Friday Night Lights Illuminate A Beast

PHENIX CITY -- For many years, the Red Devils of Central High in this town on the Georgia border have produced many a D-1 football prospect. Names like Woodrow and Eddie Lowe, Jeremiah Castille, and Billy Jackson (to name four from the Paul Bryant era) have played integral roles at Alabama and other major football programs.

The CHS class of 2016 has two major prospects committed to high D-1 schools (more on them later), but it was a junior linebacker that enticed me to make the long trip down U.S. 280, nearly all the way to Columbus, Ga. Central defeated the visitors from Hamilton, Ga., 45-6. To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: If you have not heard of Central junior linebacker Markail Benton, you have now. He may be the best prospect in the state, regardless of classification. Said's John Garcia, Jr., who has viewed much tape of the young man: "Markail Benton is simply a beast. He's good to the point that he'd be in the mix with Ben Davis and Lyndell ‘Mack’ Wilson if he were a senior this fall. He’s big, fast, physical and improving each time we see him out. Benton has a shot at being not only the top player in the state for 2017, but one of the best in the country when all is said and done. There isn’t much he can't do from any traditional linebacker spot." John doesn't dish out such high praise lightly, nor does Central Coach Jamey (cousin of Mike) DuBose, who added, "Markail’s an exciting, explosive player. He’s got a lot of speed, and he’s got a lot of power. He’s a guy that can play inside, and can play outside. He has the speed to play safety, if he wanted to. He’s one of the faster kids on the team. He’s very athletic, and he has a nose for the ball.

“He’s a true football player, a good ‘coach on the field,’ and does it all well. I think his best technique is getting off the passer, coming off the edge.” (Sounds a lot like a high school description of current Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, eh?)

Said Harris County Coach Dwight Jones: “(Benton’s) a great player, and he’ll go somewhere and make somebody very happy. I’m assuming he’ll go to the ACC or the SEC. He runs to the football, he’s aggressive, and seems to be a leader for that defensive side of the football. We saw enough of him last year, as a sophomore. We know what he can do.”

For the night, Benton was (unofficially) in on six stops, half of them for losses. The battle for his services will be epic.

SENIORS WHO SHINED: The Red Devils have two men committed to big-time schools. There’s cornerback John Broussard (6-0, 175), who is bound for Auburn. And there’s tight end Jamal Couch, who briefly considered Bama before announcing for Florida State. He’s around 6-4, 215. Both are solid prospects who project well at the next level, though Couch will need to add weight to be a true tight end in the ACC. Couch was more heavily pursued by Alabama than was Broussard. Both can play.

For the Tigers, running back Juan O’Neal (5-9, 160) is a competitor who will get a chance at the next level, as is receiver Josh Stein, who checks in at 6-4, 190 and knows how to use his size.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Central cornerback Karon Delince (5-10, 165) looked very good on an interception and a breakup, and he’s the leader of DuBose’s secondary. He has some offers, as does running back Jaxton Carson (5-9, 190). The Red Devils’ offensive line leader is center Trent (no relation to Ryan, as seen by the spelling) Kelley, who is 6-4 ½, 305 and drawing some attention. Is he smart? Try a 31 on the ACT. Wowser!

For the Tigers, fullback T.J. Chiles runs and blocks with toughness at 5-9, 195. At age 16, he can still grow bigger and taller.

SUPER SOPHS: All great receivers these days draw comparisons to former Alabama great and current Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones. DuBose, who coached against Julio as a Prattville assistant, didn’t call Jones by name, but when he said Justyn Ross (6-4, 190) could be “one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen, and that’s including the one from down in Foley several years ago,” I knew who he meant. Ross is already drawing SEC attention, and one can see why. Even as a 10th-grader, he is one tough guy to cover and tackle. Few high school defenders look forward to it, as was the case with Jones back in the day. He had three grabs for 36 yards including a 27-yard TD. He had an 18-yard catch nullified by a penalty and drew a pass interference to set up a score. On a stalk block, he removed an opponent’s helmet.

HOW 'BOUT THEM BURGERS: As is always the case on FNL’s first trip to a stadium, a review of the concession stand hamburgers is a must. Here is this week’s verdict: FAIL. How in the H-E-double-hockey sticks can you stage a high school football game and not sell burgers? Well, they did it in Phenix City, and I got my fix after the contest at a Waffle House across the street. It was great. The burger was just greasy enough, not too over-cooked, and the hash browns with mushrooms inside were spot on.

HOW ‘BOUT THAT PIZZA: Earlier this year, Hoover welcomed three new pizza places, but FNL feels that Pie Five on U.S. 31 in Riverchase is better than Jet’s or Staxx. And yes, I tried them all. Of course I did.

But not the same night. What stood out at Pie Five is the friendly, informative service, getting to watch the staff build your pie as you tell them your ingredients of choice while going through the line, and enjoying a fresh salad for the very few minutes it took for the pizza to go from hand to oven to table.

One has time to finish said salad while the pizza cools. And it’s good pizza, with a crust that’s not too thick and not too thin, and heapin’ helpin’s of ingredients. My wife and I plan to return, and soon!

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT: As stated, this was FNL’s first trip to Phenix City. After pulling up the school and seeing no lights about 90 minutes before kickoff, I found out from the friendly local police who were escorting the team bus that Garrett-Harrison Stadium is about 1.5 miles from the school, much like Stanley Jensen Stadium in Prattville. Unlike Prattville, I had no clue, but that’s why you leave early, eh?

NEXT UP: A bye week as I head to Gulf Shores (and sadly, shopping in Jones’ hometown of Foley) for some much-needed R & R, then FNL gears back up Sept. 11 when Southside visits Arab. The game features two top juniors, Auburn pledge/running back Alaric Williams of Southside and A.J. McCarron-clone quarterback Daulton Hyatt of Arab. As it will mark FNL’s first trip to Arabian Knight country, there will be a burger review, but It will be halftime for that. A certain local seafood establishment will get top billing. You will have to read the story to know the name of the establishment and what I wolfed down.

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