Anniston coach Eddie Bullock stood behind the long line of North players, Piedmont defensive lineman Marquez Gamble and Anniston offensive lineman Trevekio Roberts included, as the South was announced as football champions, closing out the 17th annual Alabama All-Star Sports Week.
“It was fun coming out, playing against bigger schools and seeing how I stack up against other players. I learned a lot this week and had a very fun week,” Gamble said. “It would have been better if we would have won, but they made more plays than we did down the stretch.”
Add some surprise to the disappointment. The North led 21-0 at one point before the South rallied, taking the lead on a touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining.
“When you get the momentum, you have to keep it because it can easy swing,” said Bullock, a North assistant coach. “You can’t get lackadaisical at what you’re doing. We got in a situation where we had to keep the defense out there longer than you want to. We got the ball and made a few turnovers, and normally, whoever makes less turnovers wins games. In the second half we made more turnovers.”
However, there were good times, as well.
Bullock was “thrilled to death” when Decatur’s Na’Vante Williams intercepted a pass at the line and ran it 45 yards to the end zone for the North. Roberts, who roomed with Williams, called it his best memory of the week.
“The defensive line set a goal that we needed to score once on defense,” Bullock said. “We met that goal a little earlier than when you typically want to, but we were fine with it.”
That was the third touchdown for the North, which came with six minutes left in the first quarter.
Despite the South scoring the next 22 points, Gamble made his mark on defense, recording five tackles. Bullock said he liked Gamble’s strength and aggression.
“He stays low to the ground, which is something I try to teach our defensive linemen,” he said. “Along with Marquez we had seven other defensive linemen and there isn’t much change in them. You can get each one in and there isn’t any drop off.”
Although Roberts was on the offensive line, Bullock talked to him throughout the week and kept up with his former player.
“I try to teach my guys to think outside the box, and that’s one thing I love about this game. When you get a kid down here it really opens his eyes, and one thing specifically was Trevekio had been used to the quarterback calling cadence,” Bullock said. “But tonight we had the center calling signals. I didn’t say anything to him and he came back to me and told me. He was really excited about that.”
Playing center, guard and tackle, Roberts said he “was on top” for the most part despite the fierce competition. He added he can take what he learned this week and take it to Huntingdon when he moves in and starts practice Aug. 10.
Gamble moves to Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) on Aug. 6 to start fall practice. Oxford product Ulric Jones, who was unavailable to play in the game after being selected, will play at Butler Community College (Kansas) in the fall.
Jacksonville High standout Katie Neisler spent more than three-fourths of the four games on the court for the North All-Stars on Thursday afternoon, but none of the plays were bigger than toward the end of Game 3 of a 25-19, 25-17, 24-26, 27-25 loss.
After taking a short break before re-entering with the North tied with the South 20-20, Neisler spiked a kill for the North to take a 24-23 lead. She followed by serving the set point for the North to stay alive.
“I was just trying to get down to it,” Neisler said. “We were struggling as a group and I was just trying to help us do better. I was trying not to smile.”
Neisler finished the game with nine kills and six digs, while Donoho’s Corey Phillis had nine digs and an ace while playing off the bench.
“My serving wasn’t good in the beginning, but I picked it up at the end,” Phillis said. “When you’re in a big auditorium the ball seems to float, and I have a floating serve so the ball seemed to float out a lot. I just had to take some off of it.”
While Neisler played around the rotation on the floor, Phillis spent time playing back court, subbing in several times per set.
“We’re selected as all-stars and we’re usually the best on the team so it took some adjusting to know that you’ll have to share your spot on the court,” Phillis said. “I knew I was going to play defense because some of these girls are way taller than me.”
Neisler and Phillis said bonds and memories were made during the week.
“It’s great to meet new people,” Phillis said. “You play against most of them, but it’s great to get to know them because you may hate them just because they’re against you. I got to know a lot of them and we’re good friends now.”
Neisler said, “The best part was playing with the best players in the state. There are a few things that will stand out like we all went to the movies and there were a few inside jokes, but I’m not going to share those.”