The purpose is twofold: to keep track of players who could be future Tiders, and to promote high school football in the state of Alabama. We'll hit lots of stadiums and see lots of players, and our first stop this season came at Wildcat Stadium in Northport, where Tuscaloolsa County High, team laden with prospects, played host to Robert E. Lee of Montgomery, a school laden with tradition. On this night, athleticism won out. And how. The Cats won the contest, 28-14, with the game ending at the Lee one yard line, i.e., it could have been worse. On to the categories:
Top Prospects: For TCHS, easily Titus Ryan, who is right there with Montavious Pitts of Loachapoka for the title of "State's Fastest Footballer." A consistent 4.3 clocker, one might doubt that figure until one had seen the 6-2, 190 Titus run with the pigskin. on this night, he did not disappoint. Ryan rushed 17 times for 127 yards and one score from nine yards out. Included on that list were scampers of 58 and 22 yards. He opened the scoring with a 65-yard punt return, taking the pigskin "to the house" behind a well-set up wall of blockers.
Ryan told the Tuscaloosa News, "You can see it coming before the wall is formed. I wasn't touched at all."
Said veteran TCHS head coach Robert Higginbotham of his senior speedster, "He brings a lot of offense! He's a threat to break it every time he gets (the ball). He's just a great back." Ryan showed both the speed and smack-talking ability of a young Deion Sanders. Alabama and Auburn are battling for Ryan's services, with the local school said to lead. Titus must do some work in the classroom to be eligible as a true freshman.
For Lee, the senior getting the most notice from D-1 schools is defensive end Jamal Cooper (6-4, 290). Listed by BAMA magazine's James Edwards as a top instate lineman in a recent article, Cooper is hearing from Georgia, Auburn and UAB according to his head coach, Bill Granger. "Jamal is a leader," added Granger. "A good player. He helps keep things in focus for his teammates. He's a good student and a good person."
Other seniors of note: TCHS defensive lineman James Adams (6-3, 250) is beginning to show up on a lot teams' lists. Don't be surprised if he signs with a divison one school. Lee WR Brandon Horace (6-5, 200) has a good combination of height/hands, and used both on an eight-yard TD grab. We're told he's a respectable hoopster, too.
Juniors to watch: These kids could well show up on the lists of folks like Edwards and Tom Culpepper next year: For TCHS, LB/FB LeRon McClain (6-1, 225) is a monster. Eqully adept at short yardage running and lead blocking on offense, he will also lay to the wood to you if you have the ball in your hands. WR Kevin Owens (6-3, 160) will need to beef up a bit, but can play.LB Terence Jones (6-1, 196) moves well and DB Jean Walker (6-0, 176) is an athlete. TCHS is not a team you really want to play for the next two years.
Lee's top junior is DT Pedro Bennett (6-5, 330). Academics will be his only stumbling block, but Pedro has time to turn that into a stepping stone.
Super sophs: It takes the most athletic OL to play at left tackle, so County High's 6-2, 220 and growing Will Sledge has a chance to be special. Other soph LT's FNL has noticed in the past include form Lee/current UT star Fred Weary, and current NFL rookie Jeff Backus, of Norcross,GA and the University of Michigan. Not saying Will is or isn't in that category, just that he has a chance to develop.
For Lee, TE Rory McNeil (6-0, 210) is a strong kid who is expected to move to his natural position of fullback next season.
Brandon Brooks lookalike winners: TCHS has a pair of mighty mites, both of which play meaningful minutes. Watching guys like DB Tommy Sims (5-3, 135) and WB Terrance Garner (5-2, 140) is part of what makes doing the FNL stories fun.
How 'Bout Them Burgers: Each week, we'll rate the burgers from at least one of the concession stands. This time, the patties came fromt he Athletic Boosters. They get points for being char-grilled, but overall were a tad cold. Cooked well done and tasting mediocre, we'd have preferred the reverse. Sometimes, it helps to get there when they're fresh off the grill...
Pre-game Atmosphere: Not exactly electric, as the TCHS side was about 80% filled with the visitors occupying about half their bleachers. It didn't help that one bank of lights wouldn't come on until halftime. Also, recent rains put a beating on the sod, with a few wholes armadillo-sized.
Scholar Athlete: Lee senior OL Patrick Haigler (6-4, 260) has Ivy-league type grades/test scores. Patrick is hearing form Troy, UAB and a few others. He graded out respectably against UA commitment Kyle Tatum at Bama's camp, according to one source.
Worst Geography: The Lee cheerleaders' pregame burstable paper sign for the team to run through read, "The Generals: Ready To Take Down T-town. Uh, County High is in Northport.
Spirit of Cooperation: Not sure we've heard this before, but these Tuscaloosa County High Schools apparently have great relationships. Example: The TCHS basketball boosters are holding a fund-raising BBQ AT Hillcrest prior to the home game this Friday between the Patriots and the VISITING Wildcats. Wow.
No shirt, no shoes, no... Well, we're not exactly sure why the Lee ballboy was barefoot. We can say we were quite happy to see him wearing an FSU hat.
Next Week's Game: McAdory at Briarwood Christian. Two of the top juniors in the state will face off. One you've all heard of, the other was mentioned last year in FNL as a soph and just gotten better. If you get the chance, head for a a high school stadium somewhere this Friday night.