Former area players set sights on title

Published 11:32 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Three former area football players will look to help lead Jacksonville State University to the program’s first Football Championship Subdivision national title.

The Gamecocks will play four-time defending champion North Dakota State in the FCS Championship Game beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Spencer Watley and David Neece attended Chilton County High School, while Anthony Johnson graduated from Maplesville.

All three players are in their third season on the team. Johnson is a junior while Watley and Neece are redshirt sophomores.

Throughout the season, the Gamecocks have received a consistent heavy dose of offensive output. Jacksonville State has averaged 39.4 points per game and has outscored opponents by and average of 20 points per game.

“Offensive line play is basically the backbone of the offense,” former Chilton County head coach Brian Carter said. “The position gets overlooked a lot, but they definitely have probably the most important role. [Watley and Neece] can really become great examples for future players.”

That was the scenario yet again, as the Gamecocks routed Sam Houston State 62-10 in an FCS Semifinal that took place at Burgess-Snow Field in Jacksonville on Dec. 19.

Jacksonville State reached the title game for the first time since the program joined the FCS level in 2003. The Gamecocks look to add more history by capturing its first national crown.

Anthony Johnson has contributed within the high-flying offense. He has caught 17 passes for 143 yards on the season.

“He’ll come back over the summer and get in the weight room when he’s out of school,” Maplesville head coach Brent Hubbert said. “We stay in touch, and Facebook helps with that. I just talked to him the other night and wished him luck in the game.”

Neece and Watley provide Jacksonville State with depth along the offensive line. The two have continued to be teammates during both their high school and college careers.

“Both of those guys started their varsity careers pretty young at that level of football,” Carter said. “They both worked really hard, and it doesn’t surprise me that those guys helped lead their team to a national championship game.”

The Gamecocks enter the game ranked No. 1 in FCS with an overall record of 12-1, with the lone defeat coming on the road in the second game of the season against the Auburn Tigers of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Jacksonville State lost 27-20 in overtime, as the Gamecocks fell just shy of a memorable upset and the possibility of an undefeated record.

Over the final four weeks of the regular season, Jacksonville State was voted as the top team in the nation. As a result, the Gamecocks were awarded the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

North Dakota State has won four consecutive national titles and is riding a 19-game win streak in postseason play. The Bison have been established as a dynasty over the past several years.

Their success at the next level is something that can be shared among the current and future players, as it provides realistic expectations of what can be achieved beyond the high school gridiron.

“[Anthony Johnson’s] a guy that comes by on a regular basis, and that’s what you want to see from guys once they have that success,” Hubbert said. “For the kids to see all that he’s accomplished and on track academically is the biggest plus.”