Guerry Clegg

For this local QB, a state championship is goal, but NFL stardom also is on his radar

The first thing one notices about Tucker Melton isn’t the free-flowing hair or even the wide, black headband. What’s most evident about Central’s new (well, kinda sorta new) starting quarterback is an unspoken self-assuredness.

It’s evident whether he’s interacting with his teammates or his coaches or a member of the media. It’s easy to picture him stepping into any huddle and taking command, whether in a seven-on-seven camp or the Alabama Class 7A state championship game or a college football game on any level.

“He’s very confident in his ability in himself,” said Central football head coach Jamey DuBose said. “Who he is, and what he can do, he’s confident in that. He’s got a personality that everybody loves being around. I tell people that all the time in recruiting. There’s something about him. You like being around him. He carries himself well. He talks well and he’s a confident guy when he’s talking. He’s not a shy guy and he’s not somebody who’s unsure of himself. I think that’s his strength, his ability to get others to work around him. He does have a personality and a way of making others want to be around him.”

Central’s first official day of practice was held last week, and it could not come soon enough for Melton. He was a big part of the Red Devils’ march to the state championship in December. As much as DuBose insisted that Peter Parrish and Melton were “1A and 1B” on the quarterback depth chart, and that junior Trey Hill will share time with Melton this season, there’s no question that this is Melton’s team now with Parrish now graduated and a freshman at LSU.

Melton is ready to prove that he can handle a heavier load and that he’s ready to lead. Most of all, though, Melton is ready to pursue another state championship. It was 25 years between Central’s two state titles. He’d like for Red Devils fans to not have to wait that long for their third state championship.

That’s one reason Melton went ahead and verbally committed to Bowling Green. He attracted a fair amount of interest from SEC schools — including attending a camp at Georgia — and is still on their radar. But he hasn’t received an offer from a Power 5 school, so he committed to Bowling Green, whose football head coach is Scot Loeffler, the former Auburn offensive coordinator who coached Tom Brady at Michigan. That carried a lot of weight with Melton.

“Now I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to school or contacting all these coaches, talking them all of the time,” Melton said. “Now I can just focus on my team, myself and getting ready for a repeat.”

He has seen several Central teammates sign with big-time programs, notably Justyn Ross at Clemson and Parrish at LSU, and several others being heavily recruited this year. While that might be nice, he’s not consumed with how many people are in the stands or the amount of TV coverage. His goal is to play in the NFL, and the league has plenty of history finding quarterbacks everywhere.

Ben Roethlisberger played at Miami-Ohio in the Mid-American Conference, the same as Bowling Green. Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo played at Eastern Illinois. There are others — Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) to name a few.

“I think it’s a lot about how you get developed,” Melton said. “Coach Loeffler at Bowling Green, he’s a huge reason why I’m going there. He coached Brady when he was a Michigan and coached other guys who are in the NFL. He’s a huge offensive mind. He told me the best time you can get developed is from 18 to 22 years old.”

“Tucker is really a pro style quarterback,” DuBose said. “He’s a big body, big frame, strong arm. He’s a guy who if he gets in the right place, gets the reps, he continues to improve. He’s got the personality, he’s got the mindset, he’s got the ability to one day be in the league.”

DuBose supports Melton’s decision to commit to Bowling Green, but he made a good point. The coaching landscape is sure to change before the early signing period starts in December. What if, say, Jim Harbaugh is fired from Michigan and Loeffler takes that job? Or any other Power Five job as the dominos start falling.

“At the end of the day, if something bigger, if something nicer comes along that’s something he and his family need to look at,” DuBose said. “You never know. Tucker may go out there and prove himself this year, and he may get those offers.”

First things first, though. Central opens the season in less than two weeks at Hoover. The Red Devils are ranked No. 1 in Alabama Class 7A and No. 11 in the country by Sporting News. Hoover is ranked No. 23 in the country.

“Of course a state championship,” he said. “But I’m trying to lead these guys to do the little things right and everything else will take care of itself.”

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