E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont’s X and Z going out as all-stars

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Exavyer Jackson and Denard Spears have been playing football for as long as they can remember. Hardly ever did they give a second thought to the day it might end, even though it eventually comes for everybody.

With limited options for playing at the next level, that day could come for the Piedmont teammates Thursday night when they suit up for the North in the 55th North-South All-Star Game in Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl.

It promises to be a night of swinging emotions, but instead of getting caught up in the potential sadness of a curtain coming down, they plan to embrace it for all that got them to this place.

“High school football is a sport that’s just amazing to play and I’m going to miss playing in that atmosphere,” said Spears, a wide receiver. “But it’s great to put the pads on again and be on the field knowing I’m not playing college football right now. As soon as I put the pads and helmet on it’ll bring back memories and this will be another memory I can add.”

“I’ve been playing football since I was about 4 years old and it’s coming to an end,” said Jackson, a defensive lineman. “It’s something I could fall back on when I needed to get frustration out or needed to have fun, so putting it down is kind of depressing. But I’ve got one more game and I’ll give it all I’ve got.”

Both players may consider walking on at Jacksonville State, but their plans for the time being are to concentrate on their academic pursuits — Jackson in criminal justice and forensics and Spears, the class salutatorian, in engineering.

“I love playing defensive tackle, but there’s not much call for a guy 5-9, 265,” Jackson said. “I came to the realization I’m not going to the pros, so I felt I needed to make the decision for my life.”

Piedmont coach Steve Smith has “no doubt in my mind” the two could play for the smaller schools that showed interest in them. He has coached in this all-star game twice and believes both have the potential to excel in Thursday night.

He said Spears, the state champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, won’t have anyone on the field faster than him. As for Jackson, the runner-up for Class 3A Lineman of the Year, he said, “if he’s in good enough shape to play, they won’t be able to block him down there.”

“That’s the plan,” said Jackson, who had 114 tackles, including nine sacks and two fumble recoveries last season. He said he has been working hard in preparation for the game.

“I’m going to play as hard as I can and be committed to it as hard as if I had a Piedmont uniform on,” he said. “What’s the use in playing if you’re not going to do it the right way?

“Part of my dedication to playing is for the City of Piedmont. It makes you feel like you want it more to please the people at home. With this being an all-star game I’m putting my city on a shrine and want to show out for the city.”

Spears had nearly 1,100 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. He caught 42 passes (751 yards), rushed for 144 yards and brought back two of his six punt returns for touchdowns. He hopes to get a chance to make a move as a receiver and contributing on the special teams.

“I don’t think it’ll actually be sad,” he said. “I want to go back and play high school football, but at the same time, after the game I’ll realize it’s been a journey.”

The Piedmont pair is among several East Alabama players and coaches on the North roster.

They’re joined by Wellborn coach Jeff Smith, defensive lineman Jaleel Burton and running back Chantz Goodman; Clay Central coach Kris Herron, tight end Deandre Wills and linebacker Chris Briskey; Woodland punter John Wes Adcock; Etowah defensive back Devin Horton; Southside running back Dantley Coker and linebacker Colton Clay; and St. Clair County lineman Justin Armstrong.

Wills was a late addition to the North roster. He signed with Nebraska, but left the program recently in the wake of two family illnesses, the Omaha World-Herald reported, and is said to be considering a transfer to Jacksonville State.

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