Alabama’s All-Star football team made great strides from the morning and afternoon practices, said Alabama All-Star head coach Steve Smith of Piedmont Tuesday.
“The players have had a great attitude, have not just been on time but are getting where they need to be early,” Smith said. “We struggled some with our passing game in the morning workout (at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg) but we began to get our timing down a whole lot better in the afternoon practice. That was not unexpected, though. The quarterbacks and receivers had not worked together before and they will continue to improve as the week goes on.”
The players and coaches reported Monday with both 40-man squads comprised of current seniors conducting two workouts Tuesday. That same schedule will be in place for Wednesday as the teams prepare for Saturday’s 31st Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game set for a noon kickoff at Carlisle Faulkner Field/D.D. Roberts Stadium on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
The Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game series, a partnership between the AHSAA and AHSADCA and the Mississippi Association of Coaches (MAC), is making its second appearance in Mississippi after playing the first 28 games in Alabama beginning in 1988. The game was held at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium from 1988-2010 and moved to Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl in 2011. The MAC hosted the 2015 game at Hattiesburg with Mississippi snapping a seven-game Alabama win streak with a 28-21 win. Last year’s game, a 25-14 win by Alabama, was played at Cramton Bowl and improved Alabama’s record to 22-8 in the series.
Smith said he has been impressed with all the Alabama all-stars. One player, Robert E. Lee’s 6-foot-4, 205-pound strong safety Kevontae Ruggs, caught all the coaches’ attention. “He is a big, strong kid who appears to only know one speed,” said Smith. Ruggs’ older brother Henry played in last year’s game – returning the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. The return was the longest in the Classic’s history. Henry is now a freshman at the University of Alabama.
Smith also mentioned running back Asa Martin of Austin, H-back Clay Stearns of Mountain Brook, receivers CarDamien Daniels of Homewood, Shedrick Jackson of Hoover and Nathaniel Watson of Maplesville, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa linebacker Jacquez Jones, and Park Crossing offensive lineman Tank Jenkins. He also had high praise for place-kicker and punter Evan McPherson of Fort Payne.
“I realized that his 60-yard field goal this past season was the longest in AHSAA history from a snap and hold,” Smith said. “But what I didn’t know was that he kicked it without a tee – right off the ground even though kicking off a tee is allowed in high school. He can really boom his kicks.”
Smith led Piedmont to two straight Class 3A football championships in 2015 and 2016 but was beaten in the semifinals this season when Region 5 rival Randolph County scored the winning touchdown with 1.6 seconds remaining to advance to the Super 7 finals at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
“This all-star game is good therapy for me,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have jumped back into it the following Monday after that loss. It was tough for my players and for me, but I was proud of our kids and proud of Randolph County. They represented our region well. When you coach this game long enough, you find yourself on both sides of a game like that. It has been a great learning experience for me and my players.
“What we want these kids to understand in this game is that while we want to win, we need to do all we can to be prepared and then give our very best effort. If we do that, then we will be satisfied. They are doing all we ask of them.”