I wrote in a recent post about my fond memories of covering high school football in the Birmingham area, especially following the W.A. Berry High School Bucs of the late coach Bob Finley. Berry was the forerunner of Hoover High School, which has been heavily in the news recently due to alleged wrongdoing centered around football coach Rush Propst.
I wrote that Coach Finley's Berry teams usually were very good, although they produced only a handful of players who went on to play major-college football. At the time, I had a feeling I was forgetting some big-time athletes who had grown up in Hoover and played at either Berry or Hoover High.
And indeed, several others have come to mind. The first one I realized I had forgotten was Kurt Crain. Crain was a standout in both football and baseball at Berry (and I think he might have played basketball, too.) He went on to star as a linebacker at Auburn University and was drafted by the old Houston Oilers of the National Football League. I'm a little foggy about Crain's pro career, but I think he spent 2-3 years in the league.
I covered Auburn during Crain's time there, and I remember him as one of the smartest, toughest players on the field. Off the field, he was a nice guy and a great interview. All the sportswriters loved Crain. Just ask him one or two questions and sit back and let him fill up your notebook. And he didn't just babble. It was always thoughtful, insightful stuff.
Probably the former Hoover standout who has gone on to the most athletic success is Jeff Brantley. I don't remember much about Brantley as a football player. I think he was a quarterback, and I seem to recall that he shared the position with another kid--with Brantley being the thrower, and the other guy the runner. And Brantley definitely could throw. He went on to play baseball at SEC powerhouse Mississippi State and then went on to the pros, where he played 14 years and became one of the top relief pitchers in the major leagues. He now is a baseball analyst for ESPN.
Brantley, however, is not the most famous former athlete from Hoover. That title probably would have to go to Birmingham's own American Idol, Taylor Hicks. A 1995 graduate of Hoover High School, Hicks was a pretty fair basketball player during his prep days. But he has become much better known for his musical chops, gray hair, and "Soul Patrol" following.
Taylor Hicks has become quite a popular fellow in the Legal Schnauzer household. My wife is one of many "girlyfans" who flocked to the Gray Charles blog to catch up on the latest. (For some reason, Gray Charles is no more. Don't know what happened to it.) The wife and I were fortunate enough to catch one of Taylor's two soldout shows at the Alabama Theater on his first nationwide tour.
Excuse me for sounding like a wannabe writer for Rolling Stone, but I think the Taylor Hicks debut album is underappreciated by the public. It sold quite well, reaching platinum status (1 million units), I think. But neither of the two singles he released have caught fire. And that's too bad because I think the album is full of good stuff, including four songs that Hicks wrote or co-wrote. It bugs my wife that Chris Daughtry's debut record has produced 2-3 hit singles because she thinks (and I agree) that Taylor's album, overall, is stronger. And the fact we are from Birmingham makes us very objective observers, I'm sure.
The great thing about having a blog is that you can spout off about anything, even stuff you know very little about. So here's what I think Taylor's handlers need to do: Release another single and make it "Soul Thing." It's a somewhat autobiographical tune, the most "Taylor" song on the album. And it's been nicely funked up from the original version on his independent album. Follow that up with "The Right Place," another great "Taylor" song, one that originally was written for his musical hero, Ray Charles. And follow that with "Give Me Tonight," a catchy, infectious number that I thought was a sure hit the first time I heard it. The two singles released so far are good tunes, but they weren't the right ones to help the album catch fire.
Enough of being a rock impresario. But it was fun while it lasted.