PREP NOTEBOOK: Smelley back home, coaching at ACA


Just four years ago, Chris Smelley was a quarterback at the University of South Carolina. Now he’s back home, coaching and teaching at American Christian Academy, his alma mater. (Photo by File photo)


Chris Smelley knows some dreams come true and some don’t.

Smelley, 26, is happy to be back at American Christian Academy, where his athletic career flourished. An All-State selection in football and baseball, Smelley was part of two SEC programs. He signed with South Carolina as a senior in 2006 and played quarterback for Steve Spurrier. Smelley transferred to Alabama for the spring semester in 2009 and finished his athletic career as a Crimson Tide baseball player in 2010. He earned a degree in finance and is working on a master’s in education.

Smelley, a history teacher, is the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator on head coach John Causey’s staff.

"I realized my heart was with football and with high school kids and the impact and the ways that you can affect them in a positive way for the rest of their life," Smelley said. "I feel like the place where I am right now is where my ministry’s supposed to be, I guess you could say. It wouldn’t be bad to be sitting there making a lot of money playing for an NFL team, but at the same time I feel like I’m in a great place and excited about where I am. I’m excited about what God has in store for me moving forward."

Playing for head coach Stephen Hooks, Smelley set AHSAA records for touchdown passes in a career (134), in a season (59) and most passing yards in a game (565). His father, Bart, coached the ACA baseball team, and the Patriots won three straight Class 1A championships in 2004-2006.

"I really feel like one of the reasons I’m coaching right now is because of the coaches I had when I was at ACA," Smelley said. "Coach Hooks made it fun, but he also made you realize there’s a lot more to being a high school student than just football.

"It was the same thing playing baseball for my dad. It’s never an approach where winning’s everything. If winning becomes the only thing you obsess about, you’re going to be missing out on a lot."

Austin Mohlenbrok, a junior, is a first-year starter as ACA’s quarterback. Mohlenbrok missed spring practice because of a shoulder problem, so Smelley coached eighth-graders Kade Young and Caleb Squires. Causey said he noticed in fall camp that the two were more mature and more developed as quarterbacks.

"Chris did a lot for this school," Causey said. "He put this school on the map. He was a seventh- or eighth-grade starting quarterback, so he’s seen ACA from that point to what it is now.

"When you have a chance to have Chris Smelley and the character and the things he stands for through his faith and through his knowledge of the game, man, you’re getting a bonus there. He’s the type guy that understands football. He’s been around it at a high level, so the knowledge is there. But the quality and the character that he has are second to none."

TA hosting playoff match

The Tuscaloosa Academy volleyball team, under the direction of first-year coach Anita Walker, will host Autauga Academy in an AISA Class AAA playoff match. Walker said the start time is tentatively set for 4:30 p.m. Monday. The winner will move on to a second-round tournament Tuesday at Morgan Academy in Selma. The top two teams will advance to the AISA Tournament in Montgomery.

Walker’s team posted a 12-5 record, including two victories over Autauga Academy.

"We could beat them five times in a row, and the next time I would still be worried," Walker said. "We barely got by them the last time we played them. It’s going to come down to whoever wants the game more. I hope it’s going to be us."

Walker had retired after coaching for more than 20 years in AHSAA schools. Her Brookwood Middle School teams compiled a 79-3 record and won four straight Tuscaloosa City/County championships.

"They called me a couple of times, but I didn’t know what I was getting into," Walker said. "They wanted a good program. They just needed somebody to stay and establish one. I’ve had great support from the administration. All the parents and faculty have been great.

"I came in at the end of July. I believe that you play like you practice. I just had to get them to understand that it takes hard work to get anything done."

Chassiti Kimbrell, a middle hitter, and Celia Gatewood, a setter, are Tuscaloosa Academy’s only seniors. Other team members are Leslie Andress, junior libero; Kaci Cochran and Shelby Curry, sophomore outside hitters; Rachael Fincher, sophomore middle hitter; Brittany Ledbetter, sophomore setter; and Brianna Coker, a junior back-row player. Walker’s assistant coach is Rachel Roberts.

Cooper picked for All-Star game

Jess Cooper, a senior offensive lineman at Tuscaloosa County, has been picked to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Game. The 26th annual game will be Dec. 15 in Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl.

Lee Gibson, TCHS head coach, said Cooper (6-3, 295) has been attracting interest from several colleges, including West Alabama and Mississippi State. Cooper starts at left tackle for the Wildcats.

"He played some as a sophomore, but this is his second year to start," Gibson said. "He does a good job in pass protection, and he’s a physical run blocker.

"This is huge for him. He’s real excited about it."

John Michael Boswell, a former All-State lineman at TCHS, is helping coach the Wildcats’ offensive linemen. Boswell went to the University of Alabama, where he was part of two national championship teams.

Gibson said Boswell was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi game as a senior.

"It’s kind of neat having a guy who made it himself help coach a kid who’s made it now," Gibson said.

University of Alabama commitments picked for the game include defensive back/athlete ArDarius Stewart of Fultondale; defensive lineman Darius Paige of Foley; and offensive lineman Grant Hill of Huntsville.

John Essex coach resigns

Jerome Antone has resigned as head football coach at John Essex. Smith said he will continue to teach physical education at the school, but he will also give up his duties as head coach of the girls basketball team and as director of athletics.

Antone was recently elected mayor of Georgiana, but he said that had nothing to do with his decision.

"I didn’t abandon the job because of becoming the mayor," Antone said. "That’s a part-time position. I was going to finish my contract."

Smith resigned because of what he said was a "lack of support and lack of communication in certain areas of the athletic program."

Antone coached All-State players A.J. Bennett (receiver) and Terry Fountain (defensive back) during his two-plus seasons at John Essex.

Principal Tiffany Davis said Brad Daniels, the offensive coordinator, will step in as interim head football coach.

John Essex (2-4, 1-3) plays at A.L. Johnson on Friday in a Class 1A, Region 1 game.

Scarbrough’s status still uncertain

Junior Bo Scarbrough, Northridge’s leading rusher, was held out of last week’s 19-0 loss to Tuscaloosa County.

Northridge coach Mike Smith said Scarbrough is "in the process of getting back on the field."

The Jaguars (3-3, 2-2) play at home Friday, facing Hueytown in a Class 6A, Region 5 game.