Welborn, AL – Noel emerges from battles with illness to earn chance to wrestle at Montevallo; Johnson will go from Panthers’ wing-T offense to spread at Lyon College
By Joe Medley
WELLBORN — When 105-degree fevers, seizures and COVID-19 conspired to limit Ahmad Noel’s mat time, an opportunity to wrestle in college seemed a far off concern. The fever broke, seizures stopped, COVID ran its course, and the Wellborn senior will have a chance to help get Montevallo’s fledgling wrestling program off the mat. Noel and Wellborn quarterback Grayson Johnson celebrated their chances to play in college with Tuesday’s ceremony to mark their signings, Noel with Montevallo and Johnson with Lyon College.
Both got their chance to sit with family and coaches behind a Wellborn-draped table and before a Wellborn backdrop in the school’s gymnasium. Students and teammates gathered in the bleachers cheered. The celebration moved to the school’s library. After warm words from both athletes, the crowd partook in cake and punch. “It’s a pretty exciting thing that very few people are able to do,” Wellborn principal Andy Carpenter said to the assembly.
Johnson becomes the second Wellborn quarterback in a row to get the chance to play college football. Jett Smith’s successor led Wellborn’s wing-T offense for two years, and he’ll get the chance to prove himself in a spread offense for NCAA Division III Lyon, in Batesville, Ark. “It’s going to be an adjustment I’ll have to make, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. Johnson was selected first-team Class 1A-3A All-Calhoun County as a senior, both for his work at quarterback and punter. Wellborn coach Jeff Smith said Johnson’s work ethic will take him far. “He’s one that never missed a workout, never missed a practice, never missed a rep, and will himself into being the player that he wanted to,” Smith said. “I’m very proud of him.”Noel’s chance came after Montevallo wrestling coach Daniel Ownbey saw him wrestle at state. Health concerns that took away chunks of his senior season threatened to prevent Noel from wrestling at state.
The COVID-19 pandemic trimmed his sophomore year. Illnesses including COVID-19 claimed much of his senior year. It started with his spiking a fever of 105 around Thanksgiving, and the fever triggered right temporal epileptic seizures, Wellborn coach Ben Carroll said. “He had seizures. He had COVID,” Carroll said. “He missed about a month and came back and got sick again, then got sick again the week before sectionals. “We didn’t think he’d get to wrestle at sectionals.”
Doctors cleared Noel to wrestle just in time, and he qualified for state. He missed medaling by one round in the 120-pound class, but Ownbey saw enough and expressed interest. [read more…]