Tag: High school football

My top 10 moments from 2017 high school football season

Postseason lists seem to be popular, so, on a whim, I decided to make my own. 

These are the top 10 moments I experienced from the 2017 high school football season. Please know that these are only stories I wrote from games I attended. I can’t legitimately comment on a game I didn’t attend. 

So here we go.

10. The question mark about Briarwood Christian coming into 2017 was the quarterback position. Replacing William Gray was going to be tough. Michael “Magic Mike” Hiers stepped up to the challenge. Look for a feature on Hiers on http://www.280Living.com soon.

9. Mountain Brook’s Harold Joiner shows how great of a running back he is in the season opener, rushing for 195 yards and four touchdowns against Gulf Shores. One of his scores, a 19-yard touchdown run, included juking a defender and diving for the pylon from four yards out. 

8. Carson Eddy leaves a strong legacy at Briarwood Christian, including a pretty funny nickname. One of his teammates, Carson Donnelly, will beat you at ping pong.

7. The trilogy matchup between Briarwood Christian and Wenonah was supposed to be epic. Instead, the Lions roared.

6. Chelsea fell to 0-6 after a 41-28 loss at Gardendale, but that record meant absolutely nothing. The Hornets fought hard.

5. Mountain Brook scores 25 unanswered points against Huffman in a game the Spartans could have quit on. 

4. It was the only time I saw Hoover in 2017, but the 59-7 win over Oak Mountain showed you everything you needed to know about the Bucs, who went on to win the Class 7A state title.

3. The Spartans fall at Thompson in Class 7A second round, where Taulia Tagovailoa showed how great of a quarterback he is.

2. David Robertson gets hot in the freezing cold to lead Homewood to a thrilling comeback over Fort Payne in the Class 6A playoffs.

1. Pinson Valley and Clay-Chalkville battle in the Class 6A semifinals, a game that meant so much more than a trip to the state championship

That’s my list. What are your favorite moments from the 2017 season?

Communities win Clay-Chalkville, Pinson Valley semifinal game

PINSON — I’ve waited seven years to write this story, and I hope I get it just right.

I have wanted this game for so long, an intra-ZIP-code tilt between the team with the terrorizing defense anchored by the future SEC defensive tackle against the clicking-on-all-cylinders offense led by the future — most likely — SEC quarterback.

I wanted to write about so much more than just the game. I wanted to write about these communities, their people, and what they went through when I covered their tense city council meetings, spoke to their creative writing and journalism classes, and cringed through the words I typed about school lockdowns and teachers arrested for inappropriate relationships with students.

So, here goes.

I became a local news editor here in November 2010, covering Trussville and Clay. Not long after, Pinson was added to that coverage area.

I covered a lot in Pinson, good and bad.

I sat for a couple hours on an uncomfortable couch with an old man in a house on Main Street, talking about the weather records he kept for more than six decades. I wrote about crashes on Highway 75 and Highway 79 that took young lives.

I wrote about an upstart public library that won a grant for a 3-D printer and asked people to come fill out Valentine’s Day cards to be delivered to kids at Children’s Hospital. I covered robberies, burglaries, stolen utility trailers and methamphetamine trafficking.

I watched as a middle school principal was duct-taped, literally, to a hallway column by giddy students who paid one-dollar bills for twelve-inch strips of tape to raise money for office operating expenses. I was yelled at over the phone by the wife of a man I had written about. He had been charged by the sheriff’s office with a horrible, unspeakable crime against children.

I wrote about Pinson Valley High School’s unique art class, which put on a special effects performance one night that both thrilled and horrified me. It was great. I also typed words about a coyote attacking a Dachshund, and a hit-and-run involving a car and a three-hundred-pound pig. Seriously.

I put words in newsprint about a silver pot that cooked a Guinness World Record number of butterbeans. I also had the unfortunate task of reporting on a Pinson church, among others, vandalized with red spray paint scrawled across its front doors.

You’ve had it all, Pinson. Good and bad.

And now your Indians, 14-0 for the first time ever, will play for the Class 6A state championship at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa against Wetumpka. Another first, and potentially the best story to ever come out of your town.

I spoke to a former Pinson City Council member just hours before kickoff. He was ready.

“We are fortunate to have the buzz in our community,” he said. “We’ve never played in December, never won more than nine games in a season. To be able to play your No. 1 rival in this situation is what lifetime memories will be made of for the players, the fans and community. Sometimes just believing in yourself can lift your town, and today Pinson believes.”

Pinson had reason to believe, despite a slow start.

