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Saraland’s Jeff Kelly named head coach for Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic

Saraland coach Jeff Kelly and his players celebrate in the final seconds of the 2022 Class 6A state championship game in Auburn. Kelly may be the first person to play in, be an assistant coach for and serve as a head coach in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. (Call News file photo)

Staff Report

Saraland coach Jeff Kelly has been selected as Alabama’s head coach for the 38th annual Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in December at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

Kelly served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in last season’s 26-17 Alabama victory — its fourth straight in the series — and might be the first person from Alabama to serve as a player, assistant coach and head coach in the annual game. He played in the 1996 Classic after graduating from Citronelle and fired a touchdown pass in Alabama’s 17-14 victory.

“It is a very huge honor to be the head coach in this game,” Kelly said. “I am excited about our staff. We have some really outstanding coaches. Last year, I came straight to this game after the Super 7 finals. You have to be able to shift gears but it doesn’t take you long when you see how important this game is to the players and coaches in this state. I am looking forward to the game already.”

Kelly is 132-36 going into his 14th season at Saraland, including the 2022 Class 6A state championship. Three of his other teams finished as state runner-up in 2014, 2018 and 2023.

His Alabama All-Star staff includes Fyffe coach Paul Benefield, who will coach the defensive line; McGill-Toolen coach David Faulkner, the offensive coordinator; Montgomery Catholic coach Kirk Johnson,  the defensive coordinator; Leroy coach Jason Massey, who will coach linebackers; Hoover coach Drew Gilmer, who will coach defensive backs; Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa coach Jamie Mitchell, who will coach the offensive line; Eufaula coach Jerrel Jernigan, who will coach wide receivers; and Saraland assistant Matt Dearmon, who will be Alabama’s All-Star scout.

Benefield finished his 32nd season in 2023 by winning his seventh state title. He is 351-56 in his career, ranking third all-time in coaching victories. Benefield has won more state championships in the last decade (7) than games lost (6).

“Coach Kelly has proven to be one of the AHSAA’s finest head coaches,” Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association Director Brandon Dean said. “And he has put together an outstanding all-star coaching staff as well that includes four coaches that won state titles last season, two coaches who played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and one coach who has 351 career coaching wins to his credit.”

Gilmer won the Class 6A state title with Clay-Chalkville, which held off Saraland for a dramatic 31-28 win last December, and was hired at Hoover in the offseason.

Massey’s Leroy team won a second straight Class 1A state title last year although Massey was on duty with the National Guard at the time. Defensive coordinator Chan Lowe stepped up at midseason to take the Bears to a 14-0 finish.

The players for the game will be selected this fall.

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