In their first varsity season, the Park Crossing Thunderbirds turned heads with a 7-3 season, including an overtime win over the city’s perennial power G.W. Carver that turned the city on its head.
But as the Thunderbirds head into their second year of varsity play, one question has circled the River Region: How good can Park Crossing be?
“We’re going to be a championship contender,” safety Jeawon Taylor said. “I’ll say that. We’re going to be good. We were OK last year, but we’ve got everybody coming back. So we’re going to be even better.”
Park Crossing played without a single senior last year, and has literally every player coming back. The Thunderbirds have also made key additions in four-star safety P.J. Blue, who transferred from Jemison, and former G.W. Carver defensive lineman Ricky Scott, who tied for the team lead with nine sacks last season.
But what perhaps makes Park Crossing most dangerous is that its hungry. A late-season loss to Stanhope Elmore kept the Thunderbirds out of the playoffs, and a 7-on-7 loss to Opelika this summer has kept them humble.
“We definitely ended the season hungry. The kids have worked really hard. They understood that we weren’t there yet, and we’re still not there, but we’re getting closer every day. I think sometimes that ends up being good in the long run,” coach Smitty Grider said. “I think those two losses have really motivated the guys. Because they know the talent that we have on this team, but we haven’t done anything yet. We went 7-3 and didn’t make the playoffs. So they’re definitely hungry to make their mark this year.”
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Malik Cunningham has been working to build on a stellar year where he threw for 1,850 yards, completed 59.7 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Cunningham also led the team with 96 carries for 332 yards on the ground.
Throw in targets like speedster Jahod Booker, who’s picked up multiple Division I offers, and a big, elusive receiver in Steven Hodges, and the Park Crossing offense will likely give defenses fits.
“This year we have the potential to be very good. We’ve been putting in the work and putting in the time so we can win a state championship,” Cunningham said. “We’ve just got to stay humble, we can’t get a big head. We have to go into every game like we did last year, wanting to win, playing hard together and listening to the coaches. We just have to execute.”
In just a year, the Thunderbirds have gone from unknown to the talk of the town. Starting from scratch came with its challenges, but the underdog role bonded the team. This year, Park Crossing will again be in uncharted waters — dealing with expectations.
But to a man, everyone at Park Crossing thinks they’re up to the challenge.
“We won’t sneak up on anybody this year, that’s for sure. And that’s a whole different role. Hopefully we’ll handle it well,” Grider said. “Expectations are definitely high around here. Even before you start talking about the pieces we’ve added, we felt like with everybody coming back that we’d definitely be better. I don’t know how good we can be. I know there’s a lot of talent on this team. We’ve still got some areas that we’ve got to improve in if we want to be really good, but I think we’ve got a chance to have one of the better teams in the state.”