MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Two of the top quarterbacks in Alabama squared off at historic Cramton Bowl Friday night in a key Class 6A, Region 4 contest. There was the SEC-committed senior surrounded by a veteran cast, and the upstart junior gunslinger and his youthful squad. The winner: Prattville, led by the senior (and his backup), over Carver, 45-12, in a game televised by CSS.
To the categories:
There’s an excellent 2013 recruiting class already shaping up in Alabama, and one of the most prominent names is Carver junior Jeremy Johnson. FNL profiled the 6-5, 210 pounder earlier this year in a basketball Final Four story, but had not seen the young man play football as of yet. Suffice it to say, he was worth the wait. Johnson finished 10-of-25 for 145 yards passing and one touchdown and ran for seven on a pair of sneaks. One of his receivers dropped a potential 61-yard touchdown pass. He threw two interceptions.
First-year Carver coach Billy Gresham has watched Johnson mature through spring practice, summer flag tournaments, and the first half of his junior year.
“He’s doing more film study, and improving leadership-wise," he said. "He had a lot of seniors (as teammates) last year, and receivers that kind of led him. Now, he has that leadership role to lead a lot of young receivers. Every game, he’s maturing (more), and taking command of this offense that he’s been in for two years. You can see, week in and week out, that he’s maturing and knowing the system and doing a better job with everything."
You don’t have sell the Prattville head man on Johnson. “He’s an athlete, man,” said Lions coach Jamey Dubose. “He’s got a great arm, and has size. He’s an SEC quarterback, I think. I think he’s more of a thrower. A lot of people may look at him and label him a runner, and he can run the ball well, but the kid’s really got a strong arm. He does a great job of throwing the football, and has a lot of poise about him.
"I think he’s got a big future in whatever he chooses to do. I know he’s a great basketball player, too. I just think he’s a tremendous athlete, and he’s going to be a good football or basketball player, or whatever he chooses to do in life, he’s going to be good at it."
Seniors who shined
Prattville has a pretty good quarterback itself in Alabama commitment Justin Thomas (5-11, 170), even if that may not be his position in Tuscaloosa. And for those worried about the gimpy knee that hampered Thomas in the season opening FNL game, DuBose says don’t be.
“He’s doing great,” DuBose said. "The injury… in the St. Thomas game was really not an injury. It was more of… a scare to an athlete. When you get your knees bent up under you, anytime it’s dealing with your wheels, you have a little different opinion than you would if it was an (offensive) lineman. He came back in that game, and he’s been back all year. We haven’t had any problems at all. He’s doing well (health-wise) and playing well for us."
Thomas and Johnson are two very different quarterbacks, and while Gresham likes the one he has, he holds a good deal of respect for Thomas, and “the way he manages the football team. He doesn’t make a lot of turnovers, He makes great decisions with the football. You don’t see a lot of running quarterbacks that have the speed and ability he has that have the ability to not be impatient in the pocket. He has a lot pocket presence with the football, and he gets it done. He throws a pretty good ball, and whatever they ask him to do, he gets it done."
Thomas threw for 94 yards on 9-of-13 passing, and added another 102 on the ground on three carries. He threw and ran for one touchdown. His 49-yard scramble was a thing of beauty, as he ran about 100 yards during the play, darting through traffic to the 14. In the third period, his 75-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a holding call, but he flew down the field. He later scored on a 53-yard dash culminated by a dive for the pylon.
Thomas’ backup, Jalen Whitlow (6-2, 180) scored twice on the ground and tossed a touchdown.
Offensive tackle Caleb Gulledge (6-5, 275) is a Bama solid verbal. He is having a solid year.
I love the fact that Prattville’s kicker is named Michael Gaither, a last name that rings a bell for us Southern Gospel fans. He’s no kin to Bill and Gloria, but it’s the gospel truth he can kick a football. He showed it nailing a 38-yard field goal as time expired to give his team a 24-12 lead at the half. Gaither made all six of his extra point attempts, and had one touchback on a kickoff.
Carver’s Willie Coleman (5-9, 160) gets it done catching Johnson’s passes and returning kicks.
Junior to watch
Lions left tackle Austin Golson (6-5, 250) is an Florida State pledge who will continue to hear from Bama.
Carver receiver Landy Capetillo is a 6-foot, 170-pounder who runs good routes and has good hands. Linebacker Shaun Hamilton (6-2, 206) has some skills.
Larry Munson "My God, a freshman!” Award
Carver ninth-grader Melvin Tyus is a 5-10, 175-pound burner already being trusted in both the punt return and receiving rotation. Mark him down as one to watch.
The old bowl ain't what she used to be
Color me extremely impressed with the renovated Cramton Bowl, and not just the exterior architecture. The new and improved press box is unreal, arguably the third best facility in the state, behind only the ones in Tuscaloosa and Auburn. There’s even an elevator, now. There’s wireless internet. New chairs. A place, heck, a whole floor, for media to sit and type on lap tops rather than running up and down a sidelines with sore knees and heels.
Yep, the new-look Cramton Bowl took this hard-to-impress Capital City native and blew him away. No free food or drinks this night, but baby steps, which leads us to…
How ‘bout that chicken
As someone who worked many a summer at the now defunct Stone Mountain, Ga. Shoney’s to help pay his way through school, there will always be a place in my heart for the place. Sadly, most of the Alabama locations, save Prattville, Oxford and Clanton, have closed. It was the latter location, the only one I’d not visited, that I stopped at on the way down I-65. They had a new dish called the Smothered Grilled Chicken Skillet. It came with sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, brown gravy and was served atop hot mashed potatoes. It melted in my mouth, and the salad bar was good, as well, especially the macaroni salad, and the fact they had Captain’s Wafers. Good, nostalgic times. Just wish I’d had time for a hot fudge cake.
FNL makes its first-ever trip to Ashville, Ala. Why? To see the top sophomore signal-caller in the state, E.J. Moss, as he and his Bulldogs host Weaver.