We Alabamians in general and Mobilians in particular are no more likely to concede our football dominance than Roy Moore is to concede an election.
So it should come as no surprise that the top sports headlines of 2017 in Mobile dealt with our football success at the high school, college and even NFL levels.
In college football, there has never been a playoff that did not include Alabama, although 2017 began with the Tide falling to Clemson 35-31 in the national championship game. Combined with Alabama’s 45-40 win over the Tigers the previous year, Alabama brought a 76-75 scoring edge over Clemson into Monday night’s rubber game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Alabama’s senior class will go down as the winningest in college football history, having won 51 of 55 games heading into 2018. They have won a national championship, won three straight SEC championships and made all three playoff appearances. The previous record for success was the 51-6 record set by — you guessed it — Alabama’s 2016 senior class.
One of the unsung members of the 2017 class is former Faith Academy defensive lineman Vohn Keith Jr. You may not have heard of Keith, but he put in a career’s worth of dirty work on the scout team before finally seeing his first college action at the end of the 2017 season against Mercer. His is a story of hard work and dedication worthy of celebrating.
Auburn didn’t earn a playoff spot this season, but only because the Tigers’ schedule was filled with too many teams that did make the playoff. In one of the strangest and most telling statistics in recent college football history, Auburn entered the bowl season with seven of its last 17 games coming against the four playoff teams. During that stretch the Tigers were 2-5 against Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama but 9-1 against all other competition.
To take that a step further, in the last two seasons Auburn is 2-6 against playoff teams and 16-2 against everybody else.
Of course, 2017 didn’t bring all good news for college football fans in Mobile. The only coach the University of South Alabama has ever known, Mobile native Joey Jones, was fired after a disappointing four-win season.
It’s worth noting that when Jones was hired as head coach the school did not own a football. Still, under Jones the Jaguars beat Mississippi State and nationally ranked San Diego State. They went 3-3 against Troy, the school’s biggest rival, which happens to have a 100-year head start on building a football program.
But in the end, Jones and the Jaguars simply were not consistently competitive enough in the Sun Belt Conference to continue without a change at the top. That meant the hiring of Steve Campbell, a native of the Gulf Coast who has been a big winner at every step of his career.
The center of high school football in Alabama in 2017 was unquestionably the six-mile stretch of Old Shell Road that is home to McGill-Toolen, St. Paul’s and UMS-Wright.
The Yellow Jackets won their first 13 games this season and reached the Class 7A state championship game — and they were the least successful team on the street. There has never been a Class 7A state championship game that did not include McGill-Toolen, but for the second straight year the Yellow Jackets fell to Hoover in the title game.
St. Paul’s won the Class 5A championship over Briarwood in perhaps the most dramatic game in the state this season. The Saints converted a fourth-and-14 from Swift Lyle to Alabama signee Jalyn Armour-Davis for 56 yards on the way to overcoming a late deficit.
UMS-Wright earned the Class 4A crown with a convincing win over Fayette County in a game that will forever be remembered as the first snow game in the history of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Another point of pride for Mobile has been the signing of three local players to football scholarships at prestigious Stanford University. St. Paul’s defensive lineman Ryan Johnson signed in February, then Saraland quarterback Jack West and Mobile Christian defensive end Andres Fox signed with the Cardinal in December in the first early signing period for members of the Class of 2018.
Johnson, West and Fox could eventually continue the strong connection of local players coming home to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. This year, three players have already continued that tradition. One of those is former McGill-Toolen and Southern Miss running back Ito Smith, who was named after Judge Ito of O.J. Simpson trial fame. That alone could make him a crowd favorite.
Tre Williams of St. Paul’s and Auburn as well as Brandon Silvers of Gulf Shores and Troy will be the other local representatives in this year’s game.
Finally, on the NFL level, just last week C.J. Mosley of Theodore, Julio Jones of Foley and Rodney Hudson of B.C. Rain were all selected for the Pro Bowl.
It’s not overstating the point to say Alabama continues to be the focal point for college football excellence. Again in 2017, Mobile proved to be the epicenter for producing talent for that success.
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.
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