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Under the Friday night lights

By Hunter Ford
(Note: My graphic designer at the Western Star asked me if I could be a little “Long winded” in my column “Cause we have more space than usual on the sports page, and I don’t want to have to re-work the whole thing.” Sure…here goes.)

Think of me, what you will, I’ve got a little space to fill. You don’t know how it feels to be me, and I didn’t know what it was like to broadcast a high school football game until last Friday when I was asked to help call the Jess Lanier-Hueytown football game for one of our local radio stations.

Don Lovett has been presenting Friday Night Football for West Jefferson County football fans for decades now. My editor at The Western Star, Dale Jones, has joined Lovett for about five of those seasons on 1450 AM.

I’ve covered numerous high school football games in my duties as a newspaper reporter, but I’ve never called one on the radio. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

I was in charge of making play-by-play commentary for the defensive side of the ball. Dale and I each had depth charts for the respective teams with offensive and defensive players. We would swap charts depending on who had the ball. Dale would describe the action of the offensive play, “Judah Fuller takes the snap, drops back and throws to Brandon Heavens.” Then I would make an effort at identifying the tacklers.

In most cases, there were several defenders in on any given play, so you have to quickly match the players’ numbers with their names and get out something like, “Linebackers Tavon Arrington and Zack Smith step up to make the tackle with help from cornerback Eric Allen.”

The action is fast-paced, you can’t always see players’ numbers in a pile, and you have to scramble to find numbers on the complete roster when there are substitute players in the game.

By the way, I loved Mr. Lovett’s home-spun commercials. Especially for “Biscuit’s Place… Put a little South in your mouth.” I was hungry all game.

The experience made me think of many things. For one, it made me think of how I used to listen to radio broadcasts myself, mostly on Saturdays.

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College football games were not televised nearly as often in my youth, and many of my fondest memories of football Saturdays were spent sprawled on the floor of my room listening to Alabama games, tossing a football to myself and recreating the game’s action. “Shealy takes the snap, fakes to the full back, he rolls around end, pitches to Ogilve, he’s at the 30, breaks a tackle 20, 15, 10… five…Touchdown Alabama!”

It’s fitting I didn’t see Alabama on pay-per-view this weekend, and depended on the radio broadcast to follow the Tide’s game.

But, back to the high school experience. During halftime, we chatted about some of the great football that has been played over the years in Bessemer and in the West Jefferson area.

Two recent products of Jess Lanier, DeMeco Ryans and Earl Cochran Jr., are both playing now for the NFL’s Houston Texans. Ryans played college ball for the Crimson Tide, while Cochran played for Alabama State.

Ryans and Cochran each have made a point to stay connected to their hometown of Bessemer. They sponsor summer football clinics here. Cochran has written a book entitled “Tackling the Dream: Delayed but not Denied” and is the founder of the Divine Direction Foundation. Visit to learn more.

Not many high school players will make it to the heights that Ryans and Cochran have achieved. But the high school players deserve recognition for their efforts. At one point in the broadcast, Lovett made sure we named off the offensive lineman, so these often overlooked soldiers were noticed.

It doesn’t matter whether you play in a packed stadium in front of thousands of fans as the tigers and Gophers did, or you play in front of a few hundred… putting on those school colors and going to battle under the Friday night lights means a lot to the players, their friends and their families.

Of course, you never know, when you are at one of these Friday affairs, when you might be watching the next national superstar in the making.

We talked about a guy named Bo who used to wear the Black and Gold for the McAdory Yellow Jackets.

Finally, I wondered how the state of Alabama stacks up with the rest of the nation in turning out college and NFL players. I found some interesting information at the Atlanta Journal Constitution website. According to AJC, here’s how Alabama measures up.

States with the most SEC/ACC signees in February, 2008
Georgia 71
Alabama 43
Virginia 39
South Carolina 32
North Carolina 29
Louisiana 23
Arkansas 14
New Jersey 11
California 10
Pennsylvania 10
Ohio 9
Kentucky 8
Mississippi 7.

States with the most NFL players:
California 198
Texas 173
Florida 169
Georgia 84
Ohio 65
Pennsylvania 65
Louisiana 62
Virginia 56
North Carolina 53
South Carolina 49
Mississippi 47
Illinois 47
Alabama 46.
States with the most NFL players PER CAPITA:
1) Mississippi
2) Louisiana
3) South Carolina
4) Florida
5) Alabama
6) Georgia
7) Texas
8) Virginia
9) Hawaii
10) North Carolina.

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