Autauga's Josh Palmer fulfills promise as team reaches AA finals

Autauga Academy's Josh Palmer drops into coverage against Patrician Academy in the second quarter of last week's semifinal matchup.

Josh Palmer’s performance on the field often draws comparisons.

As a junior who’s already earned eight Division I-A offers, his game-changing efforts frequently elicit comparisons to previous impact players.

As a defender, he is the second leading tackler for the unbeaten Generals, lining up as an outside linebacker similar to the way Will Anderson plays at Alabama, either as a pass-rushing defensive end or as a drop-in-coverage linebacker.

“It depends on the other team’s offense and their formations, but I’m mainly a linebacker,” Palmer said.

His performance on the field as a defender has already earned him an offer from Bill Clark to play that position at UAB.

Others see him more as a tight end, an athletic receiver who could play anywhere on the field but creates the biggest mismatch problems at tight end, similar to the way former Autauga Academy star OJ Howard was used by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin at Alabama in 2015 and 2016.

Kiffin, now at Ole Miss, is one of seven head coaches to offer Palmer a scholarship to play tight end in college.

“Lane Kiffin said, ‘He reminds me of OJ,’” Autauga Academy coach Bobby Carr said. “Remind him that I coached OJ at Alabama.”

While it’s high praise to compare a high school player to an NFL player, Palmer shrugs at such praise.

“Personally, I don’t like being compared to other people,” he said. “I’m not them, they’re not me. I’m Josh Palmer.”

Palmer, who transferred from Dallas County High to Autauga Academy three years ago, could even draw comparisons to his father Tracy, a standout three-sport star at Autaugaville in the late 1980s. The elder Palmer helped lead his team to the 1A semifinals in 1989 and a return trip to the finals in 1990, but might have excelled even more on the basketball court, where he led the Eagles to the 1990 state championship.

The younger Palmer has his team in the AA finals this week against Escambia, but has already excelled in baseball, where he led the Generals to the 2021 state championship a few months ago and could end up in the Major League Draft next summer.

“Number one, he’s a great kid who comes from a great family,” Carr said. “He’s a hard worker, a three-sport player and the sky is the limit for him. The funny thing is, he’s supposed to be a sophomore but he started school early.”

Palmer leads the Generals in receiving with 38 receptions for 640 yards and 11 touchdowns, an average of 16.8 yards per catch. Defensively, he is the second leading tackler behind linebacker Anden Hilyer with 57 tackles, including eight for loss, along with five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception.

“I prefer tight end,” he said, “but I’ll play any position the college wants me to, to help them win.”

Those numbers would be even higher on most teams, but Palmer elected to play in a program that generally puts up big numbers in the first half and sits the starters in the second half as the reserves play out a lopsided win.

“Sometimes it’s good,” Palmer said, “but when it’s cold, it sucks to sit out the second half. Now I know what the non-starters feel like, on the sidelines freezing, but without their hard work and practice and their support in cheering us on, we wouldn’t be in this position. They give a great look on the scout team at practice on both sides of the ball.”

He’ll have to play for four quarters on Friday against a similarly talented Escambia team. The two region rivals met earlier this season in Prattville on Oct. 8, with Autauga winning 31-17.

This will be the fifth time in the last six years the two teams have met to decide the AA championship, with Autauga winning three of the previous four title bouts. In 2020, Escambia also reached the finals before losing to Chambers, while Autauga was struggling through a rebuilding 2-7 season.

“I made a promise to myself after last season,” Palmer said. “I’m going to come with a different mentality. I’m going to be a leader and lead my team to the promised land. Now all we’ve got to do is finish it on Friday.”

AISA FINALS

Friday, Cramton Bowl

CLASS A

Lowndes Academy (10-3) vs. Jackson Academy (10-1), noon

CLASS AA

Autauga Academy (12-0) vs. Escambia Academy (10-1), 3:30 p.m.

CLASS AAA

Pike Liberal Arts (11-1) vs. Tuscaloosa Academy (7-4), Friday, 7 p.m.