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Survey of the Thompson High to Alabama football pipeline at a pivot point

Opening night of the AHSAA Super 7 had a familiar ending.

There was the Thompson High football team on the field, jumping around head coach Mark Freeman as he lifted a championship over his head. The top team in the state’s largest classification reached the mountaintop for the fourth consecutive year. Thompson’s seniors developed some traditions during their run. Reach the title game, don a lei necklace — a trend started by alum Taulia Tagovailoa — and, usually in the case of elite recruits, enlist in Alabama in January.

As of 2019, Thompson has produced six players ranked in the top 10 in the state by 247Sports rankings. At least four have started their collegiate careers in Tuscaloosa, from Tagovailoa and Amari Kight to recent Tide newcomers Jeremiah Alexander and Tre’Quon Fegans. But the newest group has handled a few things differently.

For one, the centerpiece of the celebration was an eighth grader who set a state record. Players seemed to have outgrown the necklace habit and opted to wave four fingers as high as possible. The greatest departure from a typical Thompson coronation, however, was revealed by his list. In one of the biggest recruiting surprises of the cycle, the Crimson Tide might not secure one of the Warriors’ nationally coveted five-stars: Peter Woods and Tony Mitchell.

Woods, No. 33 overall, signed to Clemson for Alabama before the season. The Tide were such big favorites for the 6-foot-3, 270-pound defenseman that angry fans questioned Alabama coach Freddie Roach’s job stats when he announced it. In Mitchell’s case, a June verbal commitment to Alabama didn’t slow efforts by Texas A&M and Auburn for third-tier security in the country. Mitchell was also planning his final visit before signing the day with the Aggies, potentially heralding a flip.

Simply put, the Thompson to Bama pipeline is in flux.

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According to defensive coordinator Shawn DeFoor, the Warriors are running a “watered down” version of Nick Saban’s defense. Terms like Bama, denoting his Hybrid Safety Star (Mitchell’s probable future position), confound the two systems. Thompson’s scheme isn’t nearly as complex as Tide’s, but the slight similarities are a potential topic of discussion and an icebreaker between college coaches and prospects.

Woods and Mitchell shared their knowledge of Thompson’s playbook against Auburn High at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Woods rolled over the punter to force a miss. Mitchell, back from a right ankle sprain in his first game, locked his submission down a deep route and smashed the pass away. The duo combined six stops, including two tackles for losses and a pair of pass separations.

“(Saban) is a Fortune 500 businessman and I run a company, who should I listen to? At least (players) are becoming somewhat familiar,” DeFoor said. “If there’s a technique they can take to the next level, they’re not going to leave this meeting saying, ‘I’m the dumbest guy.'”

Several Alabama assistants have made the 57-mile drive from Bryant-Denny Stadium to the 1921 Warrior Parkway and Thompson’s $19.2 million Division I-like facility to get a look at the latest talent . When they get there, players are not impressed by the stars. You’ve seen her and other college scouts before. DeFoor estimated 15 coaches attended their last spring game.

2021 signee Jeremiah Alexander said after Thompson’s three-peat he’s “in the ear” of Woods and Mitchell every day, trying to convince them, like Fegans, who fled Miami, to vote for Alabama. Ultimately, Alexander conceded, it’s her choice.

“I’ve played with a lot of these guys. They kind of took me under their wing when I came up as an eighth grader and freshman and kind of taught me how to be in the game,” Woods said of Thompson’s grads. “Some of the leaders of the group, the Jacksons and the Jeremiahs and the Tre’Quons. … It means a lot to just be the guy who passes that (leadership) torch on.”

As expected, Thompson has some key pieces back, and with them comes more connections to Tuscaloosa. Anquon, the younger brother of Fegans, is currently ranked as security #1 in 2024 and has already made contact with Roach, the Tide region recruiter. Anquon said he talks to his brother almost every day. Quarterback Trent Seaborn, who won the MVP championship before starting high school, is close friends with the Tagovailoas.

Both underclassmen will likely be on Tide’s radar for years to come. But if Woods captures a future in College Station, Texas with Clemson and Dabo Swinney and Mitchell’s eyes, Seaborn and Anquon Fegans could be reviving an old tradition rather than expanding one.

Nick Alvarez is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him [email protected].

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