Get to know the Hoover Buccaneers: The first out-of-state team to participate in the 30-year history that is the Corky Kell Classic

I want to preface this by saying after getting off the phone with Head Coach Josh Niblett, I was about ready to run through a brick wall.

The Hoover High School Buccaneers program has participated in 16 of the last 20 state championships while competing in of the premier football divisions in the nation that is Class 7A in Alabama.

Leading the Buccaneers program is Coach Josh Niblett, who enters his 14th season with an astounding 159-25 overall record, including seven region championships and six state championships. Niblett carries a 85-8 record in a region that features the three-time and reigning state champion Thompson, Hewitt-Trussville, Tuscaloosa County and others.

“Our program is really big on focusing on us [the Buccaneers] and worrying about what we need to do to get better everyday,” said Niblett. “The biggest thing with us is how we try to build our culture and standard here. We have a process here and have a ‘we before me’ culture. The better we can exemplify that, the better opportunity we’ll have a chance to win.”
The program has produced seven NFL players, 71 All-State players, two Under Armour All-Americans, an All-USA player and had 16 players selected to participate in the Alabama vs. Mississippi All-Star Game since the program’s inception in 1963.

Former 2015 Alabama national champion and current Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, former Alabama quarterback (2005-2008) John Parker Wilson and former First-Team All-SEC (2005) Florida receiver and Birmingham native, Chad Jackson highlight some of the alumni produced by the perennial powerhouse. Georgia receiver George Pickens and current linebacker Gators Jeremiah Moon also attended Hoover.

Unlike Jackson and Humphrey, Wilson played before Niblett’s tenure and was coached under one of most storylined high school coaches in history, Rush Propst. The 31-year coach led the Buccaneers to a 110-16 overall record and a 37-3 playoff record along with five region and five state championships from 1999-2007. Propst spent four seasons at both Ashville and Eufaula, and a season each at Alba and Alma Bryant before his nine-year stay at Hoover, bringing his career record in Alabama to 176-61.

Propst moved over to the Peach State and led Colquitt County to a national championship, two state championships and a 119-35 record in 10 seasons from 2008-2018. Storylines and accusations followed him into his one-year tenure at Valdosta in 2020 before the GHSA ruled that the Wildcat’s to vacate their wins. In his career, Propst compiled a 295-108 (73.2 %) overall record with seven state titles.

“Rush and I knew each other way before the Hoover days when I was back at another school in 2000,” said Niblett. “When I got the job here [Hoover] he was nothing but congratulatory and said I was the right man for the job. We’ve had a good relationship and the way he handled me being the next guy up, the way he reached out to me and handled the media was pretty remarkable.”

Since the 2000 season, the first seven of which came under Propst, the Hoover program has racked up 11 total championships in their 16 appearances (13 total), good for the most in the state of Alabama.

This type of success is not common and certainly not something you see everyday or for two decades nonetheless. The Buccaneers program is a rarity, there are only a handful of high schools in the nation that are the caliber of Hoover. Simply put, the Buccaneers losing is not something you will see quite often, which can be attributed to a selfless head coach, an elite coaching and support staff, a world-class facility and the backing of the community and entire student body.

One detail that caught my attention when speaking to Niblett was how the student athletes undergo ‘mindset training’ in the offseason and week-to-week in the regular season. In the offseason, the Buccaneers train for four days of the week while Wednesday is dedicated to a team breakfast and a 45-minute mindset training session.

“We are trying to teach our players how to deal with adversity and handle success,” said Niblett. “It is about being prepared for life and talking about the things no one wants to discuss. We talk about it individually so as a team we can come together collectively and be a team.”

Each player has their own growth track that is accessible to each coach which strengthens the relationship even further. Hoover also has off season captains that lead a group of guys each year. During the regular season, the first five minutes of each day are put aside to talk about non-football topics. The program is run by Niblett’s brother, Tad, who is also the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

“I have always said if we can be great at the no-talent aspect and you add the athletic talent we have here, then we’ll be at a different level than everyone else,” added Niblet.

As everyone knows all too well, Alabama and Georgia are among the top states in high school football talent, so naturally the season opener in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have that extra oomph against another storied program out of Gwinnett, GA. It is natural for Hoover to compete on the big stage with the bright lights and TV coverage. The Buccaneers will take on anyone, anywhere and anytime according to Niblett.

“Everyone talks about Texas, Florida and Georgia when it comes to high school football and recruiting, but I think the quality of football in Alabama and as much as everyone loves it and takes it to heart in high school, I don’t think there is any other state that is any better than that,” added Niblett.

In the last five seasons, the Buccaneers have played against some of the best high schools and prep academies in the nation, raising the instinctive question everyone is asking themselves: “Why wouldn’t Hoover just stay home and continue to dominate the state?”

“We as a program [Hoover] try to play in the biggest games possible to get battle tested and to evaluate ourselves as well,” said Niblett. “We are always trying to go out of the box and I’m not scared of defeat, at all. Our program is not either. It is all about trying to get better and getting our kids to find out more about themselves.”

In the last 10 seasons, the Buccaneers have faced 18 out-of-state opponents including three showdowns against the notorious IMG Academy. Although Hoover is winless against the school from Bradenton, FL., the ability to host the prep academy is a testament to the program in itself and further validates Niblett’s statement about not being scared of defeat.

