Published 7:42 am Sunday, January 13, 2013

Versatility is an amazing virtue to have when it comes to football.

Any player who can adapt quickly to multiple positions and schemes on the field is already a step ahead of the average player. When a player can adapt to multiple positions on both offense and defense, it makes them extremely difficult to plan against.

Just ask any team that lined up against Chilton County’s Austin Rossi this year. Rossi was a starter on both sides of the ball for the Tigers, playing linebacker on defense and tight end and occasionally running back on offense.

Best of the best: Chilton County’s Austin Rossi was named the Advertiser’s player of the year after a senior season in which he contributed to his team’s success in a number of ways.

His performance all season long on both offense and defense has led to his being named The Clanton Advertiser’s 2012 Football Player of the Year.

Playing both ways isn’t easy, and Rossi moved around several positions before settling in at middle linebacker and eventually tight end as well. He said trust in his teammates and his coaches are what helped him maintain perspective while finding his niche.

“You have to be committed to what you want to do,” he said. “You have to trust those beside you and your coaches.”

It wasn’t an easy road, either. He started out at wide receiver his freshman year. By his admission, it wasn’t a good fit.

“You can ask my senior [group],” he said. “I wasn’t good. I couldn’t catch a cold naked in Alaska.”

So with his sophomore year came a move to the weak side, or “Will” linebacker position, where he netted 25 total tackles and a fumble recovery.

It wasn’t until Donnie Hand took over the Tigers in 2011 that Rossi’s role on the team began to take concrete form, with a move to middle linebacker. He also reprised his role as an offensive option.

“Coach Hand came in and put in the new offense, and he wanted me to play tight end,” he said. “That’s when I started playing both ways.”

Hand said Rossi’s willingness to do whatever it took to help the team made him into a leader coming into the 2012 season.

“He’s just a good kid and has a good work ethic,” he said. “Last year and this year he’s the only player that actually started both ways. He never complained. We tried to rest him some, [but usually] he’d get a swig of water and be right back out there.”

The 2012 season saw the Tigers post a 9-1 regular season record, hosting their first playoff game since 1996. Along the way, Rossi racked up 147 tackles and two sacks on defense and 330 receiving yards with five touchdowns on 18 receptions.

“He had a big leader role as a junior,” said Hand. “As a senior, he had a much bigger role. He’s one who led by example, in the weight room, watching film. He did everything he was supposed to do.”

An example of his leadership was on display after breaking his arm against Sylacauga on Oct. 5. Rossi never missed a beat, playing the second half of the game and season in a cast.

There was one game in particular, however, that cemented Rossi’s place in CCHS lore: a first-round playoff game at home against Saraland. The Tigers trailed for most of the game, but came back to send the game into overtime.

From there, Rossi stole the show.

In the first overtime, he took a misdirection play to the end zone to put the Tigers ahead. In the second overtime, he made a leaping block of an extra point to keep them alive. In the third overtime, Rossi caught the game-winning pass not once, but twice.

After hauling in the first pass from Chance Britnell, the Tigers were whistled for holding, the touchdown taken off the board, and then they were forced to back up 10 yards. It was quite a task to make the catch the first time with the cast on, but both Rossi and Hand were up for trying it again.