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PREP FOR PREPS: Stroke of irony lifts Montgomery Catholic hopes for 2014

Montgomery Catholic defensive coordinator Duane McWhorter works with newcomers Reggie Jackson (7) and Sherman Grant (1) during a recent practice. (Staff Photo)

By Graham Dunn
RRS Editor
(August 18, 2014)

ED Note: The 2014 high school football season opens this week. River Region Sports is preparing football fans with leadoff stories heading towards Thursday’s openers. Also, to prep for the upcoming release of the 2014 River Region Football Guide, we present a few "leftovers" or stories that we just didn’t have enough room for in this year’s magazine.

Today - The irony of combination at Catholic

Tuesday - Edgewood’s new foreign policy

Wednesday - The new 7A and what it feels like for city schools

Thursday - First preview of Lee-Lanier

Friday - Season openers an first Prep Capsules of the season as well as preview of Champions Challenge

June 2 was like any other day for most people in the River Region.  It was a typical muggy day with sunny skies. Summer was underway.

For Montgomery Catholic head football coach Gregg Baker, it was Christmas time.

When the second-year coach entered his weight room facility that morning, he had a surprise waiting for him. Seven players from St. Jude had transferred due to the school’s closing a couple of weeks before.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Baker said. “I walk in the weight room and these guys are all standing there, waiting for their first workout. That core of seniors decided they wanted to be together.”

The players were allowed to transfer and be eligible to play immediately.

“We were sad our school had closed, but God had a reason,” stated running back/defensive back Thomas Stokes. “The coaches are cool. The players are cool. I didn’t realize it until I got over here.”

The stroke of irony comes in the fact that a few months prior to their arrival, a small feud had erupted between the two schools.

St. Jude reached the Class 1A playoffs and was required to move its playoff game to Catholic due to the AHSAA policy for minimum seating at a game.

On the night of the game, the Pirates players found a rope in the shape of a noose hanging on a locker. Several St. Jude parents were outraged.

After several meetings, tempers were calmed after the apparent misunderstanding but the calamity led to opportunity for both teams to meet together and assemble outside the game of football.

A mentoring group was formed to help ease any tensions that may have been created.

“The first time a group (from Catholic) went to their school after their playoff game,” explained Catholic quarterback Gaden Armstrong. “We just hung out with each other, built camaraderie.  We played a few games in the cafeteria and just got to know the guys.”

At the time, the players had no idea that a few months later, they would be teammates.

“It’s pretty amazing how it workd out,” Stokes said. “A lot of those guys knew each other from that. It has helped us a ton.”

St. Jude was closed by the Archdiocese of Mobile soon after the end of last school year due to financial issues.

The loss was Catholic’s gain. The Knights went from rebuilding mode to one of the favorites to earn a playoff spot in Class 4A, Region 2.

Before the inclusion of Pirates, Baker was prepared to start two eighth graders at middle linebacker and consider this a transition year. Instead, he’ll have two seniors with two years of experience.

“From 13 year olds to seniors… Big difference,” Baker said. “We had resigned ourselves that this would be a rebuilding year, getting ready for these young guys to get some experience. But it changed things immensely.”

The players have gelled quickly and made the transition better. Stokes said there is still a learning curve for the newcomers but they are catching on.

“Terminology is something we are having to learn,” Stokes said. “We came over here to push, push, push. That’s what we talk about all the time.”

Catholic opens the season Friday at Montgomery Academy.

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