HATTIESBURG — If we are lucky, every game produces at least one memory that will last for years.
Here, on a dreary, damp and gray Saturday at the Mississippi-Alabama High School All-Star Game, Alabama punter/placekicker Alex McPherson produced several. Remember that name — Alex McPherson — because if you are a football fan, you will be hearing it for years and years.
McPherson easily could have been selected the MVP of Alabama’s dominant 20-0 victory. His statistics — impressive as they are — do not tell the story. He punted four times for a 50-yard average. With one minute, 17 seconds remaining to play, Alabama lined up for a 58-yard field goal. McPherson’s kick split the uprights and hit high in the netting behind the goal posts. The kick might have been good from 70. It definitely would have been good from 65. There was little, if any, wind at the time, and, again, the air was damp.
“I didn’t hit it as well as I can, but I got enough of it,” McPherson would later say.
You should know this writer has been coming to this Southern Miss stadium — known as The Rock — for nearly a lifetime. I have seen one other kicker do the kind of things McPherson did Saturday. The other guy’s name is on the stadium: Ray Guy, the only punter ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Most amazing about McPherson is that he generates so much power — or leg whip — with his 5-foot, 10-inch, 155-pound frame. By contrast, Guy was a strong, limber, long-limbed 6-3, 195-pounder.
“Yes sir, I know who Ray Guy was, and I saw his name up there,” McPherson said afterward, pointing to Guy’s name of the east side of the stadium. “It’s nice to be compared to him.”
McPherson, who hails from Fort Payne and says he will sign an Auburn scholarship, kicked off five times, all touchbacks, including one that went through the uprights and into the netting. Three of his four punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. One of the punts — a 57-yarder that seemingly went into the clouds — was downed at the Mississippi one-yard line.
In pregame warm-ups, McPherson put two field goals through from 65 yards. He made one 61-yarder in a game this past season and says his longest in practice was a 73-yarder.
Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe was the Mississippi team’s scout coach this past week, meaning he attended every Alabama practice and reported back to the Mississippi staff.
“He kicked like that every day,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ll be watching him on Sundays one day.”
Asked about McPherson’s kicking after the game, Mississippi head coach Todd Breland shook his head and said, “Man, isn’t he something?”
Breland paused before continuing, “I don’t know if I should say this but I was pulling for him to make that 58-yarder. I mean, the game was over. I wanted him to make it. That’s how much I thought of him.”
Indeed, the game had long been decided when McPherson powered the 58-yarder through. What’s the difference in 17-0 and 20-0? Nothing really, except one more memory.
- In a game with few Mississippi highlights, little Malcolm Hartzog of Bassfield and Jefferson Davis County High School was named MVP for the home team. A two-way star for JDC and the Class 3A Mr. Football, Hartzog played only on defense Saturday. He led Mississippi with nine tackles total, including eight solos, and also made a touchdown-saving interception in the end zone. Afterward, Hartzog confirmed that he will be signing with Nebraska on national signing day on Wednesday. It was his only FBS offer, his coach Lance Mancuso said.
- There were extremely large teenagers on display. Columbia’s Jeheim Oatis, a four-star recruit committed to Alabama, was the largest of all. He was listed at 6-5 and 320, but my guess is Oatis last tipped the scales at 320 about 60 pounds ago. He was credited with three tackles and one quarterback hurry Saturday. My take: Oatis plays hard only on occasion. He never sprints when he can jog and he never jogs when he can walk. But when he does decide to play hard, he’s a force. It will be intriguing to see if — and how much — that changes when Nick Saban and his staff get hold of him.
- Alabama won the game at the line of scrimmage, controlling on both sides of the ball. The Alabamans blocked better on offense and got off blocks better on defense. Braylon McReynolds, a little scatback from McGill-Toolen High in Mobile, was the game’s best offensive player, running for 98 yards on 13 carries and making a lot of people miss along the way. This won’t be his last time to play at The Rock. He is committed to South Alabama — and the Jaguars got a good one.