In less than two months, Hancock-Whitney Stadium will be filled to capacity for the first time. Those who took part in the COVID-induced soft opening of the new stadium last season can already imagine what an awesome atmosphere it’s going to be when Southern Miss visits on Sept. 4. Fans who have yet to set foot in the new on-campus facility should expect to be more impressed than expected.
The Jags not only have a great facility for a Group of 5 program — they have one of the most fan-friendly and beautiful facilities in all of college football.
But what about the team the Jags will put on the field? There is talent available to new coach Kane Wommack. And much of that talent is home-grown at schools such as McGill-Toolen, Theodore, Faith Academy and Mobile Christian, among others.
But South Alabama isn’t the only team ready to showcase players produced by our high schools in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Here is a ranking of the 10 players from our area who will have the biggest impact on college football this season. (Note: Some great players have been left off this list. This could have easily been a top 50.)
No. 10: Kris Abrams-Draine (Spanish Fort), CB, Missouri.
If he hadn’t been injured in the state championship game two years ago, Abrams-Draine would have led the Toros to the state championship at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. He’s no longer playing quarterback, but Abrams-Draine is ready to be a breakout star in the SEC at Missouri.
No. 9: Ryan Johnson (St. Paul’s), DL, Stanford.
It’s a long way from Mobile to Palo Alto, Calif., but Johnson is making the most of his decision to play for the Cardinal. Johnson will be a starter on the defensive line for Stanford this season.
No. 8: Lee Hunter (Blount), DL, Auburn.
Hunter has not yet played a snap of college football, but there is an opening to be a major contributor for the Tigers in year one.
No. 7: Keith Gallmon (Mobile Christian), S, South Alabama.
Gallmon is good against the pass and the run. That’s why he’s a good bet to be an All-Sun Belt player this season. Gallmon’s versatility will be key to making the Swarm D defense effective.
No. 6: Jalyn Armour-Davis (St. Paul’s), CB, Alabama.
With injuries behind him and Patrick Surtain gone to the NFL, Armour-Davis exited spring practice as the Tide’s starting cornerback opposite returning starter Josh Jobe. To this point, his most memorable play in Bryant-Denny Stadium came during the Saints’ state championship win over Briarwood Christian. Now it’s time for his senior season and a prominent role in the Tide’s march toward a national championship.
No. 5: Neil Farrell (Murphy), DL, LSU.
Farrell originally opted out of the 2020 season but returned to make a solid contribution. Now the senior is ready to be one of the defensive leaders and best players for the Tigers.
No. 4: D.J. James (Spanish Fort), CB, Oregon.
James has been mentioned by Pac-12 media members as one of the league’s breakout stars for this season. He turned down a last-minute offer from Alabama to go across the country for college. It’s looking like he’s making the most of that decision.
No. 3: Roger McCreary (Williamson), CB, Auburn.
Not everyone thought McCreary could play at the SEC level. Former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele did, though. Steele was sure he had a steal in the 3-star recruit. That has proven to be true. McCreary bypassed a spot in the NFL after last year. The decision should lead to a huge senior season and an increased standing when the NFL Draft comes around.
No. 2: Carlton Martial (McGill-Toolen), LB, Troy.
Our top two spots belong to former McGill-Toolen teammates. Martial was a multisport star for the Yellow Jackets who was too small to be effective as a college linebacker. That’s what a lot of people thought. Those people were wrong. Martial is in the running for every major defensive award in college football.
No. 1: Jalen Tolbert (McGill-Toolen), WR, South Alabama.
Out of high school, Tolbert turned down an offer to Michigan State to stay home and attend South Alabama. This offseason he ignored all the outside noise about how he could transfer to any number of Power 5 programs to be one of the best players in the SEC or ACC. Now he’s ready for his senior year with the Jags. With transfer quarterback Jake Bentley joining the team, Tolbert is ready for his most productive season. He will leave South Alabama as the best offensive player in school history before embarking on an NFL career.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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