MOBILE, AL – The North and the South All-Star football teams don’t have to worry about their players being rusty and out of shape since the season ended. For 18 of the 76 players who reported this week to begin preparations for the 65th annual AHSAA North-South Football All-Star Classic set to kick off Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Mobile’s Hancock Whitney Stadium, the season ended for them in last week’s Super 7 State Championships.
The North and South squads have nine players each who participated in the state finals at Bryant-Denny Stadium last week. That nucleus has been a big reason both teams have come into Mobile this week bouncing with energy.
South head coach Kirk Johnson understands their importance. He also coached in the Super 7 finals last week – guiding Montgomery Catholic to a 35-0 win over Cherokee County in the Class 4A Super 7 title game to complete a perfect 15-0 season.
“Our team has progressed really well this week,” Johnson said Thursday after the team’s fourth workout of the week. “It is very difficult to bring players in from all across the state to come together and learn a new system while hoping they can also learn to mesh as a team. That has to be the most satisfying thing we as coaches have been able to see… the camaraderie they have with each other. We have thrown a lot at them, but they have embraced what we have asked them to do … and they are really beginning to come together.”
Johnson’s own quarterback Caleb McCreary is one of two quarterbacks on the South roster. Baker’s Joshua Flowers is the other signal caller on the roster. “Both of them are really stepping up in practice,” Johnson said. “That’s what we really needed them to do.”
North All-Star head coach Lee Ozmint of Arab High School also has nine players on his roster that played in the Super 7 championships. He said it is obvious that experience has given those players an edge.
Those nine include running back Ken Cherry of Class 3A state runner-up Madison Academy, linebacker Carlos Ivy of Class 6A state champion Clay-Chalkville, linebacker Jayden Davis and wide receiver Deuce Oliver of Class 7A runner-up Thompson, offensive lineman Zack Gaylor of Class 4A runner-up Cherokee County, and four players from Class 5A runner-up Ramsay, defensive backs Fletcher Taylor and Jmarcus Jones, offensive lineman Noah Sanders, and defensive lineman Demarcus Wynn, who was added to the team this week.
Thompson’s players have been a part of four state championship teams for the Warriors, who have played in six straight state finals.
“They came in here ready to go,” said Ozmint. “Like with any other all-star event, you’ve got to get to know each other, know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. The quarterbacks had to figure out who throw the 50-50 ball to and learn who can go get the ball. You want the quarterback to be a leader, take control of the huddle and understand the concepts you are trying to implement.”
He said Hewitt-Trussville’s Peyton Floyd, who guided the Huskies to the Class 7A semifinals, has done just that. “Floyd stepped in and immediately took the huddle over,” he said. “It didn’t take him long to win the confidence of the other kids.”
Ozmint said Gadsden City quarterback Luke Waldrop is stepping forward too.
“And so are our linebackers,” he said. “They are the ones you depend on for leadership on defense, and they’ve stepped up. Our defensive backs are also really flying around out there making things happen.”
The South’s nine Super 7-seasoned players include Saraland defensive lineman Jermaine Paramore, who joined the team Wednesday. Two of his Spartans’ teammates were already on the squad, linebacker Camron Laffitte, who had 13 tackles in Saraland’s 31-28 setback in the 6A finals, and offensive lineman Brandon Autery. The other Super alumni include Catholic’s McCreary and defensive back Jayden Phifer, Class 2A state runner-up running back Arthur Woods, Class 7A state champion Central-Phenix City running back Trent Hood, Mobile Christian defensive lineman Diego Camboia, and perhaps the most impressive player in camp Class 5A state championship game MVP Ronnie Royal of Gulf Shores, who is listed as an athlete on the roster and will likely play some running back, wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner for the South.
Johnson singled out Central’s Hood and Davidson’s D.J. Butler for their leadership, as well as Akeem White of Auburn, a defensive lineman who played in the Class 7A finals as a junior.
“Royal and (defensive back) Jariel Lett are really high spirited,” said Johnson. Lett and MGM defensive lineman Anthony Cassino, both from Mary Montgomery, were late adds to the South roster this week.
Ozmint said the challenge for both teams’ coaches is pretty much the same.
“Everyone is playing in the game for a different reason … their school, their team, their families, to get someone’s attention,” he said. “When it is all said and done, however, the best motivator is the guy on their left and the guy on their right. Knowing they can trust that person to do his job and them trusting that you will do yours is a life lesson we hope they all have learned. That will be important for the rest of their lives. The ones who are the most dependable are the ones who get ahead. Just from what I have seen the last few days, our guys are going step up and ring that bell. It has been an awesome experience working with them.”
The teams were scheduled for a second workout Thursday afternoon.
The South won last year’s game 42-7 and holds a slim 34-28-2 edge in the series.
The North-South All-Star Classic, which kicks off at 2 p.m., Friday, will be televised over the AHSAA TV Network and live-streamed over the NFHS Network and WOTM.tv. Veteran sportscaster Corey LaBounty and UMS-Wright head coach Terry Curtis will handle the commentary. Curtis is the AHSAA’s all-time winningest high school football coach with 355 wins.
The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast the game live over its network. The link for the online broadcast is: https://ahsaaradio.mixlr.com/
Cover Photo: Montgomery Catholic QB Caleb McCreary (1) earned MVP honors at the
Class 4A Super 7 state finals last week. (AHSAA PHOTO | Will Carter / Pure Game)