By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Saraland will defend its Class 6A state football championship this fall with as many as 22 potential college prospects, including five sophomores who have already received Division I offers.
“We’ve got a number of guys who could eventually be Division I,” said Spartans coach Jeff Kelly, who returns 18 of 22 starters from the 14-1 team which won the school’s first Blue Map. “We’re going to work like heck as coaches to situate them in front of the right decision makers. Many of them have dreams of continuing to play after high school.”
Saraland’s class of 30 sophomores from last year is already being acclaimed as one of the most talented groups in state history, led by receiver Ryan Williams, the first sophomore to be selected Mr. Football and who has already committed to Alabama.
Williams (6-1, 165) is ranked the nation’s overall No. 3 prospect and the No. 1 receiver in the class of 2025 in the initial 2025 On300 ratings.
Along with Williams, four other Saraland sophomores have received Division I offers — quarterback K.J. Lacey (6-1, 175), running back Santae McWilliams (5-9, 175), receiver C.D. Gill (5-7, 155) and noseguard Tony Coleman (6-3, 270). Junior linebacker Jamison Curtis (6-1, 195) also has Division I offers and junior defensive end Jermaine Paramore (6-1, 260) received one from Georgia Southern.
“I think it’s a credit to our kids and to how serious they approach every day in season and out of season,” Kelly said. “It’s also a tremendous credit to (strength and conditioning) coach (Jon) Hersel, who puts them in position to physically play at a high level.
“We’ve created an atmosphere to have a ton of competition in practice, which allows us to continually improve. As the Bible says, ‘Iron sharpens iron.’”
With that much iron sharpening, there could be enough metal shavings in The Land to set off magnetometers for hundreds of miles in every direction, including the one nearest to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa coach Jamie Mitchell.
“I have been in this game a long time but I have never seen anything like this group of players they have in that one grade,” Mitchell said. “It’s unheard of.”
Other Spartans players with college potential include:
Defensive backs Arterus Moffett (6-0, 175 sophomore), Cam Laffitte (6-0, 185 junior), Delvon Gulley (6-0, 175 junior), Myron Dunklin (6-0, 195 junior), Eddrick White (5-11, 175 junior) and Xayvier Crenshaw (5-9, 165 junior).
Linebackers Chris Thompson (6-1, 220 junior), Isaih Bowie (6-0, 185 sophomore) and Cam York (6-0, 200 junior).
Receivers Jordan Dees (6-3, 205 junior), Michael Smith (5-11, 175 junior) and Brooks Womble (5-8, 175 junior).
Offensive linemen Brandon Sexton (6-3, 280 junior), Bryceson Chastang (5-10, 230 junior) and Ethan Green (6-4, 220 junior).
“You coach them all where they’re at,” Kelly said. “You don’t change your approach, which is to get better every day.”
Kelly said colleges are bypassing many high school prospects because of the transfer portal and the carryover effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a tough and challenging path,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition out there due to a lot of factors, such as colleges getting kids from the portal. Some guys enter the portal and drop down. A big difference we’re seeing is Division II schools and many of them are recruiting out of the portal, so there aren’t as many spots for high school guys. And during the COVID years, five- and six-year guys (who had their eligibility extended) have taken up spots. It’s a perfect storm that’s made it a challenge.”
Lacey, Williams even better
Lacey — who completed 64% of his passes for 3,177 yards, 40 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions to lead all of Class 6A last season — has become a national four-star prospect who has been showered with Power 5 offers since Saraland won the state championship, including from Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Pitt, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and TCU.
During spring break, Lacey visited Alabama and Ole Miss on back-to-back days, then flew to Austin, Texas, to participate in the 7-on-7 national championship with the Gulf Coast Athletics.
“It’s definitely fun,” Lacey said. “I’m not driving, so I can fall asleep back there and wake up and we’re there. I’m embracing everything. … The offers are crazy. After the state championship game, it started blowing up.”
Kelly said the attention Lacey is getting from recruiters isn’t surprising.
“You could see it coming when you look at his ability and what he did last year,” Kelly said. “The guys who make those decisions understand his potential.”
Lacey has added about 10 pounds, to 175, gotten stronger, faster and even more accurate.
“We’ve really, really started seeing K.J. fill out some,” Kelly said. “He has worked hard in the weight room. He’s got a good base and firmed up his frame so he can take the hits.”
Lacey said he knows the playbook better now than he did last year, an ominous revelation to opposing defenses.
“I’ve gotten into the playbook more and I’m way more comfortable with it,” he said. “I’ve been perfecting it.”
Kelly has seen it too.
“I’ve seen tremendous improvement since he’s gotten a chance to spend some time on the board and break down schemes and coverages,” Kelly said. “He didn’t get the credit he deserves as far absolutely understanding the mental aspect and knowing what he’s looking at. He’s a super smart player.”
Kelly said Lacey has been able to spend more time in the weight room this offseason and his arm, already rated as NFL caliber by QB Country founder David Morris, is even stronger.
“You can see the strength and explosiveness,” Kelly said. “He can make all the throws. He can throw it 70-plus (yards in the air). His arm strength is maturing.”
Williams, who of course benefits from a quarterback who can deliver an accurate ball quickly to any part of the field, is excited about Lacey’s blossoming skills.
“He already had elite ball placement but now it’s pinpoint,” Williams said. “It goes where he wants it to go. His footwork has speeded up more. He’s ready to be on the next level. And he’s got more velocity — he’ll take your finger off if you don’t look.”
Williams ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Under Armour Nex+ camp in Atlanta, the fastest 40 of all the prospects who attended Under Armour national camps this offseason.
Like Lacey, he’s grown stronger and faster.
“Ryan has had a very good offseason and has worked extremely hard,” Kelly said. “He’d be the first to tell you this offseason has been different with all the things that end up on your plate.
“He’s gotten a little taller and with the work he’s done on the track, he’s definitely improved his speed. The times he’s run on the track are significantly faster than they were at this same time a year ago.”
In 2022, Williams finished with 2,387 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns, scored every three times he touched the ball, averaged 16 yards per play and had 18 TDs in the playoffs. He led the state with 87 catches for 1,641 yards and 24 TDs and returned two punts for scores.
Williams has received offers from Georgia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Colorado and Texas since the Spartans won the state championship. He got previous offers from Auburn, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida State, among others.
McWilliams, Gill, Curtis,
Coleman get Division I offers