Some of the other high-profile high schools that the Buccaneers have played in the last few seasons include 3-time champion Grayson (GA), 4-time champion Allen (TX) and 11-time champions Cocoa (FL), South Panola (MS) and Byrnes (SC). Hoover even played Propst’s Colquitt County (GA) in 2013 and 2014 with the programs splitting the meetings.

Since Niblett took over, Hoover holds a 47-7 playoff record while outscoring opponents 1,704-817, but since the 2017 state championship, the Buccaneers have only advanced to the semi final game. What would usually be a great season for other schools, is considered a disappointment in Niblett’s eyes and something he takes full responsibility for.

“I know the buck stops in my office,” added Niblet. “I take full responsibility for every loss and I am always taking notes. When things come to mind whether I am working out or in bed, I am going to write it down because I am always trying to find ways to sharpen our edge.”

As for this season, the Buccaneers face two teams from the state of Georgia, North Gwinnett in the Corky Kell Classic (MBS) and the Alpharetta Raiders at home, Aug. 27. The Buccaneers will host three three more games at home this season: Vestavia Hills (9/3), Hewitt-Trussville (10/1), and Thompson (10/22) while the rest of the season features five away games, four of which will be against region opponents.

“As far as pinpointing one thing to do, we need to get that toughness and edge back,” said Niblett. “From an on-field perspective, it is all about the focus pre and post-snap, and having the discipline to work hard.”

Alpharetta head coach Jason Kervin made the move to Georgia just two years ago after serving as the offensive coordinator on Niblett’s staff for the past five seasons, 12 seasons in total. Niblett’s brother, Tad, coached Kervin back in high school so the relationship between the two is strong and they have a lot in common.

“My biggest thing is trying to develop coaches to be good men, number one,” said Niblett. “We want men that are going to make an impact on our players, that love their family and guys who bring value to the staff.

The second-year offensive coordinator is not the only Niblett to be a part of the Hoover program and is certainly not the first. Sophomore tight end/fullback Sky Niblett is Niblett’s son who has played varsity since his freshman year. The 5-foot-11, 210 pound two-way starter is the second coach/son duo to come through Hoover after his older son, Shaw graduated in 2017.

“So my brother coached his son a couple of years ago, Riley, our dad coached us, I have coached two of my sons, it’s been a blessing,” said Niblett. “We are a football family and to keep it within the family is nothing we take for granted.

Before the 2020 offseason, 13 members of the staff had opportunities to move to a head coaching role at another high school or into a coordinator position at the college level. Current New York Giants linebacker coach Kevin Sherrer, began his coaching career at Hoover with Niblett who says it is satisfying to see his staff members move on, but at the same time is a double-edged sword.

“It has been awesome to see the coaching tree go and see my former coaches go out and impact even more players,” said Niblett. “The hardest thing is the transition in bringing new guys in, because at our program, it is not about just football. All of our coaches are in the classroom.”

There is a responsibility of teaching at Hoover according to Niblett and he says the coaches are not hired to teach on the side, in fact, they are hired as teachers who can also go coach. That mindset has never been an issue for the Buccaneers.

The idea of having coaches moving in and out from year-to-year can be daunting for some, but that is the nature of the business. The most important thing is the culture of the program, which is forever. The culture has to be a constant and be something that players want to be a part of.

The 2021 version of the Buccaneers features what could be one of the better quarterback/receiver duos in Alabama in three-star senior Bennett Meredith, a transfer from Spain Park (AL) and junior RJ Hamilton will look to continue its success after Meredith threw for the second most yards in the state (3,106) while Hamilton was the lone sophomore to earn All-State honors in 2020. Coastal Carolina commit and defensive lineman Markus Clark is the leader on the defensive side of the ball and a baller according to Niblett.

Junior running back Ahamari Williams returns as the anchor in the backfield along with senior receivers Cotton Peters on the offensive side. As for the defense, senior linebacker Josh Carter, junior linebacker Kaleb Jackson, three-star senior defensive lineman Terrell Jones and junior lineman Andrew Parrish will lead a loaded front seven.

“We want the team to be player-led because at the end of the day, it’s not the coaches who are making plays when the ball is snapped,” added Niblett.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the Hoover Buccaneers are the most accomplished program in the 30th annual Corky Kell Classic’s 22-team field and should make that known Saturday, Aug. 21. North Gwinnett is a great team and will have success this season, but the program out West is a different monster.

Hopefully this will encourage more out-of-state teams to participate in the annual Corky Kell Classic, which is widely-recognized as the premier opening high school kickoff event in the country.

2021 Hoover Buccaneers official schedule:

*Denotes region opponent

8/20 North Gwinnett, GA (MBS)
8/27 Alpharetta (GA)
9/3 Vestavia Hills*
9/10 @ Gadsden City*
9/17 @ Oak Mountain*
9/24 @ Prattville
10/1 Hewitt-Trussville*
10/8 @ Spain Park*
10/15 @ Tuscaloosa County*
10/22 Thompson*
10/29 OPEN

Reach Brett Greenberg at or via Twitter @74talk


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