Tommy Wilson intercepts new state record

Tommy Wilson commemorated his return to football in grand fashion against American Christian Academy last week. The senior cornerback who had not played in an official game since middle school set a state record with an interception return of 108 yards for a touchdown.

Tommy Wilson picks off an ACA pass in the end zone. Wilson returned the pick 108 yards for a TD to set a new state record.

“I found out yesterday. I was just at home and one of my teammates, Caden Hannah, he told me about it. I didn’t really know,” Wilson said of the accomplishment. “I didn’t know I was going to run it back. But, after I caught the ball, the receiver that I was defending, he tried to make a play on me. But, he dove and I went up under him. I was just thinking ‘run.’ I saw my teammates ahead of me, so they helped me get it back.”

While most reporters and statisticians count interceptions returned from one end zone to the other as 100-yard plays, Ron Ingram of the Alabama High School Athletic Association confirmed via e-mail Saturday that all yards covered on interception returns should be counted as part of the play.

“It appears to be 108 yards. Could only be one yard longer officially,” Ingram wrote in an e-mail. “Kicked balls into the end zone, however, cannot be returned out of the end zone in high school, so the longest punt return or kickoff return can be no more than 99 yards.”

That feat will put Wilson’s name officially atop the list of the AHSAA’s records for Longest Interception Return for Touchdown. The AHSAA website lists eight other players as having returned a ball 100 yards for a touchdown, the most recent occurrence coming in 2010 when Marcus Turner of McAdory did it against John Carroll. The last time prior to that, the feat was accomplished by Heath Turner of American Christian Academy.

Demopolis High head coach Tom Causey credited Wilson and the entire defensive unit for the play when he informed the team of the state record Monday.

“I think it is good for our whole team. As a matter of fact, we announced it to the team this morning that our defense broke a state record because Tommy made the interception but there were several big blocks along the sideline over there to keep Tommy free and moving and working down the field,” Causey said. “And we had guys pursuing the ball and chasing after Tommy to make sure he got to the end zone. When he scored there were four defensive players there with him. It’s a good thing any time you can do something like that. It’s a special accomplishment. They took it just like they should have. They took it in stride and moved on. There was a little clapping going on when we made the announcement and then they were right back to what they were doing.”

When Wilson made the play, Demopolis’ 35-7 lead was in jeopardy of falling to 35-14 as American Christian Academy was knocking on the door of the end zone just before halftime Friday night. The play never happens if Wilson and Demetrius Kemp do not run down an ACA ball carrier eight yards away from the end zone on the previous snap.

The play served as the proverbial nail in the coffin for ACA and a banner moment for Wilson, whose only two high school football games prior to last Friday night were the Jamboree affair against Sweet Water the previous week and a spring game against Meridian (Miss.) and Quitman (Miss.) in 2010.

“I just wanted to play football my senior year. I felt like I missed too much,” Wilson said of his decision to return to football. “It was harder than I thought it would be. I was working and my coaches, they kept believing in me. That helped me out a lot.”

“Doesn’t surprise me a bit,” Demopolis cornerbacks coach Rodney Jackson, who also coaches Wilson in basketball, said of the senior DB’s early success. “He’s a good athlete, gives good effort on every play. You know, this is Tommy. I think he is going to benefit playing football. I think it is going to benefit him during basketball season. He is a very aggressive player and that’s what we want with our corners is for them to be very aggressive and he showed that Friday night.”

Demopolis defensive coordinator Matt Geohagan indicated that Wilson has provided a considerable boost to a Demopolis secondary that returned no experience from its 2011 team.

“He’s helped us tremendously. I mean, he’s a great athlete. He has a knack for the football. He has a lot of instincts that are hard to teach. I just feel like the schemes we’re running, he’s picked up on very easily. He’s a fun guy to coach,” Geohagan said. “I’ve seen him in basketball and I thought that if we could get him out for football he’d help us tremendously in the secondary and he really has.”

Wilson’s interception return did not stand as his only highlight of the night. He also recovered a short kickoff that set Demopolis up for its fourth touchdown of the night.

“One thing I’ve been extremely pleased with is Tommy Wilson’s quiet leadership. When you talk to Tommy and you coach Tommy, he looks you dead in the eyes. He is listening to every word you give him. He’s trying to get better at what he does,” Causey said. “I think Tommy is humble enough that he’ll say, ‘Today wasn’t good enough. I’ve got to get better.’ It’s no surprise to me that Tommy had a big game because he works so hard at practice. He’s getting better because he practices so hard. That’s a credit to Tommy and to Coach Jackson, who has developed a relationship with Coach Jackson. Tommy plays hard not only for Coach Jackson, but also for the rest of our team.”

“I’m having a lot of fun. I’m enjoying myself,” Wilson said.