The Clay-Chalkville defense had a lot to do with that. The Indians led 10-7 at halftime, and scored 27 second-half points to win 37-7. Junior quarterback Bo Nix completed 24-of-34 passes for 256 yards. He threw three touchdowns and was intercepted once. Senior Khymel Chaverst rushed 16 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

I asked Pinson Valley head coach Patrick Nix if this game was what high school football was all about — two great teams, separated by just a few miles, playing in the December cold.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The kind of atmosphere it was, you can hardly hear what’s going on on the field with everything going on. It is absolutely what it’s all about. Overall a very clean game against two passionate rivals, teams that on paper and proximity don’t like each other a whole lot but respect each other greatly. I think you saw that in the play and how it was handled tonight.”

I asked Clay-Chalkville head coach Drew Gilmer, a Pinson Valley High School graduate, the same question. It was as if the two head coaches consulted each other on the answer.

“This is what it’s all about,” Gilmer said. “This is what makes it fun. You need two teams like us, so close together, to get to play in an environment like this. It’s good competition. We get after each other a little bit but we have a lot of respect for one another. They do a great job, and we wish them all the luck.”

But before Pinson Valley plays Wetumpka for the blue map Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., we must cover the dynamic between Pinson and neighboring Clay, at least in terms of what I covered for a few years.

I was mostly drawn to both schools’ athletic teams, particularly football. There has been a lot of crossover. Gilmer spent one year as a volunteer coach at Pinson Valley, his alma mater. Cougars offensive coordinator Jon Clements had the same position at Pinson Valley for three seasons. Gene Richardson, on the Clay-Chalkville staff, was the wrestling head coach and an assistant football coach at Pinson Valley for years. Chris Mills, a Clay-Chalkville High School assistant principal, previously served as the offensive coordinator and soccer coach at Pinson Valley.

Pinson has its own ZIP code — 35126. It shares that with Clay, which, due to not having completely set city boundaries, does not have its own. The Clay Post Office came close to shutting down in 2013. When purchases are made from online retailers that require a ZIP code to be entered, some of that revenue goes to the cities with the ZIP code listed — Pinson, and in some cases, Trussville. Clay misses out.

In 2014, Clay-Chalkville High School debuted a swanky new artificial turf football field, which came to be from a partnership between the city and Jefferson County Schools. The city ponied up a couple hundred thousand dollars for the project. Meanwhile, the field at Pinson Valley High School’s campus was overgrown with weeds in some places, just spots of dirt in others. Pinson missed out.

That same year, 2014, Clay-Chalkville went on to complete an undefeated season and won the Class 6A state championship. It didn’t come without struggle. Prior to the season, a promising linebacker died suddenly. A running back’s mother died in the middle of the season. The Winn-Dixie on Old Springville Road closed, an enormous tax revenue hit for the city. The Cougars’ team captain and stellar running back tore his ACL in the playoffs.

That was a lot to overcome. As a city, as a school, as a team. But Clay-Chalkville did it.

Now it’s Pinson Valley’s turn. The Indians have defeated their rivals from Clay three times in a row now, after the Cougars reeled off wins in the first ten matchups. A state championship, especially in football, brings so much positivity to a school, a community.

Just ask Clay-Chalkville High School Principal Michael Lee.

“The significance of a successful athletic program in a school and community is a vital factor in a healthy school environment,” Lee said. “Athletics, along with strong academics and the arts continue to be the backbone of a school and the thing that brings us together in our communities.

“Friday night football is powerful and means so much to so many people. Often times it brings people with nothing in common together. An AHSAA state championship brings pride and a sense of belonging to your school and citizens in the community. It also brings state and national notoriety to your school and the other great programs such as band, cheerleading, and school news groups that other students participate in. The relationships, opportunities and benefits are profound.”

These communities and schools are the real winners from Friday’s Class 6A semifinal game at Willie Adams Stadium, as Lee stated. A packed facility, a tremendous sense of pride, neighboring cities pitted against each other — this is what high school football is all about. And you carried yourselves well, Pinson and Clay.

“The memories run deep with Pinson,” said a former Clay-Chalkville player who was at Friday’s game. “Also, it was fun because everyone always knew everyone. It’s basically the same town. Same ZIP. Same type families. Now that Trussville doesn’t play Clay this has become the team kids look forward to.”

Bring it home, Indians. Regardless of this heated rivalry, I’m willing to bet those you share a ZIP code with will be pulling for you.

I will be, too.

Above and beyond

My first job as a college graduate was in Magee, Mississippi, four hours away from home. I rented a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for five hundred bucks a month, and it felt like grand theft real estate. That house was huge. In fact, the previous renter used a a large picnic table as his kitchen table. I could have rollerbladed around that kitchen, there was so much room.

