The Briarwood Christian Lions fell short late and missed a golden opportunity to travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn and compete for the 2016 Alabama 5A state title. Down 14-6 to Wenonah with less than three minutes to play, Briarwood blocked a Dragons punt for a safety, but tried to score quickly following the free kick and threw an ill-timed interception. Final in North Shelby County: Wenonah 14, Briarwood 8. To the categories:
TOP PROSPECT: I’m giving the edge here to Lions sophomore J.R. Tran-Reno. Had the 6-1, 185-pound 4.5 in the 40 speedster had a few more touches, the result may have been different. He got the Lions back in the game with a 93-yard kickoff return to open the second half. He rushed (unofficially) for 15 yards, and caught three passes for 23 more. Throw in a second kick return for 10 yards, and Tran-Reno had 139 all-purpose yards. He should have had more, but them’s the breaks.
“He’s brought speed,” said venerable Briarwood Coach Fred Yancey, a long-time friend of Friday Night Lights back to the Tim Castille era. “He’s got speed, and a great attitude to learn, and he hustles. He’s just been a great addition for our team. He’s dangerous.”
Said another venerable coach, Ronald Cheatham of Wenonah: “(Tran-Reno’s) a hard-nosed, well-coached athlete who makes plays.”
SENIORS WHO SHINED: A very dangerous Wenonah player who can occasionally break off a big run is tailback Telvin Miller, listed at 5-6, 160. He got the dragons on the board with a 52-yard burst for six points, and had a couple of other long runs to extend drives. He’s not big. He is fast.
For the Lions, linebacker Champ Stewart (6-4, 215) is contemplating offers from Jacksonville State and Gardener Webb. Briarwood P.A. announcer Rick Burgess (of “Rick and Bubba” fame) calls Stewart’s name a LOT when listing tacklers. He plays sideline to sideline, and had a huge sack, too. He will only get better at the next level.
JUNIORS TO WATCH: The top junior of the night in this column’s opinion was Wenonah quarterback Carlos Rogers, a 6-0, 200-pound athlete with great feet and a solid arm, sort of like former Auburn star Nick Marshall.
Cheatham said of Rogers, “He’s a youngster that’s making plays. He threw the crap out of it this summer (in seven-on-seven competitions). His numbers are going up, and the more he throws it, the better he gets at it.”
“He’s a great athlete, than throw the ‘stink’ out of the football,” said Yancey. (See a theme?) “He can run and throw. He’s just a cool, calm customer.” He is that.
On several occasions, it looked like Briarwood had Rogers trapped for losses, but he got away, often for key first downs. He also completed some clutch passes, going 8-16 for 73 yards.
His 30-yard scramble for a touchdown was also a dagger for the Lions, and was part of Rogers’ 56 net rushing yards, including yardage lost on sacks. He was right at 150 total offensive yards. He’s shifty.
Meanwhile, two of Briarwood’s top juniors are Crimson Tide legacies, and both play defense. Safety Carson Donnelly (6-0, 170) is the son of Gene Stallings era safety Chris, who also coaches at Briarwood. Donnelly is a hard hitter and ball hawk, much like linebacker Gabriel Russell, listed at 5-11, 180. Russell’s dad Lamonde was a top notch tight end under Stallings and Bill Curry. Gabriel Russell wears no. 19, which was worn in the past at Briarwood by a pair of brothers who moved on to Tuscaloosa. More on them down the page.
SUPER SOPHS: Wenonah’s Cortney McGhee is a 5-11, 187-pound bruiser who comes in to give Miller a break. He rarely goes down on the first hit.
For the Lions, a name to watch down the road is linebacker Noah Whatley. He represented his class as a captain Friday and has a great future.
LARRY MUNSON “My God, a Freshman!” AWARD: Ninth grade safety Xavier Stewart is a 5-foot-8, 142-pound playmaker. He had a big pick and a touchdown-saving tackle. He will get bigger. He will get better. He’s the kind of guy FNL “discovers” even before the summer camp crowd posts about them.
CRIMSON CONNECTION: Two of the more well-known no. 19s in Briarwood history were in attendance Friday. In fact, those two fellows, Tim and Simeon Castille, were joined by dad/former Bear Bryant star Jeremiah and younger brother Caleb, briefly a Tider who made his name playing Tony Nathan in the movie Woodlawn.
Another Crimson Connection with a crimson brother is linebacker Giovanni Williams of Wenonah, a solid senior whose sibling Quinnen is redshirting on the defensive line at Bama.
HOW ‘BOUT THEM CHICKEN SANDWICHES: Well, waiting until the half to try for a fine Briarwood burger was a mistake. They were out. However, they did have chicken sandwiches that they grilled on site. They were not bad. Adding mayo helped, but the taste and texture were a welcome, char-grilled change.
HOW ‘BOUT THAT SEAFOOD PLATTER: There’s a small group of Tide faithful in the Birmingham area who meet at Hoover’s Beef O’Brady’s in The Grove each Friday for lunch and Bama football/hoops talk. Some even drive up from Tuscaloosa on occasion. The food at Beef’s is basic sports bar stuff, like Burgers, onion rings and the like. I went with the seafood platter, and the fish tasted fresher than the obviously fresher shrimp, truth be told. The onion rings were good, as was the special zesty sauce they come with. Patti got the Mushroom/Swiss burger and gave it a thumbs up. The service was, as always, with a smile. And the sweet tea is very good. At least somebody got a burger Friday!
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NEXT UP: Kirk McNair’s Ramsay Rams (12-2) face Opelika (13-1) in the Bulldogs’ backyard, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Friday night for the 6A crown. John Garcia will be at the Super 7 all week, and FNL will join him for the Friday evening contest. Both teams have prospects. Read more about them in the space next week.