Sometimes we take for granted that the Alabama Gulf Coast produces more great athletes than almost any city in the country per capita. It’s been that way for decades, it’s true today and there’s every reason to believe it’s going to be that way for decades to come.
Here’s a fun exercise to demonstrate the point. For any city in the country, who are the best trio of athletes in football, basketball and baseball? For the sake of this argument I’m going to include all athletes from Mobile and Baldwin counties.
So, here goes. In the current athlete category:
Football: Julio Jones of Foley is the best wide receiver in the world and a sure-fire NFL Hall-of-Famer when his incredible career ends. He is a six-time Pro-Bowler who reached 10,000 career receiving yards faster than any player in history. His average of 96.7 yards per game is the highest in NFL history. We’re off to a good start.
Basketball: DeMarcus Cousins of LeFlore High School just signed a $5 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and is a four-time NBA All-Star. Before two lower extremity injuries, he was considered one of the best five players in the world.
Baseball: Josh Donaldson, who starred at Faith Academy, was an American League Most Valuable Player who hit his 200th career home run for the Atlanta Braves this week. His offense and defense at third base is a major reason why the Braves are comfortably in first-place in their division at the All-Star break.
It’s interesting to note that both Jones and Cousins might be the representative for their respective sports even if we extend the criteria to include past players.
Quarterback Ken Stabler of Foley and linebacker Robert Brazile of Vigor are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and former Vigor offensive lineman Willie Anderson has the credentials to be there as well. Plus, C.J. Mosley of Theodore just became the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history. But it’s hard to imagine Jones going down as anything other than the greatest football player the Alabama Gulf Coast has ever produced.
Cousins has certainly not won as much as Antonio Lang or Jason Caffey, but his credentials as a multi-year All-Star make him the choice for best basketball player in Alabama Gulf Coast history.
Of course, the argument falls apart when considering baseball. Donaldson is a great player, but even he wouldn’t elevate himself ahead of Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams or Satchel Paige.
Not a bad list, huh?
But we knew that the region had a history of great players and that the tradition is being carried on by some of the best pro players in all three sports. But what about the future?
Though there’s no way to know if any one player is going to go on to become a superstar, there are certainly signs of greatness that can be detected at a young age. Jones was a phenom the first time he stepped on the football field at Foley. Cousins was the best player in the country in his age group from the time he was an eighth-grader. Donaldson was a superstar at Faith regardless of whether the season was baseball, football or basketball.
So, who might be the next in line to carry the torch for Alabama Gulf Coast sports?
Here are some possibilities, but keep in mind that not all of these players are old enough to get a driver’s license. So, obviously, things can change. Still, the promise of these young athletes is hard to ignore.
Football: As they enter their junior year of high school, five players from Mobile are among the top 10 recruits in the state. Among those is Blount defensive tackle Lee Hunter. Who is already 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds. At that size, he also moves well enough to be one of the best basketball players at Blount. That kind of size and agility are the building blocks to a future NFL career.
Reaching even younger, McGill-Toolen basketball forward Barry Dunning Jr. has already received a scholarship offer from Auburn. As a freshman last year, he averaged 12 points and eight rebounds for the Yellow Jackets. At 6-foot-5 and at such a young age, he already has the smooth game of a much more mature player.
The future of Alabama Gulf Coast baseball may be a player who has already begun his professional career. Just two years ago, Bubba Thompson turned down multiple offers to play quarterback and baseball in college to begin his pro career. Since getting a $2.1 million signing bonus in 2017, Thompson has impressed at every level of minor league ball. The 21-year-old center fielder is on pace to become a star with the Texas Rangers in the near future.
This is certainly not a complete list. But it does paint the picture that the Alabama Gulf Coast is not slowing down in producing world-class athletes.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station. Follow him on Twitter @Kennedy_Randy
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