As an eighth-grader, he notched nearly double-digit tackles in Piedmont’s loss to Leeds in the state semifinals.
In his first year as a full-time starter on the Bulldogs’ varsity, he led the Bulldogs in tackles on their way to a state title in 2009. He repeated that feat as they reached the state semifinals last fall.
As an ESPN RISE and Max-Preps All-American selection as well as a first-team all-state choice already, Major is set to take on a unique role on Piedmont’s defense heading into his junior season. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder will make the shift from outside linebacker to strong safety/rover position to fill the void left by another all-state performer, Jamaal Johnson, last year’s Star Class 3A Player of the Year who signed with Jacksonville State.
“As a freshman and sophomore, he’s seen all the success that Jamaal has had playing that position,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “We ask a lot of things out of that guy. That guy’s a cover guy, he’s run support, he’s a blitzer. He’s kind of a playmaker on the defensive side, and we felt like Jamie would be perfectly suited for that.”
But the transition into the secondary has been anything but flawless for Major. He’s learned his share of lessons in battles with running backs and wide receivers at 7-on-7 passing camps this summer.
“You’ve got to be patient and stay back more,” Major said. “I learned that during passing camp, getting burned.
“You can’t just come up. You have to stay back and be able to watch more. You can’t be downhill, downhill, downhill. You have to worry more about the pass.”
But, in 7-on-7 camps, there’s no pass rush, quarterbacks have an obstructed view of the field and a guaranteed four seconds to get rid of the ball. As Major put it, that “just ain’t football.”
When it’s to strap up for real and Major can “tear somebody up,” he said he’ll be ready to perform at a high level just as he always has.
“I think it’ll come to him once the physical part of the game is reintroduced,” Smith said. “Once you start tackling and hitting and you can knock receivers off their routes and things like that. I think it’ll come back to him, and he’ll be fine.”
At 14, Smith said, Major was already as strong in the weight room as 90 percent of his teammates. He never felt the intimidation of playing on the same field as guys three or four years his senior.
With two seasons to go, he’s already garnered interest from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee, Oregon, Texas Tech and Texas A&M among others.
However, the individual accolades don’t drive him. Instead, he said he’s pushed by the Bulldogs’ 28-21 loss to Hamilton, the same squad they defeated to advance to the state title game the previous year.
“My motivation is to win. I want another one of them,” he said, pointing to the blue and yellow state championship banner in the far end zone at the Field of Champions.
“I want another ring. That’s my motivation. It’s not about me. It’s about the team.”
Major’s position switch is representative of much of the change throughout the No. 2 Bulldogs’ defense. Despite returning six starters from last year’s team that went 12-2 and won a Class 3A, Region 6 title, only one, Collin Bradley, will be playing at the same spot as last year.
Senior Clay Dent will start at middle linebacker and will retain his duties on the offensive line.
“You have to be a little quicker on your feet, be alert and be able to read everything,” Dent said.
They’ll also still have the services of all-county defensive lineman Marquez Gamble as well as the talented Quadree Wood, who earned Defensive Player of the Week, off the bench last season.
After reaching the pinnacle of success in 2009 and falling just short of that mark in 2010, the No. 2 Bulldogs are more aware of their vulnerability than ever before and primed to return to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa where they won the state title.
“I guess we took them for granted last year since we beat them 63-35 (in 2009),” Major said. “(Now) we know that we can be beat them, and we have to work to stay at the top of the totem poll, so to speak. We have to keep on working hard, harder than everybody else.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.