Odds are you’ve found yourself watching a high school football game, marveling at a kid’s performance, when the thought crosses your mind, “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.”
You’re not alone. It’s a moment that has been experienced by folks in stands across Alabama for at least three generations.
So who has shined brightest under the Friday night lights? As part of AL.com’s Pigskin Preview, we’re asking you to pick the greatest player in state history.
We’ve narrowed the field to eight candidates, who combined represent six decades of high school football in Alabama. An emphasis was put on players who were standouts at more than one position, and the selection process relied heavily on the better stat keeping that has been in use since during the playoff era.
Do you feel a player not included on the list is the state’s all-time best? Leave a civil comment below.
Cornelius Bennett, Ensley
The big man known as “Biscuit” played running back, tight end and linebacker at Ensley, and was recruited at all three positions. During his senior season, he averaged 10.1 yards per carry, ran for 1,099 yards, scored 16 touchdowns, and was among the team’s leading tacklers according to Tales from Alabama Prep Football.
Tim Castille, Briarwood Christian
Castille could do it all. His 4,122 career receiving yards rank as the third highest AHSAA all-time total. Throw in 3,626 rushing yards and more than 1,700 return yards, and he ranks seventh all-time in all-purpose yardage with 9,544. He’s also in the top-10 career categories for points (620, third), receptions (243, third), touchdowns scored (102, fifth) and touchdown catches (41, tied 10th). Castille was named All-State five times and was a member of two state championship teams between 1998 and 2002.
Ozzie Newsome, Colbert County
Despite playing in the wishbone offense, Newsome once held state single-season records for catches (80 in 1971) and touchdown receptions (23 in 1973). His TD mark is still tied for the second-most of all time, and his reception total is good for 21st best. Newsome helped Colbert County win a Class 3A title in 1972.
David Palmer, Jackson-Olin
Though small in stature (5-8, 170), Palmer played every skill position and was nearly unstoppable. His name doesn’t appear in the AHSAA official record book, but according to the book Tales from Alabama Prep Football, when Palmer won the Mr. Football award in 1990, he finished with 3,373 all-purpose yards and 42 touchdowns, both of which would rank in the top 10 for a single season.
JaMarcus Russell, Williamson
Russell started for four years and never missed a game. He still holds the AHSAA record for career passing yards with 10,774. As a freshman, he threw for 2,683 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading the Lions to the Class 5A state championship game. His best year came as a senior when he threw for 3,332 yards and 22 touchdowns, and was named Mr. Football. He also rushed for 400 yards and five touchdowns in earning Parade All-American honorable mention honors.
Andre Smith, Huffman
A dominant force, Smith is the only offensive lineman to win Mr. Football in the 31-year history of the award, earning the honor in 2005. He was also named an All-American by USA Today and Parade that season, recording 88 pancake blocks, according to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society.
Kenny Stabler, Foley
Stabler started at quarterback for two seasons, guiding the Lions to a 19-1 mark and a Class 3A mythical title in 1962. According to the Foley record books, Stabler recorded 45 touchdowns – 24 passing and 21 rushing – in his career, while picking off at least five passes in 1963. It was at Foley that he earned the nickname “The Snake” after reportedly weaving down the field from sideline to sideline on a long run.
Pat Sullivan, John Carroll
The future Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn was a tailback as a sophomore in high school before making the move to quarterback his junior season, according to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society. As a senior in 1967, he ran for 681 yards and completed 112 of 211 passes for 1,382 yards. As a junior, he ran for 664 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 1,657 yards and 15 TDs. He also punted, did the place-kicking and played defensive back for the Cavaliers in his final season. He accounted for more than 350 points in his career.
JaMarcus Russell high school highlights
Andre Smith high school highlights