North South

Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Trent Cochran-Gill (16) and Elmore County’s Kwan Bickley (13) were both late additions to the North-South football roster in 2019 after several players declined invites.

Over the years, there have been quite a few complaints about the AHSAA North-South All-Star football game and the biggest issue has always been the timing of it.

Unlike the prestigious Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, which is played annually in December, the North-South game has been played in July for its entire 72-year lifespan as part of the AHSAA’s Summer Conference.

For several reasons, that’s typically caused the top selections for each team to drop out in high numbers.

“It’s not for lack of commitment because players want to play in the game,” said Reeltown coach Matt Johnson, who has had several selections the past few seasons. “But for multiple reasons, they’re not able to whether it’s because they’ve been signed and they’re not allowed to or they’ve graduated early or they’re working. Some just played football and finished in November or December and hadn’t done anything since then.”

But now, that should change as the AHSAA Central Board of Control approved a motion to move the annual North-South All-Star game to December. This will be effective in 2020 for 2021 graduating seniors, so this year’s all-star game is still scheduled to be played in July.

“I applaud the central board for making that move,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “I have had the honor to coach in that game twice. It is an incredible honor to play in the game but we struggle sometimes to find players to play in it. This just makes a lot more sense to me.”

Perry said he has been pushing for this change for some time and he believes it will benefit the game itself and the players who are selected. He said with the game being in December, there is a better chance to highlight some of the state’s top talent that would otherwise already be off with their college teams in the summer.

“It’s nothing against the young men that have played in it but with the early signing date, if it’s truly wanting to highlight the top players in the state, the summer distracts from that,” Perry said. “Many of those players have already signed by the time you get to July and they have enrolled early or coaches are encouraging them not to play. They don’t have a lot to prove anymore.” 

With the game being played earlier, it gives some of those players the chance to have some extra film to get offers from more schools.

Recruiting was likely not the only factor in the decision-making process for the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association (AHSADCA). Many coaches are worried about the safety of their players during the summer months especially after most of the players go without football activities for eight months before entering the all-star week camp.

“It’s definitely a positive move,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “It helps guys out in recruiting and they are acclimated to the conditions already. They have tried to take a guy who hasn’t done anything for six or seven months and make them try to play football in the hottest weather. When I coached in it, we had some guys that struggled with that. It can be a lot on kids who aren’t used to that.” 

Johnson is coaching in this summer’s North-South game and said for future coaches, the selection process will also be much easier when it is moved to the winter.

“If you have a kid that played in the Alabama-Mississippi game, they can’t play in the North-South game,” Johnson said. “So when we were going through all these applications of kids to be selected in the North-South game, you have to weed through the ones that have already played in the Alabama-Mississippi game. This will just make the selection process more seamless.”

Plus, there’s always weather to contend with. In the AHSAA, there are rules about when student-athletes can and can’t practice based on the heat index and moving the game to December will eliminate that concern.

“It’ll be nice to be played when it’s not 1,000 degrees outside,” Johnson said. “There’s all kinds of small issues that are solved by doing it in December. All-star games right at the end of the football season so everyone is still real into football, that’s a no brainer.” 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.