All-star games aren’t usually known for their offense.
While there are occasional breakout performances, even the games that are blowouts usually signify the disparity between the two squads more than an individual performance.
There have been several significant displays by quarterbacks over the years in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, such as Steve Christopher’s 1990 passing performance that still hasn’t been topped, a 193-yard, three touchdown performance by Larry Smith in 2007 or a 162-yard, two touchdown effort by A.J. McCarron in 2008. But few have equaled T.J. Yeldon’s rushing exploits last year.
Yeldon rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns in one of the more memorable performances during the 25-year history of the game to help Alabama to a 31-12 victory in its first game at Cramton Bowl. Those breakout performances are unusual for a high school game that typically features defense.
“Our defense is really, really ahead of our offense,” said Alabama coach Chris Yeager of Mountain Brook. “I think that’s the situation in most all-star games. What ends up happening is you have these guys coming from a lot of different (offensive) systems, and the timing isn’t quite where it needs to be unless you have a dominant player who can just take the game over. What you hope for is to just get a hat on a hat and see if there is a dominant player that’s in the game that can take over.”
The dominant players for both sides can be found on defense and in the return game, where multi-position athletes that are usually placed on defense can shine.
“Either way, I’m going to get the ball in my hands,” said Fultondale’s Ardarius Stewart, who is playing safety and kick and punt return in this game but will play receiver at Alabama. “If they throw the ball, I’m going to go up there and get it. I’m just going to come out here and do my best and give them a good look anywhere they want to put me.”
Mississippi all-star coach Junior Graham of Eupora High said he hopes the last practice or two can bring the Magnolia State’s offense up to par in a battle with an extremely talented Alabama defense.
“It’s a typical all-star game, our offense is a little bit behind the defense,” Graham said. “Right now, I think our defensive line play (is a strength), but I think our secondary has come a long way since we’ve been here (at practice this week). Mississippi had a lot of safeties, not a lot of corners, so we’ve been having to adjust some positions this week.”
Alabama comes into the game with a four-game winning streak. The first four games in the series were classics, with three going into overtime, before Mississippi evened the series with four consecutive wins. Since then, the visitors have won just three times in 17 years and last year’s 19-point win was indicative of a series that hasn’t been very competitive at times over the last decade.
“I think you have to tap into that, as far as the pride factor,” Graham said. “Obviously, we’re on a losing streak, and it’s been our point all week that we want to end that streak. I don’t think we’d be doing our job if we didn’t explain the significance of this ballgame to these guys. We came over here working to win, and that’s our only objective. Whether it happens or not, we’ll find out Saturday.”
Honorary team captains for the game include former University of Alabama and NFL star Bobby Humphrey and Mississippi High School Athletic Association executive director Don Hinton.
While much of the Alabama talent is on defensive, such as Auburn High linebacker Ruben Foster, defensive linemen Darius Page of Foley (an Alabama commitment) and Dee Liner of Muscle Shoals (an Auburn commitment) and defensive back Marquez White of Northview (a Florida State commitment), a pair of local players are on offense Carver — quarterback Jeremy Johnson and Prattville offensive lineman Austin Golson.
“When we lost to Opelika (in the 6A semifinals), I thought that was going to be my last game at Cramton Bowl,” said Carver defensive back Shaun Rupert, another local player who is committed to Arkansas State. “Playing in this game gives me another opportunity.”
The Mississippi squad includes the top recruit in the state, South Panola receiver and defensive back Antonio Conner, and six players committed to Mississippi State, including tailback Kailo Moore, defensive back Tyreone Holes, offensive lineman Kentzevious Flowers, defensive lineman Chris Jones, offensive lineman Deon Mix and offensive lineman Jake Thomas.
While some of the Alabama players will compete in national all-star games next month, Yeager said his players are eager to participate in today’s game.
“Ruben Foster is a special player,” Yeagar said. “When he gets going, they all get going. Most of the times I’ve been in an all-star game, you really have to work to get them going. We’re having to back them off a little to keep the kids from getting hurt. They want to play a game.”