 14-0 Tanner team defeated Sand Rock, Walter Welborn, Fultondale, Reeltown and Washington County by a scoring margin of 180 to 28 points.
This year’s squad has walked a postseason tightrope, both thrilling and worrying a fan base so dedicated that one Tanner teacher is missing the game today because she said her bad-luck mojo could negatively affect the outcome.
In the first four rounds, Tanner has beaten Woodland, North Sand Mountain, Montgomery Academy and Fyffe by a margin of 110-67, with all four requiring come-from-behind victories by the resilient Rattlers.
For Shoulders, the Tanner’s winning mentality seems to rev into high gear when facing adversity.
“I would always say in the back of my mind or turn to someone and say, ‘Something miraculous is going to happen and give us momentum,’” he said. “And then something would happen — it’s the same thing with (those) Auburn Tigers.
“Something comes out of (Tanner) when they know they can lose — in the last minutes they’re at their best. They just turn into a different team to me.”