Daphne offensive coordinator Zach Golson remembers the first time he met and talked with Prattville head coach Caleb Ross.
“I kind of knew of Caleb,” Golson said. "His wife and I were basically next door neighbors growing up in Prattville. Caleb and I weren’t friends, but I followed and admired his career. I actually met him for the first time at a clinic at the University of Alabama and I asked him if we could sit down and talk football.
“We ended up going to Waffle House. We probably sat there for six hours talking football. We hit it off.”
A year later, Ross was named head coach at McGill-Toolen. He hired Golson as his offensive coordinator.
In their three years together there, the Yellow Jackets went 30-8, winning 26 of their last 28 overall games and the Class 7A state title in 2015. In the first round of the Class 7A playoffs this year, they will be on opposite sidelines with Ross bringing his Lions (7-3) to town to face the fifth-ranked Trojans (9-1).
Kickoff at Jubilee Stadium is set for 7 p.m. Friday. Golson said he hasn’t thought much about facing his mentor, friend and former boss.
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“At the end of the day, it’s not me against Caleb,” he said. “I’m going against his defense, and he is more of an offensive guy. I’m just excited about where we are at Daphne right now – in the 7A playoffs, hosting a first-round game. There is enough excitement around that part of it. You get so focused this time of year on your process and what you need to do to get your team ready to play, it kind of takes your mind off any emotional aspects of the game.”
Both Ross and Golson admit there may be certain advantages they can take from knowing each other and their offenses well. Behind TCU commit Trent Battle, the Trojans are averaging 36 points a game and have scored at least 40 five times. Prattville is averaging 24 points a game and is coming off two of their better outings – a 31-14 win over Jeff Davis and a 36-14 win over Bob Jones.
“There are a lot of similarities in our offenses but to be fair, our quarterback is a good athlete but not a running quarterback,” Ross said. “So really what we do is a little bit different. The years we had at McGill, Zach and I were both involved -- and everyone was involved -- in putting that offense together. No doubt I’ve been an asset to our defense in some ways (in preparing this week), but there are a lot of things Daphne does and Zach does now that we don’t do. It really works both ways. I’m sure Zach has been with their defense and kind of said, ‘Hey, here is what they are probably trying to do here.’ But every coach evolves and adds different wrinkles every year.”
While Golson agreed there could be an advantage in knowing how the other coach thinks and his tendencies, he too said it is probably balanced out in a game like this.
“There is an advantage of me knowing him, but on the flip side the same goes for him,” he said. “More than anything, I think understanding each other’s personality or temperament in certain situations could be important.”
Daphne head coach Kenny King said it is easy to notice the offensive similarities between the two teams.
“Their offense looks like us,” he said. “You can see the foundation of our offense is the foundation of their offense. There are some different twists for sure, but the base is the same.”
How much can it help his team to have Golson giving tips to defensive coordinator Atlas Herrion?
“I’m sure Zach can tell Atlas a few things that coach Ross is trying to do, and I’m sure coach Ross is telling their DC the same thing, but they are still different,” he said. “I think the thing that may be interesting is knowing how the other person things and what his go-to stuff might be. But it works both ways. I think it’s a wash really. The team that plays the best will win."
Golson credits Ross for a huge jump in his coaching career, going from the head coach at AISA Hooper Academy to offensive coordinator at then-Class 7A McGill-Toolen.
“It was a big deal in getting me to where I am today,” Golson said. “I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Friday’s game will feature multiple elite players for each team, but the two that will draw the most attention are Battle for Daphne and Alabama linebacker commit Ian Jackson for Prattville.
Battle is no doubt the key to Daphne’s explosive offense. He has thrown for 1,387 yards and 18 TDs this season and also is one of three 500-yard rushers for the Trojans, joining Tyler Bradley and Veontai Williams.
“He is a dynamic football player,” Ross said of Battle. “They have playmakers at about every spot on offense, but it starts with him. He’s a guy who can beat you with his arm and he can beat you with his legs. He scares you because you can cover him, and you can play it right and you still might not tackle him. We’ve got to limit No. 8. I know that sounds generic, but we can’t let him throw shots on us all night.”
The Prattville defense is allowing 16 points a game. Jackson is the leader with 76 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks.
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“He’s a great football player,” Golson said. “Alabama doesn’t sign many guys that aren’t great players. I think the strength of their team is their defense and particularly their box, the linebackers and defensive line. They play a lot of guys. They are physical and fast. I have a lot of respect for all those guys.”
This is the fourth meeting between Prattville and Daphne – all have come in the playoffs. Prattville won the last meeting 13-3 in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs in 2011. The Lions went on to beat Hoover in the state title game a few weeks later.
The Daphne vs. Prattville winner advances to play either Auburn or Baker in the second round next week.