The ESPN production trucks coasted up to Duck Samford, humming outside as crews lifted powerful stadium lights up into the Auburn sky, and that entire side of the city lurched into a fever pitch.
This was 2012. Plenty around remember the night well. Carver-Montgomery and Jeremy Johnson were busing into town to face Auburn High and Reuben Foster in one of the most hotly anticipated high school football games this area has seen in recent memory.
ESPN televised the game, hoisting up that additional lighting over Auburn High’s home field, even higher than the stadium’s bulbs, to burn over the broadcast. They flickered to life as a buzz spread over Auburn.
The same kind of feeling might just hit Opelika tonight.
Four-star running back and Auburn University commit Cartavious ‘Tank’ Bigsby and his three-star offensive lineman teammate and fellow AU commit Tate Johnson are on their way with the rest of the Callaway High School football team from Hogansville, Ga., to match up with Opelika High at Bulldog Stadium tonight. It’s a showcase showdown a bit like that 2012 game between Johnson and Foster, both highly touted Auburn commits at the time, which captured attention at the cross-section of college football and high school football in an area that loves them both.
This one might not have the same fanfare going in, but there’s always electricity in Bulldog Stadium. The fact that the game falls on a Thursday night means AU supporters will have their chance to see Bigsby in action regardless of their high school allegiances.
Bigsby committed to AU earlier this month. He rushed for 2,000-plus yards last year, rolling up 2,221 and 22 touchdowns on 238 carries while also catching 13 passes for 222 more yards on the team’s way to the Class AA state semifinals in Georgia, per the LaGrange Daily News.
Opelika has its own talent to showcase. Senior defensive back Jaylen Stinson is committed to Purdue.
Bigsby and his teammate Johnson coming to town also conjures memories of the 2010 showdown between Valley and Tallessee, featuring future AU Tigers Erique Florence and Trey Cochran-Gill.
Cochran-Gill and Tallassee won that duel 28-23. Cochran-Gill went on to play baseball for AU. He was committed at the time of the showdown. Florence was a high-profile recruit would go on to sign with the Tigers’ football program.
Cochran-Gill finished 21-of-25 for 317 yards and two touchdowns, while also picking off a Florence pass on defense that led to Tallassee’s go-ahead score. The big stars shined in the showdown. Florence ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries while passing for 96 yards on 11-of-21 passing.
On that date with destiny on 2012, No. 7 Carver-Montgomery upended No. 3 Auburn High 46-20. Johnson rolled up 350 total yards and five total touchdowns. Foster scored a one-yard touchdown run while shining on defense.
Fans remember how things ended. Foster flipped his commitment to Alabama after AU’s 2012 season went upside down and head coach Gene Chizik was fired. Johnson stuck with Auburn. For fans, that hype from brilliant high school performances like that one that night may hang over how his career played out on the Plains. He did win a big game at Texas A&M in 2015 that he’ll always remember.
And those high school heroics under the lights can never be taken away. High school superstars can still be celebrated, regardless of where their college careers take them.
Tonight is one of those nights where high school stars can take center stage again.