Theodore star Bobby “Cameron” Pruitt slams a Jackson player during last week’s spring game. The heavily recruited linebacker will also see action at wideout this season. (Mike Kittrell/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
While new Theodore coach Steve Mask hasn’t made sweeping alterations to one of the state’s premier Class 6A programs, the team’s two best defensive players could see major changes in their duties this season.
Linebacker Navontay Richardson and four-star linebacker/safety Bobby “Cameron” Pruitt could see significant snaps on offense.
Richardson, the Bobcats’ leading tackler last season, scored on runs of 3 and 60 yards in a 21-21 tie with Jackson in the spring game on May 18.
Pruitt, the No. 2 tackler who has offers from two-dozen colleges — including Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Penn State — had a couple of catches against Jackson.
Playing both ways isn’t the most desirable option at this level of football but may be necessary to live up to an unremitting fact of life in Theodore.
“The expectations don’t change here,” said Mask, who won four state championships at St. Paul’s and took the Bobcats’ job in late February. “Of the nine teams in our region, six have won state championships, Theodore not being one of them. We’ve got to get into that conversation.”
The program reached a peak under former coach Eric Collier, who went 33-5 the last three years, the most successful span in program history, before leaving to become the director of football development at the University of South Alabama.
The Bobcats will still rely heavily on their running game and defense, which was No. 2 in Class 6A against the score last season, but Mask feels Theodore needs balance from its passing game and knows while quarterback Cam Rigby is back for his senior year, all the starting receivers graduated.
Thus, “WR” will be inserted next to Pruitt’s name on the roster, drawing the attention of opposing coaches and his future college coach since Pruitt said he will make his choice this summer before the season opener.
“His primary focus is going to be on defense, obviously, but he’s a great athlete and we can’t get into October and all of a sudden say we need to play him at wide receiver,” Mask said of the 6-3, 190-pound Pruitt. “It was his idea, so we’re trying to get him ready. He made a couple of nice catches (against Jackson). He’s going to get people’s attention out there when he outsizes the corners.”
Pruitt said he played receiver in park ball and middle school.
“I think I did all right,” Pruitt said of his performance in the spring game. “I caught a couple of passes. It was fun.”
He seemed more concerned about reaching a high standard in pass protection for Rigby, who passed for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
“I don’t want him to be touched,” Pruitt said.
Mask wants Rigby and the passing game to be an effective counterpunch to a running game that, while it lost 2,000-yard rusher Brayden Jenkins, will operate behind four returning offensive line starters.
“Cam is the guy we trust and believe in,” Mask said. “He’s grown a little bit. Is he going to sit back in the pocket and throw it 15 times? Probably not. But he can bootleg it and run play-action. I’ve gotten to the state championship game with guys like him.
“You want to run when you want to run and throw when you want to throw. We want to be where if they take something away, we can take advantage. Most people are going to stack the box on us, so we want to be a little more balanced. In 6A, you’ve got to throw the ball a bit more to be successful.”
But Mask was less concerned with strategy in the spring and more focused on who makes the strategy work.
“The biggest thing we tried to accomplish is all of us getting acclimated,” Mask said. “The X’s and O’s, we’ve got a lot of time to do that this summer. In the spring, I wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page, and we are, so I am excited about that.
“I’m not a rock ’em, sock ’em guy all the time. I just wanted to get a feel for the pulse of the team. This team is going to have a different personality than last year. It was my goal to find some more players and I feel good about that.”
Mask feels comforted by his defensive line, which features returning end Derrick Lee to go with Blount transfers Kevin Norwood and Ceon Morris and Baker transfer Tim Williams.
“Our defensive line has got a lot of strength in numbers,” Mask said. “Our front seven has a chance to be special.”
Special enough to survive the demands of playing in 6A Region 1 and defeat Saraland, as the Bobcats did last October?
The best season in Theodore history (13-1) was largely defined by two games against the state champion Spartans, the 27-26 win and a 21-6 loss in a semifinal rematch.
Pruitt is eager to get on the field against Ryan Williams, K.J. Lacey and the rest of a team which will undoubtedly be favored to repeat.
“I’ve got friends over there, like Ryan and K.J., but we’re going to compete with them,” Pruitt said.