Hoover High School
Eric Kerley-The Buccaneers “Big E”
(Early connection between a Buc and South Panola Tigers)
By Wayne Wood
In 1994, Berry Buc defensive lineman Eric Kerley signed to play at Alabama along with two players from South Panola H.S. in Mississippi. One was linebacker Dwayne Rudd and the other was QB/DB Deshea Townsend who had led their Tigers to a 15-0 record in 1993 and the teams first state title. The three played defense together during the mid 1990’s at Bama with Kerley playing up front on the line, Rudd in the middle at LB and Townsend in the secondary at corner. All three also went on to play pro football in the NFL for different periods of time for different teams until they retired. On August 27th, their old high school teams, the Buccaneers and the Tigers, will face each other for the first time in history.
Eric was born and lived in Fort Payne, Alabama before moving to Birmingham where he attended Rocky Ridge Elementary and Gresham Jr. High. After his 8th grade year, due to zoning, he had the opportunity to attend either Shades Valley or Berry High School. He explained, “After meeting with both head coaches and staff, I was truly impressed with Bob Finley. I remember him saying to me, ‘Eric, I can’t promise you anything but a great education and an opportunity to play at the next level.’ That was all I needed to hear. I had always heard great things about the legendary Bob Finley. He was always straight forward and told you exactly what he needed from you. As a young man, I could respect that. He was a player’s coach and knew how to get the most out of each individual, which I feel, is needed in a great head coach. I remember sitting down over the years and having many talks with hm which did not pertain to football. He taught us much more than x’s and o’s but rather about life and how to become men.”
Eric grew up in a single parent home. His mother, Mozella Kerley, was a God-fearing woman who taught Eric and his younger brother Joshua to always put God first in all that they did and always treat others as they wanted to be treated. “My mother was such a wonderful mother while Coach Finley served as a very influential male role model in my life.”
Eric (The Big E) was about 6-1, 290 and was considered a top prospect his senior year. He considered his career as a Berry Buc as four of the best years of his life. Two games stand out in his mind during his senior year. The Bucs were playing Huffman at Lawson Field in the 2nd round of the playoffs when he recovered a key fumble late in the game to preserve a win. The other was the next week in the quarter-finals at The Met against Shades Valley. The Mounties had beaten the Bucs during the regular season but now revenge and the opportunity to advance was there.
“I remember Coach Finley, usually a soft spoken man, coming up to me in the locker room before the game and looking me directly in my eyes and saying with a profound tone, ‘Eric, I want you to make your presence known tonight!’ Coach had a way of making you want to leave it all on the field with no regrets and to play each play as if it were your last. I went on to have a great game.” The Bucs went on to beat Shades Valley but the following week lost to West End in the semi-finals. “That one still stings!”
Growing up an Auburn fan most of his life, Eric instead signed with Gene Stallings and Alabama. Later that summer, he played in both the Alabama-Mississippi All Star game in Mobile (against Rudd and Townsend from Miss.) and the High School All-American Bowl in Pennsylvania. During his Alabama days from 1994-1997 he was able to play on some fine teams while serving as team captain in some games. “It was a great four years and I was able to obtain a degree which is most important because my mother always instilled in my brother and me that there is life after sports.”
After a brief time in pro football Eric settled down in Birmingham where he owns and operates a private fitness club. He and his wife, Aleshka, have a son Eric Junior or E.J. He concluded, “I don’t know if high school coaches realize what an impact they have on each young person’s life. That’s why I fully appreciate how fortunate I was to play under Coach Bob Finley. Not only was he influential with his players but also among his peers. Recently, Briarwood’s head coach Fred Yancey (a highly respected and successful coach) ironically said to me that Coach Finley was someone that he looked up to when he first came to Birmingham, That speaks volumes in itself. I always thought that I would have the opportunity to go back and visit the man that had such a profound impact on my life. Unfortunately, after my high school senior year, Coach Finley passed away. His legacy, the ememplary life he lived and the lessons instilled in me and many others will never be forgotten. I would say to any young athlete that it’s not where you start that matters but where you finish and to God be the glory. One more thing: GO BUCCANEERS!” Eric Kerley is one of those role models young people need to look up to.