Saraland quarterback K.J. Lacey fires a pass during a 7-on-7 tournament Tuesday in Saraland. Lacey threw for 588 yards and 12 touchdowns in four wins. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland’s Jordan Dees caught four touchdown passes in Tuesday’s 7-on-7 in Saraland. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland receiver Ryan Williams was held out of Tuesday’s 7-on-7 with a tweaked hamstring but said he doesn’t expect any issues going forward. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
People weren’t sure if the artificial turf on Saraland’s practice field neared 100 degrees Tuesday because of the summer sun or K.J. Lacey.
Lacey, a four-star prospect who has committed to Texas, showed why he is rated one of the country’s best quarterback prospects, searing four opponents in a 7-on-7 round-robin by completing 49 of 60 passes for 588 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We had to fight through the heat,” said Spartans receiver Jordan Dees, who caught four TD passes. “That turf was burning our feet.”
And Lacey was burning the coverages.
“K.J. had his best day of the summer,” Saraland coach Jeff Kelly said. “He was very sound in his progressions and was very accurate. He had a purpose behind every ball that left his hand.”
One of Saraland’s victories was a 21-19 triumph over four-time Class 7A state champion Thompson. The other wins were against Hewitt-Trussville (39-13), Opelika (22-18) and Enterprise (32-13), each in 30-minute games.
Even more impressively, the Spartans did all that without five-star receiver Ryan Williams and Brooks Womble, who is in the starting rotation at receiver.
Both are recovering from injuries — Womble broke his collarbone in the spring game and Williams, who has committed to Alabama, didn’t push a reaggravated hamstring that kept him out of the spring game. But he and Kelly said it would not be an issue going forward.
“It’s not like it was before,” said Williams, who tweaked the hamstring while at the Under Armour Next Future 50 camp with Lacey last weekend at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “It’s much more minor. I’m fine now. I found the problem, the conflict, and I know how to stop it from happening again.”
Williams, the first sophomore to be named Alabama’s Mr. Football, said he benefits from competing against other elite athletes at the camps.
“I feel like I’ve performed well against players who are respected nationally and I feel like I am pretty respected across the country,” said Williams, who has been invited to the 2024 On3 Elite Series.
Kelly said Williams — who has risen to become ESPN’s No. 3 prospect in the country in the class of 2025 — could have played Tuesday.
“He was bouncing around out there,” Kelly said. “They get at these camps and race to see who the fastest player in the camp is. It’s a great opportunity for these guys to do their thing. We wanted to be safe today. He’s fine. Ryan at 60 percent is still better than most guys.”
And Lacey and his ensemble of receivers were better than everybody else Tuesday, showing their quality depth.
“Ryan plays a big part in things but we come together to form a really good team,” Lacey said.
Dees, who caught only one touchdown pass last season as Saraland swept to the Class 6A state championship, used his 6-foot-4 height to help him catch four scoring passes Tuesday from 19, 9 and 5 yards and 1 yard.
“Jordan used his body and frame to make catches over people,” Kelly said.
Mike Smith caught TD passes of 6 and 21 yards, Myron Dunklin had scoring receptions of 40 and 8 yards, Deshawn Spencer scored from 24 and 5 yards out and C.D. Gill snagged TD passes of 11 and 10 yards.
“We’ve definitely got some weapons we can go to, some receivers we can depend on,” Dees said.
Kelly challenged them to improve on their poor practice performance a day earlier.
“We just had an off day and the defense locked us up,” Lacey said.
Kelly told the receivers an average effort is not acceptable.
“I’m looking for guys who will step up and make plays and today they did that,” Kelly said. “C.D. is becoming one of the best route runners in the state. Myron stretched the field. … We took a step forward today, especially seeing how we threw the ball and read coverages.”
Lacey, who has been invited to the 2025 Under Armour All-Star Game, enjoyed his hot afternoon of target practice.
“Jordan stood out a lot and made some difficult catches,” Lacey said. “Shawn stepped up and Mike is finishing his routes up more.”
Of Lacey’s 11 incompletions, four were dropped.
“Sometimes I kid them about the drops but then when it happens too much, I have to get on them and get serious and say we’ve got to make the plays to win,” Lacey said. “In 7-on-7, you can’t have any turnovers. I think it was our most consistent 7-on-7 this summer.”
Lacey continues to match his pro-caliber arm strength with continually incisive decisions.
“I had to learn the plays last year,” Lacey said. “This year, I know why we’re running the plays and how to set something up. We want completions.”
Dees said Lacey has dramatically improved since the end of last season, when he threw for 3,177 yards and 40 touchdowns.
“He puts the ball where it’s supposed to be,” Dees said. “He’s going to throw it where only you can catch it.”
Meanwhile, the Spartans’ defense got vital stops and impressed Kelly with its man-to-man defense.
“I thought we did better defensively today than a week or two ago at South Alabama,” Kelly said. “I saw some improvement in making stops and getting off the field. We’re getting later in the summer and seeing more coverages over there. The best part was we got a lot of conditioning in. We’ve got a three day 7-on-7 gauntlet. Now it’s Foley for two days, so we’ve got to manage their legs.”
While Saraland won four games Tuesday and faces many more in the next two days at Foley, Lacey said the victory over Thompson — albeit without full pads, linemen and highly ranked Warriors safety Anquon Fegans, who has committed to Southern Cal — was significant to him and his teammates.
“I wish Anquon was playing but we didn’t have Ryan,” Lacey said. “I think that one meant a little more.”
The schools tried to schedule a game this season but couldn’t make it happen. Instead, the Spartans will open the season Aug. 25 at home against nationally ranked Lipscomb Academy, the two-time Tennessee state champion.
By then, Williams and Womble should be fully healed when the pads and the lights go on and Lacey and Williams will still be trying to get each other to switch their commitments. After all, how many high school teams have a Texas commitment throwing to an Alabama commitment?
“Ryan’s always doing things to recruit me but it’s not going to happen,” Lacey said. “He keeps telling me stuff about Bama and giving me all these Nick Saban quotes.”
But Williams isn’t giving up.
“Roll Tide!” he said to Lacey as he walked past.