HOOVER -- Only on a few occasions has an event like Nease-Hoover lived up to the hype. But following the Bucs' 50-29 win over the visitors from St. Augustine, Fla. on Saturday, there were plenty of grins to go around.
First and foremost, event promoter Rashid Gahzi has to be enjoying a cold one right about now. The Chicago-based pitchman sunk serious cash into the event, with the biggest chunk going to ESPN for air time. Between ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and signage, Gahzi figures to have made out well in his latest venture (he also put on the South Gwinnett-Arlington Country Day high school basketball game that aired on ESPN last season).
For Rush Propst, Hoover's attention hound of a head coach, the game provided everything he's ever wanted for his program: a national television audience against a team that had star power (quarterback Tim Tebow) but little chance of winning.
And while he gave the standard "We came here to win" quote following the loss, Nease coach Craig Howard had to be pleased with the way his team responded to the haymaker it took in falling behind 14-0 early in the first quarter.
The always quotable Propst said all the right things following the win, including this somewhat laughable comment: "(Nease) is undoubtedly one of the top 25-30 teams in the nation."
That statement is a perfect illustration of the trickle down effect that drips from the pros to college to high school. Yep, with national polls gaining in popularity even on the prep level, coaches are now propping up opponents in an effort to solidify or improve on their USA Today rankings.
Nice try, coach, but this is the same Nease team that lost to cross-county rival St. Augustine twice last season. The Panthers probably rate among the top 20 teams in the state of Florida, but they're still in search of a first-ever appearance in a state semi-final playoff game.
And that's not meant as knock on Nease, whose football program made great strides under Howard in his first two seasons at the school. But as Howard said himself on several occasions leading up to the game, the Panthers are in the process of getting to the lofty status that Hoover already calls home.
And the difference in those two places became obvious in the second half Saturday.
Of course, with Tebow on the field, the sky's the limit for Howard's team from here on out. After Saturday's game, the nation's top quarterback prospect (yeah, Mitch Mustain fans, I said it) was understandably upset. After all, it was his fumble, which came with Nease trailing, 36-29, midway through the fourth quarter, that all but sealed the deal for Hoover.
Surrounded by his support group, which, by the way, was partially adorned in Gator gear, the kid who accounted for 422 yards in the loss stood up afterward and took full blame for the game-deciding turnover. No excuses, no ducking questions; just a calm demeanor intertwined with the tinge of anger/frustration that all the greats exude following a loss.
But before we go any further can we put this Tebow to Alabama stuff to rest? The talk in recent months has been that Alabama might possibly be in the lead for his services, with childhood favorite Florida slightly behind. I've heard many of the same things, and I'll go ahead and let the grill masters out there know that I like my crow blackened -- and I'll be glad to eat plenty of it if Tebow lands anywhere other than Florida.
From the looks of things, Tebow lives in a Gator cocoon that Alabama --or any other school, for that matter-- will be unable to extricate him from. The Tide will likely finish second for his signature, which means little in the world of recruiting. I mean, does anybody remember who won the silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the '84 Olympics? Of course not.
Sure, the ties are in place for Alabama to have a shot. Former teammate and current Tide wide out Will Oakley was on hand to serve as honorary game captain (along with Tide quarterback and Hoover alum John Parker Wilson) and stuck around to cheer Tebow and Co. on from the Nease sideline. Heck, UA players Simeon Castille, Terrence Jones, Le'Ron McClain, DJ Hall, Keith Brown and Matt Caddell even made it a point to sit on the visiting side Saturday.
The effort by 'Bama is there, but ultimately Tebow's heart will prove to be somewhere else --somewhere it's already been for a long, long time.
What Tide fans can feel good about is the performance linebacker commitment Charlie Kirschman gave against Hoover. Kirschman is a legit 6'3, has long arms and projects at two positions --strongside linebacker or end. Most importantly, he's a very good football player. He did it all Saturday: picked off a pass, pressured the quarterback and played well against the run.
The concern is that Kirschman might be too good. He said after the contest that he's still receiving mail from interested schools. The good news is that he's told several programs to go away. The bad news is that he hasn't told all of them.
And then there is Nease's "other" linebacker, Hunter Haynes. Yet another Panther who has ties to the state, Haynes played as if the game was an open casting call by Tide coach Mike Shula. And if it was, Haynes' people should be hearing from Shula's people fairly soon.
On the other side of the field, Hoover wide receiver Cornelius Williams did nothing to hurt himself. An in-game adjustment by the Bucs' coaching staff resulted in Williams being matched against Nease's weakest corner for the better part of two quarters. Williams took it from there, racking up nine catches for 135 yards.
It seemed appropriate when a local bar band fired up Sweet Home Alabama just seconds after the game clock hit triple zeroes. Indeed, it was sweet for pretty much all involved. Now the question is: In a year's time, will it be home to three or four of the players who made Saturday's contest worth the price of admission?