Shamari Simmons had heard all of the legends of high school football in Clay County. It’s kind of hard to escape it, when your dad is Stanford Simmons.
Father told son plenty about what it’s like to play for Danny Horn, as well.
Shamari is discovering what it’s like when all of that comes together again.
“Everybody in Ashland and Lineville and Millerville and Delta is just coming together, cheering us on,” the senior wide receiver/defensive back said. “It was really separate at one point in time. Now that they know we’ve got a shot at this, everybody wants to come and cheer us on.”
Father and son now share more in common than playing for the same coach. As of tonight, they can both say they played in a state-championship game.
In Horn’s first season back in Clay County after a nine-year stay at Benjamin Russell, and Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame coach has led Clay Central to the big game. The Vols (11-3) will play Vigor (13-1) for the Class 5A title at 7 p.m. in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Super 7 appearance marks Clay Central’s deepest playoff run since the school formed from the merger of bitter rivals Clay County and Lineville in 2012.
Horn led Clay County to six state titles, three during a record 55-game winning streak from 1994-97.
Clay Central reached the 2013 quarterfinals under then-coach Kris Herron, a long-time Horn assistant who took over the Clay County program upon Horn’s departure and became Clay Central’s head coach in time for the school’s second season.
Herron retired from coaching after last season, and Horn came back. Horn admits surprise that Clay Central got this far in his first year back in Clay County.
“It feels like old times,” he said with a laugh. “It’s good. Honestly, I’m really surprised where we’re at, but I’m glad to be there.
“I knew from, talent wise, that this was probably going to be the best team that we’re going to have in some time, but all of the other intangibles? I didn’t know whether we had all of those ingredients or not.”
All of Horn’s assistants have ties to Clay County or Lineville, and he struggled to estimate how many parents of current players he coached in either football or girls’ basketball.
Stanford Simmons ranked among Horn’s many great players at Clay County, a Parade All-American who signed with and played for Auburn. He raised his son on Clay County football and Horn.
“I never thought he would’ve got a chance to play for him,” said Stanford, who helps Horn’s staff, working with defensive backs and bringing motivational juice. “It came at the right time, and when we figured that out, the only thing I told him was he’ll get to experience playing for a coach that was hungry to win, and he needs to do things the right way and work hard.”
Horn said the key to this season was nothing magical. Key players had to buy into the team concept.
The Vols’ only region loss, to Mortimer Jordan, helped. Clay Central blocked a potential game-winning field goal on the game’s final sequence but started celebrating while the ball was live. A Mortimer Jordan player picked it up and ran for the game-winning score.
“That humbled us a lot,” Shamari said.
Clay Central avenged that loss by beating Mortimer Jordan 20-17 in the semifinals. The Vols have won their past three playoff games on the road, also beating Madison Academy and top-ranked Etowah.
“If any team that’s earned it, it’s us,” Horn said. “We went on the road against some very good teams and beat them there.”