Friday Night Lights: Battle of unbeatens

HOOVER --- It was to be a battle of unbeatens at the Hoover Met in metro Birmingham. Top-ranked, 9-0, defending state 6A champion Hoover was hosting 9-0, fifth-ranked Butler of Huntsville--a team sporting no less than two Bama commitments. <br><br>When it was over, the visiting Rebels found out why the black-and-orange-clad Bucs are not only ranked first in their classification in the state of Alabama, but 10th nationally by USA Today.

Truthfully, the contest was closer than the 35-2 Hoover advantage would indicate. Each team tallied 13 first downs, and twice the Rebs knocked on the endzone door only to be stopped by the stingy Buccaneer defense.

FNL chose this game since Butler has two Tide commitments and Hoover features arguably the state's top junior. Suffice it to say we were not disappointed.

Ramzee Robinson lets fly at last summer's 7-on-7 camp, hosted by Alabama. Robinson plays both ways for Butler, handling quarterback and corner. But the Tide commitment is expected to play cornerback exclusive on the college level.

On to the categories:

CRIMSON CONNECTIONS: Robinson was playing a bit hobbled, as was teammate and fellow Tide commitment Kenneth Darby. Ramzee played offense only the majority of the evening, but at quarterback he showed quick feet and excellent instincts. His coverage on Jackson on the early deep ball was not horrible, but one step and a great throw did him in.

Darby, who could play on either side of the ball in college, was held to 64 yards on 13 carries, but is a kid who gives his all on every snap and has the important ability for a runner of making the first tackler miss. Butler head coach Ron Danley said of his two seniors, "They played hard tonight and took a lot of punishment.

"They're good leaders. They do a good job for us."

TOP PROSPECT: He may be a junior, but the best player on the field this mild November night was 6-2, 205 pound wide receiver Chad Jackson. On the game's third play, Chad beat Tide commitment Ramzee Robinson on a deep post for an 82-yard score. Showing impressive skills in the categories of hands, route-running and that ever-elusive "fifth gear" that only the fastest footballers possess, the catch prompted one Butler assistant to say, "I'm a Chad Jackson fan."

As is FNL, after seeing Chad grab four passes for 144 yards, and display some elusiveness on kick returns, too.

Ken Darby, shown during the Bama 7-on-7 camp, is considered by many to be the top running back prospect in Alabama this year. But he's also physical enough to star at linebacker.

Said Hoover head coach Rush Probst of his best player: "He wanted to show that he could play with the likes of Ramzee Robinson and Kenneth Darby. We're not a one man show, but Chad stepped his game up tonight. He wanted to show everybody in the country he's a great player."

Mission accomplished. Not many juniors have already been offered scholarships by the Tide staff. Word is, Jackson has. And while there's a year-long battle ahead for his services, don't be surprised if Chad wears crimson.

SENIORS WHO SHINED: For Butler, WR/DBs Lewis Hughes, Robert Strong and Anthony Collier all played well. Collier is related to former Southern Miss and pro quarterback Reggie. For Hoover, receiver Derek Sain sometimes lines up at TE and sometimes in the slot, has excellent hands, and will play somewhere. LB Brad Peeks returned a pick for a score. LB Glen Jamison several times laid punishing hits on Darby. Safety Brad Mims was all over the field making tackles, and DL Ryan Harbuck applied constant pressure on Robinson, sacking him twice. Quarterback Blake Davidson may be a first-year starter, but you'd never know it to see him run the Buc offense and he put the long pass to Jackson right on the money.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: MLB Michael Jamar is easily Butlers top underclassman, and will be heavily recruited. He has a mean streak you like at that position. His teammate OL Jonathan Wilson could get some small school looks next year. Hoover corner Justin Ray is not tall, but knows the game and had a nice pick. PK Michael Mahon has a strong leg and gets much height on his kickoffs, and DL John Wright also managed a sack.

SUPER SOPHS: Hoover LB Curtis Dawson is already known by recruiters and scouts. He will hit you.

JUST A FRESHMAN: It's a phrase coined by University of Georgia play-play-man Larry Munson, and it applies to Butler WR Justin Keith, who beat the Hoover secondary deep for a field position-changing catch.

NIGHT AND DAY: Last week, we told of the interesting backdrop for inner-city football. Not so in the affluent suburb of Hoover, where the Bucs play many of the home games at the Met. The stadium is home to both the Birmingham Barons and the SEC baseball tourney, but makes a unique football stadium as well. It not every week you can see the game on a jumbotron scoreboard.

HIS AIRNESS: The Met was the one-year home of the ill-fated baseball career of Michael Jordan, and MJ's influence can still be seen with a sign near the entrance pointing to the "Michael Jordan Banquet Room."

HOW BOUT THAT...BLUFF: In the nearly four years FNL has resided in the Magic City, we have heard how good the food is supposed to be at Bert's On The Bluff, a meat-and-three cafeteria style restaurant in the Bluff Park area of Hoover on South Shades Crest Road. We decided to give it a shot, and for the record, we feel we have found Birmingham's answer to City Cafe.

Bert's served up the best catfish (by far) we have had in Jefferson County along with heapin' helpins' of tasty squash and green beans. Not to mention some truly outstanding sweet tea! We will be back to Bert's, and soon.

NEXT WEEK: FNL journey's to Bessmer's Snitz-Snider Stadium, as the Jess Lanier Purple Tigers host Clay-Chalkville. Lanier LB Demeico Ryans is fast-climbing the Tide recruiting board, and Clay QB Justin Standridge will get some D-1 looks.

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