Story by BamaMag.com's Cary Clark, video by John Garcia, Jr.
FNL always tries to catch at least one game at the AHSAA Super 7 during the Bryant-Denny Stadium odd years, and Thursday night was this year’s choice. Congrats to this year’s 5A champion St. Paul’s Saints, who won 41-26 over Mortimer Jordan on a night where temperatures fell into the 30’s and I was quite thankful AHSAA officials closed the press box windows. To be truthful, the game would have probablybeen more competitive had the victors not featured 7-8 D-1 prospects, including two possible Top 100 guys; one each from the 2016 and 2017 classes. St. Paul’s (13-2) has now won titles at Legion Field (led by A.J. McCarron), Jordan-Hare, and Bryant-Denny. Mortimer Jordan also finished 13-2. To the categories:
TOP PROSPECT: That nod goes to 2017 St. Paul’s defensive end Ryan Johnson (6-3, 235), who is getting plenty of SEC attention. Said Saints Coach Steve Mask: “Ryan plays defensive tackle and nose guard. He’s just a great athlete that’s got a big old body. He’s tremendously quick. He’s got great feet, and plays with great hands. I expect him to be a High School All-American next year.”
Added Mortimer Jordan Coach Dusty Goode: “(Johnson’s) as good as it gets. People have a hard time doing anything with him. He’s a gifted athlete that has a fast motor who plays hard all the time. To be honest with you, I wish he was on our side.”
Johnson showed a propensity to get in the opponents’ backfield, and he moonlights at tight end on short yardage/goal line situations.
SENIORS WHO SHINED: St. Paul’s has a pair of solid seniors who are committed to D-1 programs. 6-3, 275-pound offensive/defensive lineman Darius Whitfield, younger brother of Bama guard Josh Casher, is South Carolina bound, where he will likely be an offensive guard. Linebacker Bryce Huff (6-2, 235) will stay close to home and play for Bama alum Joey Jones at South Alabama. Running back Ostin McPherson (5-8, 170) has committed to Army. He ran for 163 yards on 27 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
For the Blue Devils, Duncan Hodges (6-3, 220) is the younger brother of current Samford quarterback and FNL alum Devlin. The younger Hodges is getting looks and finished 20-26 passing for 211 yards, one score and two picks. Interestingly, he played linebacker on his team’s final defensive series.
JUNIORS TO WATCH: Saints corner Tamaurice Smith (5-10, 155) had a key pick to stop a late first half drive by the Blue Devils. He later broke up a two-point conversion attempt by Hodges and picked off a throwback intended for Hodges on another two-point attempt. For the Blue Devils, Spencer Brown (6-1, 225) can do damage at fullback or linebacker.
SUPER SOPHS: St. Paul’s athlete Jalyn Armour-Davis (6-1, 165) is gifted on both sides of the ball. He can play receiver or defensive back. He is known among SEC recruiting circles. Thursday, the speedster made six tackles on defense. Offensively, he had 18 yards on two catches. He also had 19 yards on two kick returns (video above).
Mask rarely gives out accolades to underclassmen. He did for Armour-Davis: “The world is his oyster,” he said of the 4.4 speedster already holding an Auburn offer. “It’s all right there in front of him. He starts at corner, and plays some wide receiver. He’s got great speed and great athletic ability. He’s got to mature a little bit, but he’s going to get there.”
For the Blue Devils, JuJu Washington, a 5-7, 150-pound corner, will need a growth spurt but has time to make himself a factor at the next level.
CRIMSON CONNECTION: Mortimer Jordan wide receiver Walker McCleney (5-11, 170) caught two passes for 22 yards Thursday. He added 79 yards on four kick returns to total 101 all-purpose yards. His older sister, Haylie, is the centerfielder for Alabama’s softball team. Walker McCleney has signed with Mitch Gaspard as a candidate to take over for Georgie Salem covering center at the revamped Sewell-Thomas Stadium. He can now say he also played at Bryant-Denny.
Goode said, “Walkers’ a great, gifted athlete. A great kid with great work ethic. I’m glad he’s on our side. As a ballplayer, he’s very fast and very quick, agile and he’s a winner.
“Walker is also a great baseball player. Alabama’s getting a good one.”
As has been the case throughout the playoffs, big sister Haylie was on hand to cheer for little brother. And speaking of standout Tide female athletes, soccer star Abby Lutzenkirchen was also spotted in the press box. Her laptop features one “43 Lutzy” sticker and one for “Alabama Soccer.”
HOW ‘BOUT THAT BBQ: It was a good sign when the folks from Full Moon delivered our sandwich suppers. There was plenty of tender pork in that bun, and the chips and cookie were just a bonus. Sure, the sandwich could have used a little more sauce, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? The popcorn available throughout the game was also a plus.
NEXT UP: The Avery Johnson era of Alabama basketball calls for more high school hoops recruiting stories, FNL style. On Tuesday night, 6-9 Alex Reese and Pelham visit Spain Park, featuring 6-4 guard Jamal (son of Buck) Johnson and 6-10 big man Austin Wiley, an Auburn signee whose parents both played for the Tigers. Reese and Johnson are Alabama priorities for the November 2016 signing period.