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Living the dream

Oxford, AL – Oxford flag quarterback Lindsey has always wanted to play the position ‘because I have the arm for it’

Oxford quarterback Gabrielle Lindsey takes a snap during the Lady Jackets’ state semifinal win over Vestavia Hills earlier this month. (Photo by Mike Lett). Cover photo by Bo Hudgins.
Oxford quarterback Gabrielle Lindsey takes a snap during the Lady Jackets’ state semifinal win over Vestavia Hills earlier this month. (Photo by Mike Lett). Cover photo by Bo Hudgins.

By Mark Everett Kelly

Gabrielle Lindsey stands out in any crowd. The freshman quarterback of the Oxford girls flag football team stands over six feet tall and loves to show off her rocket arm.

“I always wanted to play QB because I have the arm for it,” she says.

AHSAA Flag FootballChampionship
Wednesday, 2 p.m.
Jordan-Hare Stadium
AHSAA Flag Football Championship OXFORD vs. AUBURN Wednesday, 2 p.m. Jordan-Hare Stadium

Lindsey will put that arm on display in the biggest game of her career Wednesday when she directs the Oxford offense in the second-ever flag football state championship game against Auburn High in the university’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. It will be the Lady Jackets’ first trip to the finals after coming oh-so-close the year before.

Lindsey’s football background includes playing boys tackle football in a town league in fifth grade.

“I was bigger than most of them,” she said. “At first they would tease me, but then they saw I could play.”

In 2021 Oxford joined Anniston as the only Calhoun County schools (60 statewide) participating in the state’s inaugural season of Flag Football.

Learning of the new league, coach Wes Brooks, who’s interest in the job revolved around wanting to spend more time with his daughters Sawyer and Skylar and niece Payton, reached out to Christy Shepard.

Brooks’, coaching career already featured extraordinary accomplishments since Josh Niblett hired him at Oxford in 2005 as the defensive line coach and head baseball coach. An exceptional athlete at Wellborn and Jacksonville State, Brooks is one of only 16 head baseball coaches to win 500 games in Alabama.

Shepard was the GM and star offensive lineman for the Alabama Fire of the WFA. She was in the administration over at Oxford and is now the director of Human Resources. Both Shepard and her brother, former NBA All-Star Gerald Wallace, attended Childersberg High School.

“Christy knew her mom and that Gabrielle was playing 7-on-7 boys flag football,” said Brooks.  “I sent her an email, and she immediately emailed me back saying it was a go and you need to have tryouts.”

It didn’t take long for Lindsey to impress the coaching staff during tryouts.

“One of the footballs found its way toward Gabrielle, who picked it up and fired a bullet back.” Brooks explained. “She knew it was her chance to show what she could do.”

Jake Hammond, the son of former MLB pitcher Chris Hammond and Brooks’ assistant coach in 2021, said on the spot, “I think we got ourselves a QB.”

The Lady Jackets’ offense features a two-headed monster at quarterback; Lindsey and Reygan White. White leads in rushing yards (737) and touchdowns (21), while Lindsey leads in passing yards (1,721) and TDs (21).

“She’s (Lindsey) an OK runner, but not a broken play runner,” Brooks said. “If the play is set up for a run, she does that much better.”

Oxford outscored opponents by 335 points this season, while averaging 21.6 points a game. Its weapons are numerous. The athleticism of Xai Whitfield (58 receptions, 690 yards, 16 TD) draws comparison to Randy Moss, while Ashlyn Burns (38-420 rushing, 21-399 receiving and 11 total touchdowns) is multi-dimensional.

The Lady Jackets advanced game plan depends on the players’ ability to make proper adjustments. In his years at Oxford, Brooks coached many NFL players (Kwon Alexander, Bobby McCain and Tae Davis) while coaching with John Grass, Todd Bates and Niblett.

While most people experience confusion understanding the advanced terminology of football, Lindsey and her teammates’ have adjusted well.

“I enjoy learning about X’s and O’s,” said Lindsey, whose favorite player is Najee Harris. “It’s not really hard for me because I love football and I grew up watching it and studying the plays.”

Their ability to execute on both sides of the ball impresses the 44-year old head coach.

“We run a complex Tampa Bay (Buccaneers) defensive system with multiple check-downs and pre-play movement,” said Brooks, whose defense allowed just six total points in winning their two playoff games. “Their intelligence and ability to adjust and correct mistakes are sensational.”

Players and coaches noticed Lindsey’s ability to adjust throws with touch and read defenses improved from last season.

“We lost a game to Vestavia, where she had a climb route, and she had to read the safety. Normally, I’d tell her what to look out for, but for some reason, I didn’t,” Brooks said. “She started to tuck the ball and run, but at the last minute, she found an open receiver, and I knew she was beginning to learn and think on her own.”

How much more can the Lady Jackets expect from someone who’s just starting to understand her talent? The sky is the limit according to Brooks.

“As she gets older, she’ll get better at finding that third/fourth receiver and when to tuck and run,” he said. “When she gets to that point, she’ll be unstoppable.”

Development is essential for a quarterback leading a team, but we often are own worst critic. How does Lindsey gauge her improvement ? “I used to have problems throwing on the run and throwing deep, but now I’m more comfortable with it,” says Lindsey, who dreamed of being the starting quarterback at Oxford since she was younger.

Yes, she is.

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