Friday Night Lights checks out some top prospects in Alabama

Markail Benton and Henry Ruggs have fine performances

PHENIX CITY – Prospects galore and recruiting reporters galore. That was the scene Friday when the homestanding Central Red Devils hosted region foe Robert E. Lee of Montgomery. The final was Central 59, Lee 28. The recruitniks who showed up were not disappointed. To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT(S): We’ll call this one a draw, as Central linebacker Markail Benton, who at 6-3. 231 was featured last year in this column, squared off against Lee senior receiver Henry Ruggs III (6-0, 181). Benton would like for Ruggs to join him as an Alabama 2017 commitment; so badly that after the game, Benton removed the Auburn towel Ruggs was wearing, tossed it in a nearby trash can, and replaced it with a Nike towel.

 Benton is a beast. “He’s been what you ask of a senior: a leader on the field, and a real good practice guy,” said Central Coach Jamey DuBose, whose cousin Mike is well-known among Tide faithful. “He’s been a solid performer, and he’s played through some nagging injuries. He’s been great in games.”

Added Lee Coach Tyrone Rogers: “Wow. The kid has the size, the speed and the ability. He’s physical, which is the type of football Coach (Nick) Saban loves. He’ll do a great job up there (in Tuscaloosa). He does a great job on the football field. You just try to find a way to block him. If you try to run away from him, he’s so fast, he just finds a way to catch you. He’s just a talent.”

Unofficially, Benton finished with nine stops on the night. Of those, three were thunderous. Two of those were in the backfield. One was on the sidelines.

Ruggs, who caught seven balls for 163 yards Friday, drew praise from Rogers, too.

“Where do I start? The young man’s doing an outstanding job for us. He accounts for 35-40 per cent of our offense. He’s a special kid, and we just try to find a way to get the ball to him. You don’t have too many Henry Ruggs come through your school, so he’s talented, but outside of that, he’s an outstanding kid both on the field and in the classroom.”   

Ruggs took off one glove for parts of the second half, David Palmer style, and ran from the Wildcat. He did that seven times for 97 yards. That gave him 260 total yards and two TDs. One was a 59-yard catch and run. The other was a 75-yard quarterback draw. John Garcia and I agree: take him over Nico Collins. Does Nick Saban agree? “I talked to Coach Saban (Thursday) night,” Ruggs said. “He told me to concentrate on my season and that he’s thinking of me.”

SENIORS WHO SHINED: Central cornerback Karon Delince (5-9, 167) is not committed but has a Duke offer, among others. He helped on Ruggs most of the night and got a breakup doing so.

For the Generals, dynamic senior quarterback Michael Huntley, Jr., is a guy who can hurt you with his legs and his arm.  He did not play this night. A Lee sideline official said, “I can’t answer that” when queried.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Last year in this space, DuBose compared receiver Justyn Ross (6-4, 190) to “the kid from Foley,” aka Julio Jones. DuBose would know, as he was part of a Prattville staff that faced and beat Jones twice. Ross has gotten better over the past year, and caught two passes for 42 yards. He rushed twice for eight more. He nearly snared a 21-yard TD on a slant.

“Every ball park we go to, they double him, but he’s being patient,” said DuBose. “As a sophomore, he was a little bit unknown. Now, everybody knows about him. He draws the other team’s best DB all night.

“The thing about Ross a lot of people don’t know is he’s a great blocker. I’ve had to take him out of drills just to calm him down. He’s doing a good job”

Every major program in the South, including the one in Tuscaloosa, is in contact with Ross. He says the two in-state schools are who he hears from the most. He wore Bama gloves on this night.

Other 2018 names to remember for Central are offensive lineman Jahlil Ryles (6-3, 298), defensive lineman Tyler Moore (6-2, 265), and defensive end DeAnthony Miles.

For the Generals, names to remember are corner Jakorey Hawkins (6-1, 175), defensive back Edward Johnson (6-3, 187), offensive lineman Cameron Hill (6-3, 280), and receiver/running back Kaniaus Johnson.

SUPER SOPHS: Tenth graders don’t see the field as quickly at the 7A level.  A few did:

For the Red Devils, running back Jamaar Spivey (5-11, 185) already has a burst. He reminds DuBose of another guy he coached against a while back: T.J. Yeldon.  He looked good on a 28-yard touchdown run. His classmate, backup quarterback DJ Rias, is athletic enough to return kickoffs, and brought one back 65 yards to put his team in business.

For Lee, Rogers doesn’t play many sophs. However, one to watch is running back Tedarrian Murray, already a 6-footer.

HOW ‘BOUT THAT CATIFISH: I was blessed to be joined on this outing by John Garcia, Jr, and when he pointed out there was an Ezell’s Catfish Cabin near the stadium. I had the whole catfish and fantail shrimp combo, which was melt in your mouth good, as was the baked potato and slaw. Good hushpuppies and cold sweet tea to wash it all down helped. I’ll be back! John seemed to enjoy his Buffalo shrimp. He doesn’t like slaw. That meant more for me.

HOW ‘BOUT THAT FRIED CHICKEN: If you’re wondering where the stadium burger review is, last year they didn’t have them. Now they do. But you still get a second restaurant review, instead. Early this week I made my first (but not last) trip to Let’s Eat Café in Scottdale, Ga, just off Church Street between Clarkston and Decatur for some good, crispy, greasy fried chicken. Just as good were the green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple cobbler, and sweet tea,

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: So this year, they did have burgers at the city stadium. They weren’t bad, either. More moist than many and that high school cafeteria taste that is unique and pleasing.

NEXT UP: After an off week and birthday celebration at a steak house you’ll soon read about here, it’s Brookwood and junior receiver Matthew Hill and his classmate, running back Dante Black, visit Norcross.

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