By Rubin E. Grant
Before he had ever attempted a pass for Spain Park’s varsity team, Jaguars junior quarterback Bennett Meredith already had received a college football scholarship offer.
Earlier this year, Jags head coach Shawn Raney sent a highlight tape of Meredith playing for the Jags’ junior varsity last season to Troy University head coach Chip Lindsey, who once coached Spain Park. Lindsey saw enough in the video to offer Meredith a scholarship.
Lindsey was at Spain Park when Nick Mullens played quarterback for the Jags and was the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss when Mullens played collegiately. Mullens now plays in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers.
“Coach Lindsey is a friend of our offensive coordinator, Marty Rozell, and also a friend of mine,” Raney said. “We know what he likes in quarterbacks, so we sent him a tape of Bennett playing with the JV team and coach Lindsey decided to offer him.”
Now that the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Meredith has made two varsity starts, he might begin receiving some more offers.
In a spectacular starting debut, Meredith completed 15 of 20 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns, all to different receivers, as the Jags beat Huntsville 52-21 in their season opener.
“I was very impressed, but I wasn’t surprised,” Raney said, “I thought he would have some nerves with it being his first varsity start, but he was very composed and came out slinging it.
“He loves football. He eats it up, so I knew he would be prepared. He’s a real leader.”
Meredith deflected the compliments while giving a nod to Rozell and his teammates.
“I had confidence in the game plan and we just executed,” Meredith said. “I knew my stats were up there because we had a couple of big plays. I was nervous. That’s just not what they saw.”
Raney expected Meredith to downplay his performance. It fits his personality.
“He’s not an outspoken kid,” Raney said. “He just works his tail off.”
Last week, Meredith rallied the Jags from a 14-0 halftime deficit to a 21-14 victory against Briarwood. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 184 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior Cooper Kelly with 8:46 remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the score 14-14. Running back Justin Pegues scored the game-winning touchdown on a 7-yard run with 1:27 remaining.
“We came out pretty slow,” Meredith said. “I played poorly in the first half, but I was able to turn it around and the team played football the way we should in the second half.”
Meredith needed plenty of encouragement from Raney not to get down on himself in the first half. “He was telling me to stay up, keep the team fired up and be a leader,” Meredith said. “I stepped into that role and got it done.”
Meredith is surrounded by playmakers, including Pegues and receivers Kelly, Jaylen Ward, who already has received multiple NCAA Division I offers, and David Moultry, another Division 1 prospect. Ward and Moultry are both juniors.
Pegues, Kelly, Ward and Moultry all had touchdown receptions against Huntsville.
“It’s fun playing with those guys,” Meredith said. “It’s good to know that when one of them is not going right, I can find a good player on the other side of the field who can make plays.”
Meredith has been a quarterback since he began playing football in the third grade.
“They threw me in there ‘cause I had a good arm and I fell in love with the position,” he said.
He was the starting quarterback at Berry Middle School in the eighth grade and played on the Jags’ junior varsity as a freshman. His sophomore year, in 2019, he played on the junior varsity and was the back up on the varsity behind senior Harrison Barker, who put up big numbers and was named the Over The Mountain Journal 2019 Offensive Player of the Year.
Meredith had virtually no playing time with the varsity last year. “I think I got four snaps,” he said. But all the while, he was soaking in knowledge from Barker, who is the son of former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker.
“He showed me how to do everything,” Meredith said. “He’s a great person and a great role model. We were pretty close.”
With Barker gone, Raney had no qualms about handing the quarterback reins to Meredith.
“He’s athletic, he throws really well and he understands the game,” Raney said. “He knows where to go with the football.”
Meredith gives credit to Rozell for that.
“He has me well prepared no matter the situation,” Meredith said. “He also gives me the freedom to change plays and make things happen. It helps when you have a coach who has confidence in you like that.”
Meredith is still learning on the job, as he did against Briarwood.
“I have learned never to take anything for granted,” he said. “I’ve always got to come in prepared and ready to play.”
The Jags (2-0) will play host to Hewitt-Trussville (2-0) in the first Class 7A, Region 3 game for both teams Friday at 7 p.m. Hewitt opened the season with a 44-19 rout of Pinson Valley and received a victory via forfeit last week when Saraland canceled its scheduled game against the Huskies because of COVID-19 concerns.
“It should be a good game,” Meredith said. “If we come in from the jump and execute, I think we can get a win.”