Hoover upsets defending champs

HOOVER, Ala. -- There were four teams involved in Saturday's ESPN High School kick-off games at Hoover. Three were nationally ranked. The other was Hoover. That said, the Bucs pulled an upset in their own backyard, beating defending national champ South Panola of Batesville, Miss., 24-13.

The Tigers came in ranked No. 6. They've produced players like former Alabama stars Dwayne Rudd, Deshea Townsend, and dozens of others who made it to the next level, some to the NFL. Saturday, none of that mattered. Josh Niblett, Hoover coach and protégé of the man he played for at Alabama (Gene Stallings), lit his kids up pretty well in the pre-game tent meeting. Obviously, they listened.

"I'm going to be honest with you. I just want to thank my Lord and Savior," said Niblett. "He showed up and showed out today. We're just blessed, and we know we're blessed. We never said anything to our kids about being the underdog.

To the categories:

Top prospect

Without a doubt, that is junior South Panola safety Antonio Conner. The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder does it all for the Tigers. He is a ball-hawking, hard-hitting safety. He plays running back, and scored a 5-yard touchdown. He returns kick-offs and punts. He took a punt 78 yards for six points. As a 'BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com colleague and Scout.com's Andrew Bone put it, "He's a beast." Bone gets no argument from Niblett.

"Just an unbelievable player, and an unbelievable athlete," said the Hoover mentor. "He's a difference maker for them. He's got great speed, and at the same time, he can stick you. He's unbelievable on defense, too."

Seniors who shined

You can't miss Ole Miss pledge Issac Gross. The 6-2, 260-pounder is a disruptive force on the SP defensive line. He'll do fine in Oxford.

FNL has always been impressed with Hoover receiver/running back Caleb Sims. He's only 5-10, 175, but when healthy he's a weapon. He made some big plays Saturday, including a key third down catch for 20 yards to keep a scoring drive going.

Sam Gillikin, a 6-1, 186-pounder, is a first-year starter at quarterback for Hoover. He calmly directed a 97-yard scoring drive following Humphrey's big PBU. He can run and pass.

Juniors to watch

Alabama is heavily involved with offensive tackle Deon Mix (6-4, 268), and, as tough as it is get SP kids that Ole Miss wants, Mix may be the one to change that. Stay tuned, but he's a prototype SEC right tackle or guard.

Hoover safety Devon Earl (5-11, 175) always seems to be around the ball. More on him next week, but he is a player. He and the guy in the next paragraph are probably Hoover's only two SEC prospects.

Super sophs

To be honest, I had no idea Bobby Humphrey had a second son at Hoover. I know it now, and so does South Panola. Marlon Humphrey, a 6-1, 172-pound cornerback, is going to be talked about a lot between now and February of 2014. He tormented the Tigers with a blocked punt and a key, game-clinching interception. He also broke up a pass in the end zone to thwart another drive, on fourth down, to boot. Humphrey was the best sophomore I saw Saturday. Again, Niblett agrees.

"We knew he had the potential. We just didn't know how long it was going to take (Humphrey) to get there," said Niblett. "Today, he showed up and did some great things for us. He had a big pick, and he made some big tackles on the perimeter. I can't say enough about him, and it's a credit to our coaches for getting him ready to play."

Dashawn Lindsay of South Panola is a linebacker/defensive back who burned the Bucs on an early fake punt when he took a direct snap and rumbled up the middle for a big first down. File his name away.

Meat and three

Most Hoover residents know about the Bluff Park Diner. They have a variety of meats and vegetables available Monday through Friday, and the sweet tea to wash them down with is superb. The cobblers with ice cream -- be it pecan or peach -- are the perfect way to end a meal there. Eat your veggies!

Next up

As impressive as Hoover's win was Saturday, the Bucs may face a tougher challenge against "another SP" next week. Niblett's team heads to Spain Park, which is 0-10 against Hoover. Many people think that stat could change Friday night, and, if it does, top Jaguar defensive back Chris Humes is likely to play a big role. Will history be made on Valleydale Road? Does Bryant-Denny regular Tony Giles still do PA announcing at Spain Park? I will let you know in less than a week.

Discuss Alabama high school football HERE.

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