DULUTH — During its run to the state quarterfinals, West Forsyth relied heavily on its defensive line.
West’s primary pressure on opposing quarterbacks came from its four down linemen, and the Wolverines’ ability to stop the run stemmed from the creation of gaps for its linebackers to fill.
Names like Drew Robbins, Josh Davis and Ben Boyd were called frequently by public address announcers around the area as West romped to an 11-2 record, the best in the school’s brief history.
But a player who never saw a varsity snap also played an integral role in the Wolverines’ prowess up front.
Defensive tackle Alec Coburn pushed for varsity playing time as a freshman, a rare occurrence on a Frank Hepler-led football team. He earned a reputation for blowing up the first-team offense’s plays during scout team work, and his performance in practice kept the upperclassmen hungry during workouts to ensure they didn’t lose their spot to a rookie.
“That’s one thing I preach is competition gets us all better,” defensive line coach Jeff Owens said. “The more guys that compete, the better we’ll be. They were all fighting for playing time.”
Coburn’s development as a defensive lineman hasn’t gone unnoticed. Officials from Football University, on organization that identifies and trains high school prospects around the nation, selected the 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pounder to play in the Eastbay Youth All-American Bowl Sunday, Jan. 8 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
An offshoot of the U.S. Army High School All-American Bowl, the event features top middle-school and freshmen players from around North America. Coburn will play defensive tackle in the second annual USA-vs.-Canada under-15 game.
“It’s a big honor, and it feels really good,” Coburn said Wednesday after being presented his jersey at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth. “It’s pretty surprising, really.”
Coburn first played organized football at the age of 8. He attended a Football University camp recently, and coaches there were impressed enough to invite him to the organization’s “Top Gun” elite clinic.
He impressed at that camp as well, and was invited to send a highlight tape to Football University for consideration in the All-American Bowl.
While his mother helped him study for French class one night, she asked him a peculiar question.
“How do you say ‘I’m an All-American’ in French?”
Coburn was puzzled until Mom revealed a letter inviting him to participate in the all-star game.
“She ended up just telling me, because it wasn’t really working,” Coburn said. “I was really happy and surprised.”
A host of raw talent will be on display in the game, set for a 3 p.m. kickoff and live webcast on www.allamericangames.tv. Players will practice together in San Antonio for a week leading up to the contest and participate in a skills competition and breakout sessions with current and former NFL players.
For green athletes like Coburn, there’s a lot of room to grow with a lot of potential alongside it.
“He’s a quick kid, and he’s talented,” said Owens, a former Georgia and NFL defensive tackle. “The main thing we have to do is let him mature a little bit, let his body grow out, and hopefully he’ll become a force for us.”
Coburn achieved that status at the lower levels this season, leading the freshman team to an undefeated record and contributing in the one junior varsity game he played. He spent most of his time on the defensive line, but earned some reps in the offensive trenches, too.
He was set to play against Roswell in West’s varsity regular-season finale and possibly the following playoff games, but an injury to his right foot required surgery and ended his season.
He’s been on the mend since then, and hopes to be 100 percent by the time he leaves for Texas.
“I didn’t think it was nothing, but then it starting getting sore,” Coburn said. “The pain started getting worse after games. … I’m probably about 85 percent now.”
Coburn’s grandparents reside in Arkansas and will have a unique opportunity to watch their grandson play in person, adding a bit more meaning to an already big deal for the freshman.
A national all-star game is quite the highlight for a football career that’s just getting off the ground. Coburn says he’ll worry later about ensuring this isn’t the peak of his playing days.
Right now, he’s zeroed in on performing on the biggest stage of his life.
“I’m hoping I’m going to do really good,” Coburn said. “I just have to work real hard and train and just get better so I can go up there and compete.”
The same holds true for the remainder of his football career, however long that winds up being. Coburn is fully capable of it, his head coach said.
“He’s an awesome young man,” Hepler said. “He’s going to be a really great player in the future. … We think the world of Alec.”