First 'Friday Night Lights' Has Its Moments

ALABASTER—I had never met Mark Freeman until Friday night, when he made his debut at Head Coach at Thompson High. I felt like I knew him, though, because Freeman was coached in little league football by my Father in Law, John Pratt, and was hired by a family friend, Alabaster City Schools Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers, whose wife Pam was in my wedding.

I promise you, this is a sports story. Freeman left perennial power Spanish Fort, and took over a team that went 0-10 last year in Thompson. His stint with the Warriors opened with a 37-13 win against the visiting Wetumpka Indians. Freeman has won state titles at the public and private school level, so he will turn the Warriors around. To the categories:

WEATHER DELAY: A lightning delay with 2:47 to go in the first quarter and Thompson up 20-0 lasted over an hour. The crowd, eager for a Warriors win, didn’t seem to care. They stayed, and were glad they did. We media folk endured because we’ve missed football, and had a job to do.

TOP PROSPECT: I’m going to call this a tie between two of Freeman’s players, nose guard T.J. Rayam (6-0, 300) and 6-3, 220-pound Briarwood Christian transfer Walker Lott, the Warriors’ quarterback. Both men are seniors. Lott has been written about many times in prior years. Both have.

“Walker Lott’s a great young man,” said Freeman. “Walker’s worked hard, and he’s got the toughest position, probably, in the state. He plays for me. I coach that (quarterback) positon, and he’s doing a great job.”

Lott finished 8-of-15 passing for106 yards and 2 touchdowns, and ran the ball for 72 more yards on 10 runs. Unofficially, he finished with 178 yards total offense.

Then, there’s Rayam, whose dad Thomas blocked a field goal at Penn State as time expired in 1989 to preserve an Alabama win, and who is a line coach for Freeman as he was on the previous staff.

Of the younger Rayam, Freeman said, “TJ’s a champ, man, and it’s no accident he’s won two state championships in wrestling. He’s a hard worker, and he’s full speed every play.” Rayam had two sacks among around a half dozen stops in three quarters of action.

CRIMSON CONNECTIONS: FNL has been following Tim Castille since he was a seventh grade varsity player at Briarwood in 1998. Since then, Castille has matriculated at Bama, played a few NFL seasons, and been an off-field coach for Nick Saban during two national title years (2011 and 2012). Freeman saw a chance to hire former Tide cornerback Jeremiah Castille’s oldest son and named him running backs coach and head of Thompson’s football strength and conditioning program.

Said Freeman: “I’ve known the Castilles for a while, and Tim’s just a great guy to have around. He’s not a person that you would ever know he’s had the success he’s had, and he’s made a great impression on our kids. He’s humble, he comes from a great family, and the kids love him.”

By the way, Tim’s younger brothers Simeon and Caleb (both former Tiders) are quite busy these days. Caleb plays the role of Tony Nathan in the movie Woodlawn, set for an October release. Simeon recently retired from the Arena Football League and is an owner of a recently-opened Birmingham gym.

Meanwhile, recent Wetumpka grad Brandon Kennedy is battling for playing time as a backup during his true freshman year at Alabama, and was praised at SEC Media Days by the man he could replace next year, Ryan Kelly. Indians Coach Tim Perry hasn’t heard much from Kennedy since the Tide opened camp, but did say, “I know that, coming out of spring practice (Kennedy) was in the two deep rotation, and then he had a little trouble with turf toe and had to have some surgery. He rehabbed it, and had from what I understand, a very good summer, so we’re very proud of him and we’re hopeful that very good things are in store for him. He represents our football team, our school, and our community with a lot of class.”

SENIORS WHO SHINED: For the Indians, both receiver Rod Thrasher (5-10, 168) and corner Ty Humphrey (no relation to Marlon) (5-11, 160) showed speed and athleticism.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: For Thompson, a learned observer told me to keep an eye on fullback Chris Lewis (6-0, 240) who plays for Castille but looks more like former Tide and NFL fullback Le'Ron McClain. His Warrior teammate, defensive back Austin Davis (5-10, 170) is also a guy who could play at the next level.

Wetumpka running back DeAndre Williams (6-2, 195) showed some flashes by breaking off several first down runs.

SUPER SOPHS: Wetumpka receiver Keedrick Adams is a 5-9, 155 dynamo with reliable hands and solid speed. Backup quarterback DeAndre Ezell (6-4, 200) hit a man in stride for an 84-yard TD late when it was two’s vs. two’s. Receiver/safety Samuel Teel (6-1, 175) will hit you and fight you for a catch.

Thompson’s Mo Edwards (6-1, 175) is a wide receiver to watch for. He’s not the only talented soph for Freeman’s Warriors. There’s also defensive end Mackie McNeal (6-2, 240) and linebacker KJ Robertson, who is currently listed at 6-1, 190, and is likely to be a beneficiary of things Tide S/C Coach Scott Cochran taught Castille in the next two off-seasons.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: Not the stadium ones this go-round, but new to the Pelham restaurant scene is Stack’d Burger Kitchen, open Monday through Saturday for lunch only. The burgers are tasty and juicy, and the mushrooms are sautéed just right, should you order that burger. While the fries and sweet tea were just okay, the service was quick and friendly, so a return trip is warranted, and will happen at some point in the near future. Onion rings and dessert are next on the “to try” list.

NEXT UP: Phenix City Central has been putting out prospects since the elder Castille and the Lowe brothers (Woodrow and Eddie) played for Paul Bryant at Alabama, and this year is no exception. The Red Devils of Coach Jamey (cousin of Mike) DuBose play host to Harris County (Ga.), who also likely have a prospect or two to discuss. Since this will mark FNL’s first trip to Phenix City, the stadium burgers will most assuredly be reviewed. Count on it.

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