Sports

Mark Story: E-town bragging rights on the line of scrimmage

Here's something you don't think about in high school: Once it's over, you are looking at a lifetime of class reunions.

Which tend to be more palatable if you can show up as the classmate with bragging rights.

When Kentucky has the ball in its Saturday skirmish with No. 3 Alabama, you might want to turn the binoculars toward the line of scrimmage. Any battle between UK offensive tackle Zipp Duncan and Alabama defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick figures to carry some extra oomph.

Both are 2005 graduates of Kentucky's Elizabethtown High School.

From their years of middle school sports on, the two were constantly together because they were the biggest guys on their teams.

"It's always been intensely competitive between us," Deaderick said Wednesday night. "We wanted to be 'the fastest big guy' or 'the strongest big guy.' We competed at everything."

Along with quarterback Chris Todd, Deaderick and Duncan made E-town, the Hardin County seat, a football recruiting hotbed leading up to signing day, 2005.

Duncan was an early commitment to UK. Todd eventually signed with Mike Leach's pass-happy program at Texas Tech.

The most highly recruited of all, Deaderick looked at Kentucky and Louisville, but he had interest from traditional football titans such as Alabama and Florida.

Deaderick said Kentucky was the first school to offer him a scholarship. His older sister, Ebony, was attending UK at the time.

"I spent a lot of time there, and I liked UK," Deaderick said.

Yet when he visited Alabama, "I loved the atmosphere, the tradition. You can't get bigger than Alabama football. It's a classic program," he said.

A 6-foot-4, 306-pound defensive end, Deaderick eventually won a starting job at Alabama. As a junior last season, he had 36 tackles with four sacks. He was planning on an even better season in 2009. Yet the path to his final year of college football was filled with obstacles Deaderick never imagined.

There was the unexpected death of his beloved grandmother, Annette Williams. At 65, she was diagnosed out of nowhere with lung cancer and died about a month later.

On Aug. 31, Deaderick found his own life in peril.

He was sitting in a car at a Tuscaloosa apartment complex when a gun-wielding, would-be robber ordered him from the vehicle.

Rather than submit, Deaderick went after the gun. It went off, and the football player took a bullet that entered his left arm, exited and, somehow, hit his hip.

"I just reacted to the situation," Deaderick said. "If I hadn't handled it the way I did, if I hadn't hit the gun, I might be dead right now."

Amazingly, the bullet did no significant internal damage. Five days after being shot, Deaderick played in Alabama's opener against Virginia Tech.

For a town of slightly more than 24,000, E-town is getting a pretty good ride in SEC football stadiums this fall.

With Todd having transferred to Auburn and won the starting quarterback job, it means Elizabethtown products are playing crucial roles on three Southeastern Conference football teams in 2009.

"For a town that size, that's a pretty unique thing," said Brett Burnett, who coached the SEC Three at E-town and who is now a high school coach in Alabama.

Brad Todd, Chris' father and the Elizabethtown head coach, says "as a town, we know how special this is. We're very blessed to have had athletes make it to that level."

Assuming good health, all three will play against one another this year.

Duncan and UK will travel to Auburn to face Todd on Oct. 17. Deaderick and Todd will be on opposite sides of the Alabama-Auburn holy war on Nov. 27.

"Those guys, they're my boys," Deaderick said. "I'm proud of both of them for what they are doing."

Ah, but Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium, pride will not be the optimum emotion between former high school teammates.

A year ago, Duncan was playing guard in what became a 17-14 Alabama win over Kentucky. Deaderick "lined up over me a lot," the UK lineman said. "We had a couple of good individual matchups. It was fun, there was definitely some talking. It's really different going against somebody you know so well."

This year, the two will face off for the final time as college football players. Which means there are bragging rights for a lifetime of Elizabethtown High School Class of 2005 reunions at stake.

"I'd say that is on the line," Zipp Duncan said with a laugh. "He's one up from last year, so I need us to get this one and let me even the score a little bit."

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