Over the years, there have been quite a few complaints about the AHSAA North-South All-Star football game and the biggest issue has always been the timing of it.
Unlike the prestigious Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, which is played annually in December, the North-South game has been played in July for its entire 72-year lifespan as part of the AHSAA’s Summer Conference.
For several reasons, that’s typically caused the top selections for each team to drop out in high numbers.
“It’s not for lack of commitment because players want to play in the game,” said Reeltown coach Matt Johnson, who has had several selections the past few seasons. “But for multiple reasons, they’re not able to whether it’s because they’ve been signed and they’re not allowed to or they’ve graduated early or they’re working. Some just played football and finished in November or December and hadn’t done anything since then.”
But now, that should change as the AHSAA Central Board of Control approved a motion to move the annual North-South All-Star game to December. This will be effective in 2020 for 2021 graduating seniors, so this year’s all-star game is still scheduled to be played in July.
“I think it’s probably better this way because you come right out of your senior season and you’re still somewhat in shape,” Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith said. “Football is still fresh on your mind and you haven’t actually mentally left the game and gone on to whatever school you’re playing at.”
One of the big reasons college coaches don’t allow their recruits to play in the North-South game in July is for fear of injury. That’s if the athletes haven’t already reported, which many of them have — especially for Division I recruits. But Smith is hopeful that fear of injury will decrease with the game being played so much earlier.
“God forbid something were to happen like a twisted ankle or something, it gets you a little bit more time to prep or to rehab and not miss college conditioning,” Smith said.
The North-South game has presented many opportunities for athletes in terms of their college recruiting and both Johnson and Smith reiterated they want as many players to actually get a chance to play in it if they want to.
Most recently, Benjamin Russell graduate Kobi Crabb appeared in the North-South game in the summer of 2019 and Smith said his performance there was really what spring boarded Crabb into a Division I football program. He now plays for Alabama State.
“His performance in that game is really what got him at Alabama State,” Smith said. “He had been looked at and talked to but he went up there and had a really good game and got even more attention. I think (the game) is something that needs to continue forward and I think it’s good that they’re moving it to December.”
Johnson is coaching in this summer’s North-South game and said for future coaches, the selection process will also be much easier when it is moved to the winter.
“If you have a kid that played in the Alabama-Mississippi game, they can’t play in the North-South game,” Johnson said. “So when we were going through all these applications of kids to be selected in the North-South game, you have to weed through the ones that have already played in the Alabama-Mississippi game. This will just make the selection process more seamless.”
Plus, there’s always weather to contend with. In the AHSAA, there are rules about when student-athletes can and can’t practice based on the heat index and moving the game to December will eliminate that concern.
“It’ll be nice to be played when it’s not 1,000 degrees outside,” Johnson said. “There’s all kinds of small issues that are solved by doing it in December. All-star games right at the end of the football season so everyone is still real into football, that’s a no brainer.”