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Next Mr. Football in Pike?

Jerel Foster rarely thinks about himself and he did not break character when he was named one of 42 finalists for the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Mr. Football award for the second consecutive season.

“It feels great to have been named a finalist,” Foster said. “It was overwhelming last year when we had an OK performance, but we put on a great performance and won the state title this year. Hopefully we can get (the Mr. Football award) too.”

The Pike Liberal Arts School senior rushed for 2,407 yards and 27 touchdowns while leading his team to the AISA Class AAA state championship. Foster said winning the prestigious award would be great.

“It would be such an honor to win the award and I would be the second in my family to do it,” he said. “The first was my cousin Chris Nickson.”

Nickson won in 2003 following the Pike County Bulldogs first of three state championships in four seasons.

“It would be an awesome thing to follow in his footsteps,” Foster said.

The nomination for Mr. Football also carries a nomination for AISA Back of the Year. He is competing against Brett Bradford from Clarke Prep and Garrett Pinciotti from Bessemer Academy.

“Winning back of the year would be just as good because there were a lot of guys up for that and receiving any award from the ASWA would be quite an honor,” Foster said.

Foster may not talk about himself, but PLAS head coach Steven Kilcrease is confident in one thing.

“Jerel is no question, I think, the best back in the AISA,” Kilcrease said. “I haven’t seen one better this year. He has been a joy to coach. If you get in a jam and you need a couple of yards you know you can give it to Jerel and he will get those yards for you.”

Foster’s fellow senior teammate, Douglas Hawkins, would have to agree.

“I am so happy for Jerel,” Hawkins said. “He has been a lot more focused this year and he has played a lot harder this year which is saying a lot because he ran hard last year. He is just incredibly athletic and has amazing ability for how small he is. He plays like he is 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and he is so strong and fast.”

Hawkins said the best thing about Foster is his selflessness.

“He is not a selfish player at all and that is what you want in a teammate,” Hawkins said. “Don’t get me wrong, he wants the ball, but that is just because he is a competitive ball player. But he is just as happy if his teammates get the ball and score.”

One of those teammates is the bruising fullback who spends most of his time paving the road in front of Foster. Justin McLaughlin is proud for his teammate.

“I really hope he wins because he was up for it last year and I know it would mean a lot to him to get it this year,” McLaughlin said. “It would mean a lot to have someone I know and blocked for win Mr. Football. I know they can’t find anyone who ran the ball any harder than Jerel.”

The head coach would have to agree with his fullback on that point.

“He is small and people see him and don’t think about how strong he is,” Kilcrease said. “A lot of his yards are yards after contact. He runs through tackles and you can’t arm tackle him. And his vision on the field is amazing.”

Kilcrease said another amazing thing about Foster was that teams knew he was the Patriots’ main weapon on offense.

“Everybody knew he was the central focus of our offense,” Kilcrease said. “And he still averaged around 200 yards a game. That is just outstanding. It is one thing to sneak up on somebody like he did last year, but he didn’t sneak up on anybody this year. They all knew they had to stop him and he still got his yards. But it was a team thing. I think our line was better this year and Justin was awesome at fullback for us.”

The Mr. Football award is judged on more than football talent and Kilcrease said Foster has those intangibles that make him well liked around the school.

“He is a fantastic back, but like I have said many times, as good as he is in football he is a better person,” Kilcrease said. “He is a great kid and he is just a joy to be around.”