FNL Finds a hot soph runner

OXFORD, Ala.--How long had it been since FNL traversed to Oxford, Ala? It had been since linebacker/receiver Darius Gilbert played for the Jackets over a decade ago. Gilbert is just one of many FNL alums who went on to successful college careers in Tuscaloosa (and other places). Gilbert, by the way, now coaches linebackers for his alma mater.

On this night, the Mountain Brook Spartans brought their unblemished mark to this nice stadium just off I-20 in Calhoun County. And, while star linebacker Kwon Alexander remained hurt, there was still plenty of talent on both teams. When the game ended, Oxford came out on top, 35-28, in three overtimes. The game was knotted at 14 after regulation.

To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: It's not often a sophomore earns this award, but I have to give it up for Oxford super-soph Racean "Rock" Thomas, who can sure enough tote the rock. Listed at 5-11, 185, Thomas had a 58-yard touchdown run where he broke one tackle and was gone. Thomas ran for 80 yards on 13 carries, and FNL first reported on him two months ago from Clay-Chalkville. FNL, and many others, will talk about "Rock" for many moons. He would have more Friday, but for a third quarter leg injury.

"He‘s gotten better every week, and he‘s seasoned. His vision‘s gotten better, and he‘s running the football really well," said Oxford head coach John Grass.

Said Spartans coach Chris Yeager, "That sophomore running back is going to be a great one. He's got speed, strength and vision, really everything you want in a running back."

SENIORS WHO SHINED: Running back Mark Rector is a key part of the Mountain Brook offense, as is quarterback Edward Aldag. Against the Jackets, the 5-10, 155-pound Rector scored three times, while Aldag threw for 138 yards on 14-31 passing, with one touchdown and two picks. While Yeager is not sure what Aldag will do next year, don't be surprised if he joins another former Spartans quarterback, Morgan Ogilvie, as an invited Alabama walk-on. This guess is based strictly on the fact that, when thumbing through the Alabama game program, one can note that Aldag's father is an Alabama scholarship donor. Which ever school gets the younger Aldag is getting quite a player.

Yeager said, "Edward has completed over 60 per cent of his passes and for over 2,200 yards, and he has 22 touchdown passes. He‘s really done a great job. I‘m shocked he doesn‘t have any offers."

Oxford's coach agrees. "He can do it all," Grass said of Aldag. "He manages the game very well, and makes very few mistakes. He can throw it, and he runs their offense very well."

For the Yellow Jackets, quarterback Jackson Stephens (6-4, 210) has already signed with the Tide -- in baseball. Even on the football field, Stephens shows arm strength and footwork that will serve him well as an SEC infielder. He's a fair punter, too, and downed one inside the 15. He was 12-for-25 for 235 yards, two scores and one pick.

Oxford's uncommitted receiver Trae Elston (6-0, 180) had some moments, like the 45 yard ball he caught from Stephens only to cough it up to the Spartans after he was blasted. His teammate, running back Coty Spurling (5-11, 170) always gives the fans their money's worth, like his 59 -yard touchdown grab from Stephens on fourth-and-12 with 3:27 left.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Oxford defensive lineman Ulric Jones is a legit 6-6, 250, and at times gets heat on the quarterback, but not as much as one would think. The tools are there. To this writer's view, Jones' fellow d-lineman Trent Simpson (6-5, 230) was around the ball more.

Mountain Brook cornerback Sam Centero is 5-11, 160, and his good technique helps him cover receivers who are bigger, stronger and faster. He had a key break-up in the last five minutes.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM FINGERS: Thanks to O'Charley's of Oxford for the fried chicken fingers, honey mustard, chips and salsa in the press box. They hit the spot, and the spot is expanding. The post-game Shoney's hot fudge cake didn't help matters, but was wonderful to the palate, as always.

RETIRING THE COLORS: I never saw this when playing or covering football in the Atlanta area, but one cool thing they do at many Alabama schools, including Oxford, happens at the end of the third quarter. The home team school's Junior ROTC has an honor guard that lowers the flag while a trumpeter plays taps. The crowd comes to its feet, just as it does before the game for the National Anthem. Pretty neat way to salute Old Glory one more time before the game ends. More schools should do this.

UP NEXT: FNL will head to Hueytown, where Jameis Winston is re-thinking about switching his public pledge to Florida State to a school a bit closer, and where the visiting Wolves from Prichard always have a ton of talent, even though Alabama commitment Darius Philon is out with a knee injury.

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