Mobile Christian quarterback Damien Gatson has plenty to smile about after throwing for five touchdowns in the state championship game and looking to the future, where the elite baseball prospect has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the state. (Helen Joyce/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
TUSCALOOSA — Somewhere along the way in this season of discovery for Mobile Christian quarterback Damien Gatson, he heard something from his position coach that made a difference.
“We told him he didn’t have to be Superman and he took heed of that,” Leopards quarterbacks coach Payton Wasden said.
Gatson — an elite baseball prospect who has committed to South Alabama and was in his first season as the starting quarterback — learned to be the conductor and not the train, then began filling the boxcars with footballs after his receivers got used to his left-handed spin.
“The bad part about it is receivers figuring out the spin, especially on the deep ball,” Gatson said. “But over time, the fewer dropped passes there were.”
He also started reading his way out of bad plays, distributing the football and marrying his phenomenal physical skills with a sense of when to cut the other team’s head off.
It’s amazing that a quarterback who was a mundane 9-of-20 passing for 115 yards with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) in his first two games would finish the season with such a flourish that he must be considered one of the state’s top quarterback prospects in the 2025 class.
“The first couple of games, he started a little slow,” Wasden said. “We had to keep in mind he hadn’t played varsity snaps in two years. His potential is through the roof.”
The roof caved in on Madison Academy Thursday when Gatson completed 15 of 20 passes for 298 yards and tied a Class 3A Super 7 record with five touchdowns in Mobile Christian’s 55-28 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Three were vertical routes thrown with such accuracy that he could have sewn stitches in a gnat’s forehead without leaving a scar.
“He was on top of his game hitting those deep balls,” Wasden said.
That didn’t come as a surprise to the Leopards. At their walkthrough the day before the game, they got off the bus and thumbed through a game plan crafted with the expectation the Mustangs would load up to stop the running game.
Coach Ronnie Cottrell watched Gatson go through the sets and pass plays and kept saying, “This will work. This will work. This will work.”
At the hotel the morning of the game, another walkthrough was deemed unnecessary.
The confidence continued to build as Gatson and Cottrell strode onto the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“He looked good in warmups,” Cottrell said. “I knew he’d play well. He has a knack when the game is on the line to make plays.”
Gatson also had a special feeling.
“It all started when we were walking the field and I started getting loose,” he said. “It felt great. I can tell when it’s got good spin. I was in the zone.”
Gatson then proceeded to set Madison Academy’s defense ablaze and doubled the score despite running half the plays the Mustangs did.
“The execution by Damien and the offense was excellent,” Cottrell said. “He made throws that were perfect.”
Gatson finished the season by completing 153 of 236 passes (65%) for 2,633 yards and 27 TDs. He was at his best in the playoffs, going 57-of-79 passing (72%) for 911 yards, 10 TDs and just two interceptions.
This all came after Gatson (6-1, 191) broke his collarbone two years ago in a 31-0 loss to UMS-Wright and sat out the season.
“It wasn’t that he had to learn how to be a quarterback,” Cottrell said. “I think he was just rusty. He’s always been very good at everything he’s done. He could play any sport.”
As far as Cottrell is concerned, that includes college football.
“If a college football program is wise, they’ll take him,” said Cottrell, a former recruiting coordinator at Florida State and Alabama. “South Alabama should take him. He has a huge upside on the development side as a quarterback.”
Gatson, a center fielder, is as interested in throwing touchdown passes as throwing out runners at home.
“I want to play football in college, especially after winning the state championship and knowing what I can do, how I led my team,” Gatson said.
Wasden said Gatson has the arm strength and physical speed to be a Power 5 prospect.
“He’s got the tools,” Wasden said. “He’s super competitive.”
And he’s got the desire to improve. Gatson said he has shortened his stride and let his wrist do the work.
“I just flick it where they could catch it,” he said.
He particularly enjoyed a 52-yard TD pass to Aaron Rogers in the state championship game.
“The dig route,” Gatson said. “I had to roll to my right and get my hips around. I don’t know what possessed me to throw it sidearm but I got it there.”
Said Cottrell: “That throw to Aaron was a perfect ball.”
Gatson is also in the perfect offense for him, with most of the base running plays giving him the option to throw.
“Thursday, I’d say 50 percent or higher of our runs plays, he had the option to throw it,” Wasden said. “There were a lot of bubble screens that were run-first plays.”
But Gatson showed he is more than a passer at a crucial moment in the 34-30 win over defending state champion St. James in the semifinals — the only close game Mobile Christian was in — with a 69-yard touchdown run, a play that accounted for nearly half of his rushing total this season.
“He ran the ball so well that night and that’s what it took,” Wasden said. “Then you turn around and it’s a different game plan in the state championship game. He stepped up to the occasion.”
Wasden said Mobile Christian hadn’t run Gatson much by design to protect him.
“We hadn’t shown that on film, so I’m sure St. James wasn’t ready for it,” Wasden said. “When he pulled it down and ran 60 yards, that was actually the same play P.J. Brown went 60 or 70 yards on. It was a zone read. It went for big gains twice. We told Damien, ‘After those two, they’ll jump all over P.J. and you can keep it.’ He’s a really special kid to do what he can do. When he’s on, I don’t know if there’s a better quarterback we could ask for.”
Wasden can’t wait to get to work on next season with Gatson.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Wasden said. “I’ve already been thinking what we can do next year. It’s really going to be scary for other people to defend him.”