The state of Alabama has a history of producing athletes that put it on par with any state in the Union. With 10 baseball Hall-of-Famer’s, 7 baseball Hall-of-Famer’s, 3 basketball Hall-of-Famer’s, 3 boxing world heavyweight champions, and a litany of other decorated athletes, our great state is a factory of greatness. Throughout the next few weeks, I thought it’d be fun to take a deep dive into the best athletes from each county, from Autauga to Winston, one through sixty-seven.
Because we love all of our counties, we’ll go through them individually. Today, we kick things off with Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, and Blount counties.
County Seat - Prattville
Best Athlete - Roman Harper
There weren’t a ton of options here, but being an All-Pro safety and playing over a decade in the NFL get you pretty good consideration.
Though never a physical specimen, Roman Harper was always one of the best players on the football field. A quarterback at Prattville High School, Harper became a three year starter at safety at Alabama, totaling over 300 career tackles. He went on to play 11 years in the NFL (nine with the Saints), and was an All-Pro safety twice (2009, 2010). In 2010, he helped lead the Saints to a win in Super Bowl XLIV.
Honorable Mention - OJ Howard
County Seat - Bay Minette
Best Athlete - Julio Jones
Julio Jones is by all accounts the best wide receiver of the last decade in the NFL, with Larry Fitzgerald the only other possible choice. The Foley, AL native is 25th in all-time receiving yards just nine seasons into his career, and in all likelihood he will reach 3rd on the list in the next four years.
Jones was one of Nick Saban’s first big fish at Alabama, and was the catalyst to the 2009 BCS National Championship team. The Atlanta Falcons notoriously traded up for him in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he’s made the rest of the league pay ever since, as a seven time Pro Bowler. His 96.2 yards per game is the highest in NFL history.
Jones also helped the Atlanta Falcons win Super Bowl XI with this superb sideline catch late in the 4th quarter.
Honorable Mention - Ken Stabler (NFL Hall of Fame)
I promised myself I wouldn’t get into details on the Honorable Mention list, so I’ll just direct you to our dearly departed (uh... furloughed) Spencer Hall’s thoughts on Snake.
County Seat - Clayton
Best Athlete - Don Sutton
Don Sutton is a treasure. To most people reading this website, he was one of the THE voices you associated with baseball, as he worked with TBS to cover the Atlanta Braves from 1989-2006, and with the Braves Radio Network since 2009.
But Sutton is more than just a friend over the airwaves on a hot summer night in Braves Country. Born to sharecroppers in Clio, Alabama, Sutton took the hard route to the big leagues, attending Gulf Coast CC and then Whittier College in California. The Dodgers took interest in the young right hander, though, and so began Sutton’s 23 year MLB career. By the end of it all, Sutton had recorded over 300 wins, 3,500 strikeouts, and four All-Star Game appearances. Sutton’s #20 is retired by the Dodgers, and he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Honorable Mention - N/A
County Seat - Centreville
Best Athlete - Zac Stacy
This was a tough one, as there isn’t any standout obvious choices from Bibb County. My options came down to a pair of SEC standouts, but the one who got a cup of coffee in the pros took the cake.
Zac Stacy was an under-sized, under-scouted, and all around under-the-radar running back from Bibb County High School who only received offers from two FBS programs - UAB and Vanderbilt. At 5’9” with average speed for a running back, he was barely a 3* recruit. But when he earned the starting job in Nashville in 2011, he helped legitimize a Vanderbilt offense that was starting to become a real force under James Franklin. Stacy was just the fourth Commodore to ever rush for 1,000 yards, and he was the first to ever do it twice (2011, 2012).
Stacy was drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. He had a productive rookie year with 7 touchdowns, but was immediately upstaged by Tre Mason and Todd Gurley in subsequent drafts by the Rams.
Honorable Mention - Danjel Purifoy
County Seat - Oneonta
Best Athlete - Bryan Kirkland
A lot of you may not be familiar with Kirkland, but he has plenty of accomplishments to his name.
Born in Oneonta, he was a US Paralympian from 2000-2008, where he was a part of the wheelchair rugby team in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing. The team won gold in 2000 and 2008, and bronze in 2004. Kirkland captained the squad from 2006-2008.
Kirkland also was an individual competitor in the World Wheelchair Games in 1998, where he won gold and set a world record in the 200m.
Honorable Mention - Joe Gibbs (founder of Golf Network)