Friday Night Lights Has Some Stories

GARDENDALE –A special story and a special player intersected in round three of the 2014 AHSAA 6A playoffs Friday night. Both the story and player involve The University of Alabama football program; one its past and the other its future. The football game was won by Florence, which topped Gardendale 49-14, and the Falcons will visit Clay-Chalkville in the semis next week. To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: Despite his family ties to the University of Tennessee, Florence Falcons linebacker Keaton Anderson (6-1, 220) chose to break the mold and commit to Alabama. As he told BAMS radio back in May, “A lot of people assumed I would end up at Tennessee, but I wanted to go where I felt the most comfortable. I wanted to be part of a championship team.” Hard to argue that logic. Thing is, the way his Florence team is playing, Anderson may not have to wait until college to be a champion.

“He’s got leadership qualities about him, and he’s had that since I’ve known him since he was a sophomore,” said Falcons Coach J.B. Wallace. “He plays fast, and he’s very intelligent. You can’t overload him (with too much information), and it’s good to have that in a kid on defense. He’s a student of the game who’s always in the video room watching film. He’s always working on things he needs to improve on in the weight room and with his footwork. Whatever it is, he comes early and stays late. “

Said Gardendale Coach Matt Plunkett: “I think (Anderson’s) the best linebacker we’ve played against. He’s a really good football player, overall. He’s strong, athletic, and he’s a really smart kid who knows how to read offenses. He’s probably broken us down (on tape) to every little tendency we’ve got. You have to get a body on him, and try to make him miss. He’s going to make some plays.”

On this night Anderson was in on five tackles, and only missed one. They don’t run at him much, and he’s not used as a blitzer much due to great coverage skills. On one pass, he chucked the slot receiver right around the five yard legal mark and caused a pick six for a teammate. He also can play on special teams, which bodes well for the January enrollee.

SENIORS WHO SHINED: Florence has quite a talented squad. Top seniors in addition to Anderson include safety Dee Smith (6-2, 190, Louisville commitment), Chandler Brewer (offensive lineman, 6-5, 305, MTSU pledge) and tight end Tucker Sigle (6-5, 220, considering several mid-majors.) Sigle hauled in a 20-yard touchdown catch. For the Rockets, Austin Hicks (6-3, 205) is a solid receiver whose career won’t end in high school.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Florence fullback/linebacker Erroll Thompson (6-2, 245) makes many of the tackles Anderson doesn’t. He is one to watch.

Gardendale’s Zachery Cupps (5-11, 165) is a solid quarterback.

SUPER SOPHS: For the Falcons, two names to remember are running back Kameron Davis (5-9, 180) and corner Dy’Jonn Turner, who cuts the mustard (pun intended) at 5-8, 160. Like most of their teammates, they are quick-twitch guys. Davis had several good runs and Turner made an impressive end zone pass break-up.

For the Rockets, sophomore standouts include cornerback Demetrius King (6-2, 176) and left offensive tackle Dawson Cazola (6-3, 265).

NOT YOUR ORDINARY CRIMSON CONNECTION: Gardendale Defensive Coordinator Willie Wyatt was an accomplished nose tackle on Alabama’s 1989 SEC championship team. He also played pro ball at the NFL and Arena League levels. Wyatt enjoys imparting the knowledge he has about the game to the generation of today. Six months ago, he suffered a setback that affected his coaching career, but the need for emergency brain surgery became an inspiration leading to Gardendale Rocket perspiration. Last week’s win over Homewood was dedicated to Wyatt.

“He’s doing physical therapy four days a week right now,” said Plunkett of his valued assistant, Wyatt. “The big thing is he’s getting a lot of his muscle movement back. The thing he would tell you is ‘you don’t realize what brain surgery will do to you.’ Originally, they thought there was a tumor in there, but it’s more just swelling of the brain. They went in and scraped some stuff out, and he’s a lot better. We’re hoping to get him back full speed (and coaching) in February or March. Hopefully, by spring ball he’s back full speed. He’s about 70 per cent (recovered), but he gets a little fatigued. He’s a fantastic guy, was and is a great athlete, and he’s played a major support role for our kids this year.”

I spoke briefly with Wyatt at half time, and he thanks all Bama fans for their prayers. Regarding that spring practice return to coaching, he beamed, “That’s the plan!”

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: It had been a long while since an FNL visit to Gardendale. It was time for a burger re-check. (They’ve built a new school and stadium since the last visit.) Alas, this was not a good night at the concession stand. The burger was cold, the fries were lukewarm, but at least the sweet tea (from Chick-fil-A was spot on. The folks were friendly, and gladly exchanged the burger for one that came out with unwanted cheese. Kudos for that, but one suggestion is to do away with paper condiments and go to the large dispensers like most of the rest of the metro area uses.

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