Magee is situated along a main highway that takes you to the blackjack tables and slot machines in Biloxi and Gulfport, or to the Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans. Magee is a stopping-off town along that highway, to fill up with gas or to grab fast food. Without Highway 49, I am not certain many people would ever know about Magee, a small town situated about halfway between Jackson and Hattiesburg. But I found it, and I am glad that I did, even if it was for a short six months in 2010.

On my first day as a reporter there, I was told to grab a camera and snap some photos of what was believed to be the largest catfish ever caught in Simpson County. In my first week, I was told to drive down to Highway 49 and interview the man with a human-sized cross who was preaching — shouting, really — the gospel to passersby. When I interviewed him, his ramblings made little sense. I covered so many things and not much at all in Magee. I wrote about a water culvert being replaced. I previewed an elementary school book fair and also attended it to take pictures. I spent a few hours with an amateur radio operator in his tiny control room behind his house. News in Magee was never earth-shattering. I do not recall a time when a reporter from the statewide newspaper attended some event or meeting. I remember just once seeing television cameras, at a brick house an eighteen-wheeler had crashed into as a result of the driver falling asleep. The elderly man living at the house was taking a nap when it happened, and the eighteen-wheeler came to rest against the bed where he was sleeping. People talked about it for weeks.

One of the things that stood out the most to me in my short time in Magee was the football team. The team’s head coach made covering the Trojans a piece of cake. He spent time with me during weekdays in his office and the team’s stuffy locker room recapping and previewing games. My God, that locker room was a sauna. He gave me great quotes immediately after games on Friday nights, whether they were big wins or disappointing losses. I never saw him in a bad mood. I lived not even a half mile from the football stadium, and the practice field was a thirty-yard flag route from my front yard. The coach knew that. Often on the weekends, he would call me and let me know that he left the official stats from the last game in my mailbox, so that I had the most accurate numbers for my game story. It sounds like a small thing, but I remember him doing that. 

Six years after covering his team, I spoke to him about moments in his thirty-year career that transcended pancake blocks, A gaps and all-out blitzes. One memory stuck out the most. He was coaching in Raleigh, Mississippi, in the late 1990s and the week before spring training began, he received a phone call. One of his players had been in an argument with his stepdad and was shot at point-blank range, he says. Coach rushed to the hospital. When the boy woke up in the hospital, he asked for one person — his coach. I asked him why he believed the boy asked for him and not a relative or a best friend.

“I think it’s just that I developed that relationship with him,” he told me. “A lot of times as a coach you’ll go above and beyond. I think it’s important to build those relationships with them, and let them know you’re there for them.”

Coach says that boy went on to become a pastor and has done well in life. The boy tells his former coach when they talk now how thankful he is that he was there for him.

“We got to be pretty good friends,” Coach says.

This impact is why he, like so many others, got into coaching. He felt like he had something to give back. 

“Sports teaches you a lot more than just winning and losing and about football,” he tells me. “It teaches you that sometimes things don’t go the way you think they should go. It’s how you deal with that. If things don’t go well, they can tuck tail and run or stand and fight and battle through it.”

He realizes that coaches need to win to earn their time at a particular program. Winning keeps coaches in their positions, and that consistency allows them to have long-lasting impacts. But, he cautions, coaches who want to focus on Xs and Os and only win are “missing a tremendous opportunity.” 

“I feel like being a true coach is a calling,” he says. “You’re more than coaching a sport. You’re saving some people’s lives. I think coaches have that influence over guys. Sports have influence over them. You can kind of hold something over their head to make them act right, do right.”

He was at a coaching clinic not long ago, and some words caught his attention. A speaker stated that coaches were in one of the last professions in which someone can be tough on someone else and hold that person accountable. 

“We can offer them discipline, character, things that help them be successful,” he says. 

He says he has always tried to do that. He has always tried to treat other people’s kids the way he treats his own. He’s old school, so he is tough on them, but he is fair. He always lets them know that he loves them, even when he is being tough on them.

“You hear something enough, you start believing in it,” he says.

He can’t imagine doing anything but coaching. He believes it is the greatest profession in the world. It is a calling, as he tells me several times. 

“If you’re doing what you’re passionate about, you never work a day in your life,” he says. “That’s how I feel about coaching.”

So much focus on coaching and sports is on the result, not the process. It is on wins and losses. There needs to be more room in the win column for lives positively impacted, lives saved. 

“Any coach worth his salt will tell you that between the white lines is a very small part to what the overall picture is,” he says.