Thirty-six years ago, Larry Simmons became the lone member of an exclusive club. That’s when his Thompson High School team beat Oxford High 14-11 for the 1982 Class 3A state football championship.
That made Simmons, who went on to become principal of the school before retiring, the only Warriors coach to win a state title.
Did the Hall of Famer think he would never have any company in that club?
“Well,” he said, “you never give up hope.”
Tonight at 7 on the Plains of Auburn University, the ranks of state championship Thompson football coaches could double to two. That’s when Mark Freeman leads his Warriors against Central-Phenix City in a bid for a Class 7A state championship.
That game is the first of seven football crowns that will be earned during the three-day Super Seven event at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It’s a culmination of a long, long season,” Freeman said. “We’ve been going over 20 weeks now. All the offseason (workouts) at 6 in the morning, four days a week. I’m excited, they’re excited. But at the same time, we’ve been to a lot of big games the last seven weeks. It’s just the next big game on our schedule.
“And we’re looking forward to it.”
All of Thompson High School turned out Tuesday for the Warrior Walk as football players filed out of the back of the building to the waiting buses that would take them to Auburn.
The weather was cold, but the hearts of students, alumni and fans were warmed by the prospect that their young Alabaster City School System could soon have another point of pride.
This is a far cry from the Thompson team that immediately preceded Freeman’s arrival. That squad went 0-10 to conclude a decade during which the Warriors averaged 2.4 wins and 7.6 losses.
Thompson frequently changed its head football coach in that span.
“It’s hard to build anytime when that’s happening,” Simmons said. “You just change and nobody puts down any roots.”
Unlike Simmons, who has lived in Alabaster the past 50 years.
“I just never really wanted to leave,” said the former coach, for whom the old football stadium was named. “I hope that’s the situation with Mark Freeman. He’s brought stability to this program.
“They’re fun to watch play,” Simmons continued. “The kids have bought into what he’s doing. He’s been here four years now and here they are in a state championship game.”
Freeman said the story of this season has already been written. It awaits only the final chapter.
“I told the players today that they write that chapter,” the coach said. “I don’t write it. The sports writers don’t write it. Their mamas and daddies don’t write it. The final ending to this journey is going to be written by them.
“They’re ready,” Freeman added. “We know we’re playing a good, good, good football team where the average score is 41 to 7 in their games this year. And they’re undefeated. We know what the challenge is. There again, our kids have been through a lot of really tough ballgames. I just think that’s going to pay off for us.”
Simmons has been stuck at home the past 18 days, the result of a fall in his garage that left his quadricep muscle pulled loose from his kneecap. He has a six-month recovery ahead of him.
“But believe it or not, I’m gonna try to” attend the championship game, he said. “I’ve got a friend who’s got a van. He’s going to carry me. I’m going to that game Wednesday night if I feel like it. I think I’m going to be fine.”
AHSAA Super 7 Championships
At Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
(Home team listed second)
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5
Vestavia Hills vs. Baldwin County, 3:30 p.m.
Central-Phenix City (13-0) vs. Thompson (12-1), 7 p.m.
THURSDAY, DEC. 6
Piedmont (12-2) vs. Flomaton (11-3), 11 a.m.
Linden (13-0) vs. Mars Hill Bible (13-1), 3 p.m.
Vigor (13-1) vs. Central-Clay County (11-3), 7 p.m.
FRIDAY, DEC. 7
UMS-Wright (13-0) vs. Deshler (9-5), 11 a.m.
Fyffe (14-0) vs. Luverne (13-1), 3 p.m.
Pinson Valley (12-1) vs. Saraland (13-1), 7 p.m.