Editor's note: With four coverage-area teams playing in the Super 7 this week in Auburn, this is the first in a series of Joe Medley pieces that highlight special players from Clay Central, Jacksonville, Oxford and Piedmont who will represent the 256 area code on the state’s biggest stage. Today: Jacksonville’s Rontarius Wiggins. Click here to read about other Golden Eagles to watch.
JACKSONVILLE — Much like Rontarius Wiggins can see holes developing through the padded human chaos around him, his coach could see him coming two years ago.
Jacksonville’s Clint Smith knew Wiggins, then a sophomore running back, was special. Wiggins just needed time to grow physically before toting the load of a varsity primary ball carrier.
But Smith warned all who listened that he had a running back special in the most underrated way for running backs … field vision.
More than 5,000 yards over nearly two complete seasons later, count Wiggins a huge reason Jacksonville will make school history with its first state football championship game appearance. The Golden Eagles will play UMS Wright in the 4A title game Friday at 11 a.m. in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, giving the Golden Eagles and Wiggins their moment on the state’s biggest stage for high school football.
His and Jacksonville’s big chance come amid a rush of teams from the 256 area code. Six will play in state championship games. Besides Jacksonville, three more will represent The Star’s coverage area … Oxford in 6A, Clay Central in 5A and Piedmont in 3A.
Calhoun County’s three-team representation in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s championship round for football marks the most ever.
The big stage means big exposure for all involved, and Wiggins comes with buildup. The Alabama Sports Writers Association voted him first-team all-state in 2018. He received his Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game jersey Monday in a ceremony at school, and AL.com lists him among three Mr. Football hopefuls set to play in the Super 7.
The state’s largest multimedia company lists Wiggins along with Lanett quarterback Kristian Story and Spanish Fort athlete Kris Abrams-Draine as legitimate candidates for the state’s top award who have this final chance to make their case.
Story, an Alabama commit, made big headlines earlier this season by breaking career records set by Pinson Valley’s Bo Nix, the reigning Mr. Football.
Abrams-Draine, an Ole Miss commit, has powered a team unranked in the season’s final ASWA poll to the finals with gaudy numbers in the past three playoff rounds. As a quarterback, defensive back and kick returner, he rolled up 295 yards and three touchdowns in the semifinals, against Opelika.
Wiggins, not yet committed, deserves his place in this conversation, piling up 200-yard games en route to 2,656 with 46 touchdowns this season.
At 6-foot-0, 170 pounds, he got his first college offer, from FCS member Jacksonville State, while on his way to a 2,000-yard season as a junior. FBS “Group of Five” programs Arkansas State, Southern Mississippi, Troy and UAB have offered him, as well. The big stage, against an opponent looking to win its ninth state title and third in a row, offers Wiggins the chance to up his stock.
Eyeballs upon him will confirm what anyone who has watched Wiggins from the sideline can see … waiting for holes, accelerating through them, well-timed moves and snaking through traffic like a kid running late for class.
They’ll also see a newer feature to his game this season, something that came with two years of strengthening and belies his size. He’ll lower the shoulder an initiate contact to create openings.
Balance it all with a 1,600-yard passer in quarterback Luke Jackson and scary receiving threat in Jaeden Barksdale, and Wiggins becomes a nightmare to defend.
If Jacksonville pauses UMS Wright’s run of titles, Wiggins stands to be seen as a big reason why. He’s already a major reason why a program that never passed the second round before this season finds itself on the state’s biggest stage.