Private Schools Fight For Friday Night Lights

BIRMINGHAM – Several top private schools in the state of Alabama play in the public school, AHSAA league. Two such teams who both have good traditions met for the first time Friday night in north Shelby County.

Briarwood Christian has five state crowns at the 5A level and below, but were moved up to 6A this season. Meanwhile, Madison Academy won the past two 3A titles, and, though they remain at that level, the Mustangs easily cruised past the higher-classified Lions, 49-21, at Lions Pride Stadium. (That’s a field name with a double meaning, as the folks at Briarwood rightfully have pride in their program, but a herd of Lions, in case you didn’t know is called … wait for it… a Pride.

To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: He’s committed to Auburn, and Madison Academy’s Kerryon Johnson (6-1, 195) was the most dynamic player on the field on this evening. He rushed for 106 yards. Johnson wants to be a running back in the SEC, and Alabama wanted him as a safety, so it was an easy choice when he committed to the Tigers. He will do well on the Plains. He looked great when he got the ball Friday, mostly in the second half. He scored three times, two on the ground and one receiving. Johnson made some good open field tackles from safety, and caused a fumble with a hit on a kickoff. He capped his evening with a 47-yard touchdown from the Wildcat. He added 34 yards receiving. At Auburn, he can have a Carnell Williams type career. High praise; yet well-deserved.

SENIORS WHO SHINED: For the Mustangs, quarterback Blake Coward (5-11, 170) enjoys the outdoors so it was just natural he’d end up dating Duck Dynasty star Sadie Robertson (who is currently competing on another reality show, Dancing With The Stars). That landed Blake an appearance on a recent episode of the Dynasty show. Thing is, he’s a good high school quarterback and, I’m told, an even better baseball player. At first, local radio personality Rick Burgess had folks at the game thinking Sadie was present Friday, but that was debunked.

For the Lions, the senior class is not laden with next-level prospects, but defensive tackle Jacob Shirley (6-2, 240) may have a shot at extending his playing career pass this year’s 6A playoffs.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: For the Mustangs there’s high-level SEC recruit Malik Miller (6-0, 225). Malik excels at fullback and linebacker. Alabama is very high on him, as is Auburn and most of the top schools in the south. “Malik is a phenomenal athlete,” said Madison Academy Coach Eric Cohu. “He anchors one side of our defense at outside linebacker. Offensively, he’s the kind of running back that’s physical. He’s big, and he’s also very quick. He’s tough to bring down. He’s an outstanding player for us.” Added veteran Lions Coach Fred Yancey, “He’s a great athlete, and plays the game the right way. He’s a real compliment to the (Kerryon) Johnson kid. (Miller’s) an all-stater, also.”

The massive Miller ran for 148 yards and three scores while making a handful of tackles. The battle for his services, whether he stays in-state or not, will be epic. His top five is Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia and Mississippi State, in no order. No coincidence those are the SEC’s top teams this year.

For Briarwood, fans of the team will tell you, “As Walker Lott goes, so goes the Briarwood offense.” Lott, a 6-2, 215-pounder, has been visited a few times by Tide Assistant Coach Lance Thompson, but does not have a Bama offer. He has camped at Colorado, Duke, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee. Lott is more a runner than a passer, as accuracy is sometimes an issue.

Said Yancey: “(Lott’s) been a work in progress, and getting better. He’s improving, and I’m tickled to see that. All quarterbacks need to get better at passing and running, and he’s in the same boat. He’s the kind that will do it. He’s a hard worker.” Cohue added, “He’s big, physical, he can run the ball and he’s got a great arm. He makes good decisions, and he’s able to find the open man. He’s a very good quarterback.”

On this cold, windy night, Lott went just 4-for-16 passing for 69 yards, and ran for a net 146 more unofficially, scoring three times on the ground. His accuracy needs some work, but for sure, he is one to watch. The quick feet and strong arm are there.

One of the key protectors for Lott is offensive lineman Daniel Johnston (6-2, 260) who is coached by a former Alabama player named David Hannah who feels Johnston can make it to the next level if he keeps his nose to the grindstone (Do people still say that? Hannah didn’t. I was paraphrasing.)

SUPER SOPHS: For the Mustangs, left tackle turned tight end turned back to left tackle/defensive end Austin Troxell is imposing for a 10th-grader at 6-7, 235. He has the build and skill to develop into a good prospect. One of his young relatives in the stands, upon finding out I was a reporter, wanted me to know No. 78 on the white team was going to Auburn. Guess we’ll see. Kids seem to know these things.

Meanwhile, Briarwood defensive end “Champ” Stewart (6-2, 200) is a growth spurt away from getting some hard looks. The tenacity is there, and he’s still young. He plays sideline-to-sideline.

CRIMSON CONNECTIONS: In addition to line coach Hannah, the Briarwood staff features former UA safety Chris Donnelly coaching the secondary, and an ex-Tide walk-on named Jay Matthews, who runs the offense. Matthews seems to be next in line when Yancey retires at a later date.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: Those who have read this column for the last 15 years know how much I revere the hamburgers at the Lions Pride Stadium concession stand. I’m not sure exactly what the secret is, but they are the best in the metro Birmingham area, if not the state. Always moist and with the right amount of char-grilled taste, they are made even better by the vast array of available condiments and the friendly, smiling service with which they are both grilled and served. I love ‘em. Also, Briarwood has the state’s best hot chocolate, in my opinion. It came in handy with temperatures in the 40’s.

NEXT UP: The bracket wizards were kind enough to send Bama running back commitment DeSherrius Flowers and his Vigor Wolves north up I-65 for an opening round 5A playoff game at Calera next Friday. This is a good thing, even with the lower gas prices, and FNL will be there to get a scout on Flowers and try to find some unheralded underclassmen on both teams.

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