tar-meltin'-hot Friday night in July in Alabama, and Ross Wilson is once again
walking toward the brightest lights in his small city. With his helmet in hand,
the 17-year-old quarterback for Hoover High strides through the double doors of
his school's locker room and onto the asphalt road that leads to Buccaneer
Stadium. Before Ross reaches the field, he's stopped on the sideline by his
older brother, John Parker Wilson, the starting quarterback at the University
of Alabama. As Ross chats with John Parker, a former Parade All-America who led
the Buccaneers to state titles in 2002 and '03, a seven-year-old boy
approaches, holding a football and a pen, and asks for an autograph from the
most famous football player in all of Hoover. The brothers smile, and then John
Parker takes a half step back while Ross gladly scribbles his name on the ball,
then turns and strides onto the field.
The Southeastern Select 7-on-7 Tournament in Hoover is one of the biggest high
school football events of the summer. Twenty teams representing 11 states have
traveled to Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham, to showcase their quarterbacks,
receivers and defensive backs for recruiting analysts from around the nation in
what is, essentially, a glorified version of touch football--the quarterback
has four seconds to throw, defensive players can't rush, there are no running
plays and no linemen, and tackles are made simply by the touch of a hand.
tonight is perennial power Huguenot High of Richmond, but it takes just seconds
for the Falcons to see why Hoover, SI's preseason No. 1 team (below), is the
most successful big-time high school football program in America. On the game's
first play Wilson takes the snap, drops back and looks to his right. No one's
open, so his head snaps left, and he quickly zeros in on a receiver 25 yards
downfield sprinting toward the sideline. Wilson pivots, sets his feet and
slings a crisp, tight spiral that the receiver catches in stride just before he
runs out-of-bounds. The unlucky defensive back shakes his head, the crowd roars
and the jaws of several scouts bounce off the grass.
Hoover goes on to
beat Huguenot 40--13, and in the first two games of the tournament Wilson
completes 37 of 45 passes and throws for nine touchdowns. The games are a
showcase for Hoover's high-flying, high-scoring and highly complex passing
offense. The no-huddle attack was the first of its kind in Alabama when head
coach Rush Propst installed it seven years ago, and, like a neon sign flashing
HELP WANTED, it has enticed some talented players to transfer to the school.
Every high school football player in the state--and beyond--probably wishes he
could run and gun for the Buccaneers, who throw the ball around like kids in a
sandlot and try to score on every play. "Around here," says Propst,
"we call it 'basketball on grass.'"
five-alarm chicken wings are stacked on a tray in the main Hoover football
office, and the Buccaneers' 13 coaches are at the trough. As Propst, 48, works
through his plateful of wings, his cellphone bleats. He checks the caller I.D.
but doesn't answer. "Another college coach trying to get me to convince one
of my players to commit," he says matter-of-factly between bites.
Of all the
statistics testifying to Hoover's dominance on the football field--five state
championships in the last six years in Alabama's largest football division,
Class 6A; an 84--5 record since 2000; an average margin of victory during the
last three years of 27 points--this one may be the most impressive: 61% of the
Bucs' starters have earned scholarships to a Division I-A, Division I-AA or
Division II school since 2001. Even two nonstarters got I-AA scholarships.
on this year's Hoover squad have already received scholarship offers. It's
likely that a dozen of those players will be on Division I rosters next season.
Three of them are among the most coveted recruits in the country: offensive
lineman Ryan Pugh, a 6'3", 270-pound road grader who has orally committed
to Auburn; defensive tackle Kerry Murphy, a 6'5", 318-pound house of bricks
who has narrowed his choices to Alabama, Auburn and Miami; and defensive end
Josh Chapman, a 6'1" 280-pounder with a neck-snapping first step who has
orally committed to Auburn. Ironically, one of the few Buccaneers who doesn't
have a football scholarship lined up is the team's best player. Wilson has yet
to receive any football offers from big-time Division I-A schools because he's
considered undersized at 5'11" and has orally committed to playing baseball
at Alabama. (He is a shortstop.) "If Ross were two inches taller--his
brother had a growth spurt when he got to college--every school in the country
would be begging for him," says Miller Safrit, a recruiting analyst for
scout.com. "He's clearly got the arm to be a very, very good college
A few weeks after
he was hired as Hoover's football coach in January 1999, Propst got a clear
look at the challenge before him. He was eating dinner at a local restaurant
when a woman approached his table. Jabbing a finger at Propst, she asked
pointedly, "Are you going to be one of those coaches who run the ball up
the middle three times and then punt?"
me make you a promise," said Propst. "We are going to have the most
unorthodox offense in all of high school football. I will put you on the edge
of your seat."
arrival Hoover football had taken a backseat in an otherwise football-crazy
region. From 1994 to '98 the Bucs had only one winning season, and the majority
of the school's best athletes played basketball or baseball, but not football.
To resuscitate the program, Hoover superintendent Jack Farr hired Propst, a
native of Ohatchee, Ala., who in 1998 had guided Alma Bryant High of Irvington,
Ala., to a 12--1 record and the state quarterfinals.
decided that the best way to make Hoover a power was to run a wide-open,
no-huddle, spread passing attack, so he asked Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme,
who ran the offense Propst hoped to install, if he could be an observer during
the Wildcats' spring practices. Mumme agreed. The only catch? Propst, who had
to be at work in Hoover each weekday morning to coach and teach, had to figure
out how to get to the afternoon practices in Lexington, 411 miles away, and
back home again a dozen times during a four-week span.