By Lee Davis
The University of Alabama’s 2015 national championship football team was packed with players who had Over the Mountain connections.
A count of the official Crimson Tide football roster shows no fewer than eight players from area schools. While some – such as Hoover’s Marlon Humphrey and Michael Nysewander – had high profiles, others served in roles that garnered less publicity but were of vital importance on special teams and scout teams.
Coach Buddy Anderson’s Vestavia Hills program sent five players to Tuscaloosa, including senior linebacker Paden Crowder, junior tight end David D’Amico, senior long-snapper Alex Harrelson, junior defensive lineman Jake Long and sophomore wide receiver Thomas Woods.
Another area contributor was sophomore running back Brandon Turner from John Carroll Catholic.
Special teams and scout team players are the unsung heroes of college football, but they will have earned their championships just as much as the Jake Cokers, Derrick Henrys and Reggie Raglands of the squad.
Jacksonville State lost the NCAA FCS championship to North Dakota State but produced a memorable season that included a narrow overtime loss to Southeastern Conference power Auburn. According to the official team roster, several local players were involved in the Gamecocks’ outstanding season. They included sophomore defensive end Dalton Campbell from Vestavia, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ryan Childers, also a former Rebel, senior offensive lineman Blake Burkes from Hoover and redshirt defensive lineman Kameron Wood from John Carroll.
Turner the Tiger….
Vestavia defensive back Nolan Turner has deep blood lines to the University of Alabama, but those ties may have helped him earn a football scholarship to Clemson.
Turner’s father, Kevin Turner, was a teammate of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney in the early 1990s. Swinney and the other Tiger coaches watched Nolan closely during the 2015 season as he recorded 63 tackles and intercepted five passes for the Rebels. Last week, Clemson offered Turner a scholarship.
With Clemson losing several defensive backs to the National Football League draft, Turner has a shot at making an immediate impact in his freshman season.
Stidfole Named Top Runner…
Another area athlete receiving good news last week was Oak Mountain cross country star Cole Stidfole. A junior, Stidfole was named the 2015-16 Gatorade Alabama Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Stidfole finished second in the state Class 7A meet last November and guided the Eagles to a fourth-place finish. His best time of the year was a 15:20.45 at the Jesse Owens Classic.
Briarwood to Class 5A…
The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s new reclassifications for 2016-2017 and 2017-18 only seriously affects one Over the Mountain school, as Briarwood moves from Class 6A to smaller Class 5A. In football, the Lions will compete in Region Five, along with Fairfield, Moody, Pleasant Grove, St. Clair County, Shelby County, Wenonah and Woodlawn. In basketball, the Lions will be aligned with Moody, Shelby County and Sylacauga.
Hoover, Mountain Brook, Oak Mountain, Spain Park and Vestavia Hills will remain in Class 7A, grouped together in football Region Three, along with Huffman, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County.
Homewood and John Carroll Catholic will remain in Class 6A. In football they will be set in Region Five, along with Hueytown, Jackson-Olin, Parker, Ramsay and Shades Valley.
In Class 7A basketball, Hoover and Vestavia will be aligned with Tuscaloosa County and Thompson in Area Five. Mountain Brook, Spain Park and Oak Mountain will be affiliated with Huffman in Area Six.
In Class 6A basketball, Homewood will be with Parker, Ramsay and Shades Valley in Area 10. John Carroll will be in Area Nine with McAdory, Bessemer City and Hueytown.
Briarwood will belong to Area Eight with Moody, Shelby County and Sylacauga.
Area teams continue to look strong in the most recent Alabama High School Athletic Association basketball polls.
In boys Class 7A, Mountain Brook ranks second behind number one Central of Phenix City, while Spain Park sits at number three. Oak Mountain is ranked ninth.
In girls Class 7A, perennial power Hoover is ranked fourth.
In boys Class 6A, Homewood is ranked third, as coach Tim Shepler recently celebrated his 500th career victory. In girls Class 6A, Homewood’s Lady Patriots – the defending state champs – continue to hold down the number one spot.
In boys Class 2A, the Altamont Knights, coached by former Alabama star Terry Coner, are ranked sixth.
Poll rankings are nice, but the great thing about basketball is that every team essentially starts a new season in the area and regional tournaments. February and March are the months that create champions.