SEC coaches high on county talent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Hundreds of media outlets from throughout the south descended on

the Wynfrey Hotel at the Riverchase Galleria for the SEC’s annual football media days last week.

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer stole the spotlight by refusing to show after attorney Tommy Gallion, who is representing former University of Alabama coaches Ivy Williams and Ronnie Cottrell, threatened to subpoena the coach. However, most in attendance seemed more concerned with the upcoming season than with the legal wrangling.

SEC coaches were on hand to talk about their players, including several

former high school football standouts from Shelby County.

Bell Ringing on Plains

On day one of media days, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville seemed upbeat about the 2004 season, even after last season’s failed coup de tat against the coach.

The Tigers, who lost five of their front seven starters on defense, will look to some of the younger, incoming players to make an impact early.

&uot;We are going to have to have some growing pains, and we’ll have to change our philosophy some,&uot; Tuberville said. &uot;Our defense is going to have to grow up as we go.&uot;

Tuberville also said his incoming freshman class should help alleviate some of the holes he has on defense.

&uot;We signed some real good, fast players like Tony Bell,&uot; Tuberville said.

&uot;We will have an opportunity to look at some of our younger guys, especially in our defensive backfield,&uot; he said.

Bell, who missed five games during his senior year at Thompson High School, recorded 60 tackles, eight for loss and four sacks during his senior year. In his junior year, Bell recorded 97 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions.

After his senior year, Bell was ranked as the eighth-best safety in the nation by and one of the top three safeties in the nation by Bell also averaged 15 points and seven rebounds as a high school basketball player.

One of Bell’s biggest attributes, his speed, is something Tuberville said is always a key to having a great defense.

&uot;I’m all about speed, and speed is what wins for you on defense,&uot; Tuberville said.

Bama’s Brother Act

Last year at media days, Alabama head coach Mike Shula had to worry more about remembering his player’s names than he did anything else. Why? Because last year, Shula had only been on the job a few weeks when he appeared at media days.

This year, Shula knows his players and his coaches and is more worried about getting Alabama back into the limelight of years past, now that the Crimson Tide is bowl eligible again.

Among those players Shula hopes to help carry his Tide back into prominence are brothers Tim and Simeon Castille.

The Castilles, who both graduated from Briarwood Christian, join the lineage of Castilles playing for the Crimson Tide, as their father, Jeremiah, did for Bear Bryant in the early ’80s.

Tim, a true sophomore, played in all 12 games for the Tide last year, rushing for 33 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns. Tim also caught 21 passes for 129 yards.

This year, Shula expects the tailback to be more of a running back corps by committee. Shula said Tim will be the starting fullback, but he will also see time at tailback.

&uot;Tim was our starting fullback last year and did an outstanding job,&uot; Shula said.

When Tim is at tailback, sophomore Le’Ron McClain will play fullback.

Shula said Tim’s size will help the Tide’s running attack.

&uot;The No.1 thing is (Tim) is a football player,&uot; Shula said. &uot;Every time he is on the field, he makes plays.&uot;

Simeon, who enters this season as a true freshman, had more than 100 tackles for the Lions last year, to compliment his nine interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Shula knows players like Simeon can come in and make an impact early.

&uot;There could be in double-digits the amount of freshman players on the field,&uot; Shula said.

While Simeon is not guaranteed playing time as a freshman, Shula hopes those freshman who do get a chance to play will be able to step in like Tim did last year.

&uot;(Tim’s) a guy that is valuable for us and can handle it,&uot; Shula said.

Oxford’s Lilly, Flowers Blooming

Day two of media days was a historic and informative day marked with the introduction of the SEC’s first black head coach, Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, the 2003 Eastern Division champion Georgia Bulldogs’ Mark Richt and Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe.

Cutcliffe, who served as an assistant coach at Tennessee from 1982-98 and as offensive coordinator from 1993-98, gave the meeting’s most interesting comment on the his former boss’ decision not to attend.

&uot;(Fulmer) had 10,000 reasons to come, so he must have had one pretty good one not to,&uot; Cutcliffe said.

Fulmer was fined $10,000 by league commissioner Mike Slive for failing to attend media days.

Beyond his joke about Fulmer, Cutcliffe gave many reasons why he believes he can once again lead his Ole Miss Rebels to a Western Division championship, just as he did with his 2003 Western Division co-champions.

&uot;Our receiving corps could be outstanding,&uot; Cutcliffe said. &uot;We need them to be outstanding.&uot;

Among those outstanding wide receivers is Pelham High School graduate Bill Flowers. Flowers, a third-team All-SEC coaches preseason pick, had 39 receptions for 543 yards and one touchdown during the 2003 season.

Even though Flowers has seen his amount of touchdowns dwindle from the four he scored in 2001, Cutcliffe acknowledged he will be a driving force in the new Manning-less offense.

&uot;Bill Flowers has a way of stepping in and making big plays,&uot; Cutcliffe said. &uot;Those guys at skill positions, like Bill Flowers … they will make an impact.&uot;

Along with Flowers, Cutcliffe said he expects another Shelby County native to make an impact.

Lawrence Lilly, a 2002 Montevallo High School graduate, will look to

have a breakout year in 2004. Although Lilly is listed as the third-string tight end, he is the biggest of the three tight ends.

&uot;Lawrence Lilly is a big 6’5, 275-pound tight end and he had a good spring,&uot; Cutcliffe said.

Last year, Lilly had five receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns, while playing in all 13 games. Cutcliffe said he expects even more from the big sophomore this year.

&uot;I look for Lilly to do some outstanding and special things,&uot; Cutcliffe said.

The 2004 SEC football season kicks off Sept. 4 with 10 of the 12 member schools playing. Kentucky and Tennessee both play out-of-conference games Sept. 5