How did state players fare in Reese’s Senior Bowl 2022?
Of the five Coastal Alabama high school stars who played at Reese’s Senior Bowl on Saturday, former Saraland high school star Velus Jones Jr. thought he had the biggest cheering section.
A wide receiver from Tennessee, Jones thought he had more than 50 in his roster for Mobile’s annual All-Star Game.
“It was everything I thought it was,” Jones said of achieving his childhood dream of playing in the Senior Bowl. “These great athletes, the best in the country, and it was quite an experience. I’m a competitor and I love coming here and competing. After the game, seeing all the kids, signing signatures – you know, that was me a long time ago.
Other local prep stars who played Saturday were Boston College tight end Trae Barry (Spanish Fort), LSU defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. (Murphy), Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary (Williamson ) and South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert (McGill-Toolen).
“I thought about it a lot,” McCreary said of his last game in Mobile. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy. I’m going to wear this helmet for the last time,’ so I had to go out like crazy, have fun, enjoy the game, just play the game I’m going to. It was just fun to wear this helmet for the last time, but I’m ready for the next level, so it was time to take it off.
In all, nine players from Alabama high schools and colleges participated in Saturday’s game, but only Barry emerged victorious. The former Spanish Fort quarterback was the only player with Alabama football roots on the national team, which earned a 20-10 win over Team USA at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama.
Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa) and defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, defensive end Ole Miss Sam Williams (Lee-Montgomery) and Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who passed his first two college seasons at Auburn, also played in the 73rd Annual Senior Bowl.
Barry played but didn’t record any stats. He was an injured substitute who joined the national team on Thursday.
“I had a really good day of practice,” Barry said. “I received the playbook probably 30 minutes before practice. I knew the formations. The verbiage and terminology was a bit different, but I got it quickly. The tight ends that didn’t come in at the time, they took me under their wing. They were helping me, letting me know the details of each game, what was going on, so I was grateful to those guys.
Farrell Jr. had four tackles as he had a strong presence in the American defensive line rotation.
“I had a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories in college,” Farrell said, “but I wanted to finish strong, and I did.”
Jones caught four passes for 53 yards, including a 32-yard reception. He was also able to carry the soccer ball at the end, but this game lost 7 yards.
Mathis made a tackle.
McCreary made a tackle.
Robinson gained 18 yards on six rushing attempts, with a 9-yard long run.
Tolbert caught two passes for 24 yards.
“Honestly, it was more than I expected,” Tolbert said of the Senior Bowl experience. “From the outside, looking inside, you never know what to expect.”
Williams, who set an Ole Miss single-season record with 12.5 sacks in 2021, shared a sack on Saturday.
Willis was the starting quarterback for Team USA and played the first quarter. Willis completed 2 of 4 passes for 11 yards without a touchdown or interception. Facing the National Team’s pass rush, which overwhelmed American tacklers for eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss, Willis ran for 54 yards on four carries, including a 27-yard rush, to lead the Americans to the race.
Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, who played at Alabama in his first two college seasons, didn’t dress for the game after practicing for the week.
The winning coach was Ron Middleton, a former Escambia County High School standout who played at Auburn. Now a tight ends coach for the New York Jets, Middleton worked as head coach of the national team this week in a new format for the Senior Bowl. Robert Saleh, the Jets’ head coach, picked Middleton to handle that task for the Senior Bowl as Saleh oversaw the work of his coaching staff in Mobile.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.