Second round of SECIS Football Classic set
By Tim Gayle
The Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools will hold its second Kickoff Classic on Aug. 11-12 at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl, expanding the format from eight teams to 12 after a successful debut in 2016.
“There were some teams that needed games,” Alabama Independent School Association athletic director Roddie Beck said, “and word of mouth got out how well some of them enjoyed it last year so more teams wanted to get involved.”
Formed in January, 2016, the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools is an academic and athletic collaboration of the Alabama Independent School Association, the Georgia Independent School Association, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and the South Carolina Independent School Association. SECIS serves its member state associations by providing leadership management for interscholastic activities that promote academic achievement, good sportsmanship, and regional cooperation.
One of the new additions to the 2017 field is defending AISA Class AA state champion Autauga Academy, which defeated both Bessemer Academy and Escambia Academy last season. Both Bessemer and Escambia posted wins in the inaugural SECIS Kickoff Classic and will be returning this year.
“I knew they would match us up with a really good team, so it was a good opportunity to get our kids focused in the right direction in a hurry,” Autauga coach Bobby Carr said. “Plus, we were looking for another game. Any time you get a chance to represent your state or your association, it’s a great honor and I’m thankful Roddie chose us to play in it to represent the state. We’re excited about it and looking forward to it. I think our kids have watched more film on those guys than we have right now, so that tells you they’re excited about it as well.”
Beck said there was no scientific formula for selecting the additional AISA team. He simply called the first one on his list.
The Friday lineup includes Frederica Academy vs. Parklane Academy, 2:30 p.m.; Terrell Academy vs. Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School, 5 p.m.; and Bessemer Academy vs. Lamar School, 7:30 p.m.
The Frederica Academy Knights, of Saint Simons Island, Ga., compete in GISA Region 2-AAA and went 9-2 in 2016 under fourth-year coach Brandon Derrick, losing in the second round of the state playoffs to Deerfield. The Knights are led by all-state athlete Ja’Shawn Sheffield, who already has offers from Florida State, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, LSU and Miami.
Parklane Academy, of McComb, Miss., is also making its first trip under coach Brian Stutzman. Tailback Jay Smith returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. Parklane, 5-6 a year ago, lost in the first round of the MAIS Class AAAA-Division I playoffs to Copiah. The Pioneers count former Alabama and Green Bay tailback Paul Ott Carruth and entertainer Britney Spears among its former students.
The Terrell Academy Eagles of Dawson, Ga., went 7-5 under Bill Murdock in 2016 before losing in the Class AA semifinals to Briarwood. The Eagles return kicker Jenna Cuff, the first female ever named to the GISA all-state team.
Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School of Florence, S.C., participated in the first SECIS game in 2016, losing to Brookwood 31-0. The Titans lost one of their next two games, then rattled off seven straight before losing to First Baptist in the SCISA AA semifinals 55-35 to finish 8-3. Trinity-Byrnes returns multi-purpose back Mateo Thompson and tailback Javontay Robinson from last year’s game.
Bessemer Academy of Bessemer is a repeat contender as well, beating Lamar School 35-13 in the first SECIS game a year ago. Head coach Josh Wright went 13-1, beating Monroe 28-7 to win the AISA Class AAA state championship. The Rebels’ only loss in 2016 was to Autauga. The Rebels lost their quarterback and top tailback but return leading receiver Xavier Coleman, who had 995 receiving yards and 1,610 all-purpose yards a year ago.
Lamar School of Meridian, Miss., returns for their second SECIS game as well after losing to Bessemer 35-13 in 2016. The Raiders are coached by legendary Mac Barnes, who picked up his sixth state championship in a 9-4 season in 2016, winning two at Meridian (where he went 168-63-1) and four MAIS titles at Lamar (126-73). Lamar returns seniors JT McClelland, who rushed for 1,258 yards and 9 TDs a year ago, and receiver Elon Presley, who had 658 yards on 36 receptions.
The Saturday lineup includes Autauga Academy vs. Valwood School, 2:30 p.m.; Brookwood School vs. Pillow Academy, 5 p.m.; and Escambia Academy vs. First Baptist School, 7:30 p.m.
Autauga Academy will be making its first appearance under new coach Bobby Carr, the former coach at Edgewood Academy and the offensive coordinator of last year’s 13-0 team that defeated Bessemer and Escambia in the regular season, then beat Escambia for the AISA Class AA state championship.
The Generals return junior quarterback Tripp Carr, who accounted for more than 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, multi-purpose star Kendrick Rogers, who had more than 700 receiving yards and nearly 1,700 all-purpose yards, and senior linebacker DJay Gardner.
Valwood School of Hahira, Ga., will be returning for the second year after the Patriots lost to Madison-Ridgeland Academy 34-2 in the inaugural Kickoff Classic. Ashley Henderson’s team went 8-3 and reached the GISA Class AAA semifinals last year before losing to eventual state champion John Milledge 20-13. The Patriots return a pair of all-state seniors, wide receiver Cam Walker and defensive lineman Isiah Bristol.
Brookwood School, of Thomasville, Ga., will be returning as well after beating Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate 31-0 last year in the inaugural Kickoff Classic. The Warriors lost in the first round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs to Gatewood 22-19 last season but return OG-LB Carson Allen, who had 59 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season, and OT-DT Max Beverly. Brookwood beat fellow SECIS competitors Terrell 44-34 last season but lost to Valwood 27-23.
Pillow Academy, of Greenwood, Miss., will be making its first appearance after going 8-4 and losing in the semifinals of the MAIS Class AAAA-Division II playoffs last season. Tripp McCarty, in his third year with the Mustangs, led the program to its first playoff appearance in six years where its surprising run ended with a loss to eventual state champion Lamar. The Mustangs will return Lake Giachelli, who split time at quarterback last season, and tailback-linebacker Luke Fondren.
Escambia Academy, of Atmore, will be returning to the Kickoff Classic after beating First Baptist 35-12 last August. Hugh Fountain won his 200th game last season (201-121) and guided the Cougars to the AISA Class AA championship game, where they lost to Autauga. The Cougars were 8-5 in 2016, losing twice to out-of-state opponents, twice to Autauga and once to Bessemer. Louie Turner, who had 96 yards and three touchdowns against First Baptist, and multi-purpose star Fred Flavors return for the Cougars.
First Baptist School of Charleston, S.C., will be seeking its first win in the Kickoff Classic after losing to Escambia last season. Johnny Waters’ Hurricanes are competing in SCISA Class AAA Region III after winning the AA championship in 2016. Waters posted no wins in 2014, four in 2015 and went 10-2 a year ago as junior tailback Michel Dukes rushed for 2,239 yards and 38 touchdowns, giving him 52 rushing touchdowns entering his junior year.
In addition to the competition on the gridiron, the SECIS cheer competition will take place on Saturday morning in the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl. The competition will be divided into large (12 or more members) and small divisions and each squad can enter in a maximum of three categories. The categories are Game Day Cheer, Game Day Dance, Competitive Cheer and All-SECIS Cheer. The deadline to register is July 24. The event is directed by the MAIS staff and teams wishing to enter can go to www.mais.org.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Beck said. “We think it will be a huge event. Cheerleading is a great sport and we have a lot (of teams) that compete in our organization. It usually draws a lot of support. This is open to (cheer groups in) all four associations, if they want to compete and see how they stack up against the other three state (organizations). Mississippi (Association of Independent Schools) has done something like this before so they’re going to be in charge as far as the registration.”