It was a 16-10 victory for the South in the 2020 Bernard Blackwell North/South All-Star Football Game at Brandon High School in Brandon Saturday, but two Clarksdale High School seniors were able to showcase their talent and make strong contributions for the North side.
Wildcats running back Sammie Ray finished with two carries for 10 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards. Offensive lineman Almetris Smith finished with more than five pancakes on the afternoon. The pancake block is a term that is used by offensive line coach and offensive linemen in football to describe a block that leaves a defensive player flat on his back as the running back goes through the hole.
“I’m just extremely proud of those guys,” said Wildcats coach Henry Johnson. “That’s an accomplishment not only for them, but our football team, for the whole entire athletic department at the Clarksdale school district and the entire Clarksdale school community.”
Ray and Smith reflected on their experiences.
“The play that stood out to me the most was our first touchdown,” Ray said. “Our quarterback Jake Weir from Tupelo, he threw a crossing route and the tight end caught it and scored.”
One of Smith’s five pancakes led to a 50-yard pass downfield in the third quarter.
“It was one play where it was a pass play and the linemen, we had to block down the line,” Smith said. “The man in front of me tried to rush block and I pancaked him on that play. That was one of my best plays I believe.”
The two Wildcats had the opportunity to stay overnight and arrive for the game Friday, but they chose to make the drive Saturday morning. The COVID pandemic did not influence the decision of either player.
“You could have gone that Friday, but I chose to go that Saturday morning,” Ray said. “I would have done it anyway.”
Smith did not miss any plays and felt the competition was tougher than usual.
“The All-Star Game was a good experience for me to see how I am against other players who are good in Mississippi,” he said.
“It was about the best team I have been on so far,” Ray said. “Everybody was good. Everybody got honored. Everybody knew each other. It was just the top going against the other side of the top.”
The North team practiced on Oxford Middle School’s turf field in Oxford the Tuesday and Thursday prior to the game.
Smith noticed a difference between those practices and the actual contest Saturday.
“Because of COVID, we had two or three players not come back for practice,” Smith said.
“Then the halftime was real short.”
Smith said the game itself was normal.
Both Ray and Smith have received offers to play for Coahoma Community College next season. Ray has also been talking with East Mississippi Community College.
They plan to make their final decisions close to National Signing Day Feb. 3, 2021.
“I’ll keep doing my same routine,” said Ray, adding he works out at Snap Fitness every other day and runs the hill on Sunflower Avenue.
Smith also runs on the hill on Sunflower Avenue.
“We’ve (Smith and Ray) run the hill together,” Smith said.
He also lifts dumbbells, shoulder shrugs and curls at home.
“At the moment, I’m just waiting for some other coaches to call to see if they want to offer me,” Smith said.
Smith’s brother, defensive back Aikee Matthews, just played two seasons with CCC helped lead the Tigers to a 3-2 record in 2020. Matthews, a 2019 Clarksdale High School graduate, will be continuing his career at Mississippi College in Clinton.
Those things caught Smith’s attention about CCC as he is considering continuing his career there.
“It kind of did because I know CCC has better coaches this year and they have a decent record,” Smith said.
The Wildcats had three All-Stars this season. Senior linebacker De’meric Strong played in the 2020 Mississippi/Alabama Football All-Star Game.
That is the most All-Stars for the Wildcats since Johnson became the head coach in 2013.
The next most was two All-Stars in 2017 when defensive back Esaias Furdge, currently a sophomore for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and quarterback Terrence Humphrey played in the Bernard Blackwell North/South All-Star Football Game in 2017.
The Wildcats’ success with three All-Stars showed as they won the Region 3-4A championship and a playoff game.
“We had a really good group this year,” Johnson said. “I would have liked to see the end result of that. Unfortunately, COVID-19 ended our season.”