By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
While most of his classmates will have all summer to dream about their futures as adults, former Flomaton High School quarterback Zeb Vickery will start living his dream just three days after he’s handed his diploma on May 26.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound athlete recently accepted a “preferred walk-on” role with the University of Alabama Birmingham football team but changed his mind when a similar offer came from the University of Alabama coaching staff.
A preferred walk-on offer means the coach would like to have a player on his team but can’t (or won’t) offer any financial assistance, at least for the first year. Preferred walk-ons can earn a scholarship going into their second season, but nothing is guaranteed.
“This is a dream come true,” said Zeb, who will report to the UA athletic offices on May 29. “I grew up watching Alabama football and I always wanted to be a quarterback there. Plus, I want to one day get into coaching, and what better way than to learn from Nick Saban.”
Zeb’s coach, who just happens to also be his father, said the opportunity was too good to pass up. He also said that none of his other players have worked so hard to overcome adversity and earn a shot at advancing to the next level of athletics.
“He deserves it,” said Doug Vickery, showing a tad of paternal pride. “People really don’t know — those who are not with him every day — how hard he works. He came back from a serious knee injury when he was in the 10th grade. He busted his butt and worked like a dog for eight months to get back on the field.”
The FHS coach said he has always worked with Zeb and his brothers, Cade and UA graduate Tripp (each of whom also called signals for the Hurricanes). While he doesn’t want to favor one over the other, he said he can’t help but praise his youngest son.
“He’s been of the best quarterbacks I ever coached,” he said of Zeb, who went 17-5 as a starter at FHS. “Both his older brothers played quarterback for me, too. They both were really good, but Zeb’s special. He’s got a little something different from some guys.”
That “something different” could be one of the keys to Zeb’s future plans, to follow in Doug’s footsteps and become a football coach.
“I don’t know just what it is, but whatever it is, he’s got it,” the coach said. “He makes friends with the 4th-string kicker; he makes friends with the starting left tackle. I think that’s what’s going to make him so successful, what’s going to make him good as a coach. He knows how to talk to people, and I know he’s going be successful.”
The Vickery family has strong ties to Atmore. Zeb’s grandparents, the late Doug Vickery Sr., owned and operated several businesses here, and his grandmother, Sandra Huffines, still lives here. His sister, Avery Vickery, works at Buster’s Restaurant, and his brother Cade lives in Walnut Hill and works in Atmore.
“At heart, we’re Atmore folks,” Doug Vickery said. “We bleed Flomaton green, but we love Atmore.”
Meanwhile, Zeb is still on Cloud 9.
“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I got off the phone with (UA offensive coordinator and quarterbacks mentor) Coach (Bill) O’Brien,” said the FHS quarterback, who got O’Brien’s call in the middle of history class. “The connections I will make at Alabama mean a lot to me. Nothing can compare to it.”
Coach Vickery said his son’s acceptance into the Alabama football fraternity wasn’t just based on his son’s talent or his coaching.
“This is all Zeb and God,” Doug said. “God put Zeb in this situation, like he’s won the lottery. God has big plans for Zeb. I don’t know what that plan is, but obviously I’m excited to see what God’s got for him down the road. To put that on your resume, that you learned from Nick Saban, is going to go a long way in life for him.”
He added that there is only one thing he’s concerned about, and he’s not really concerned at all.
“The bad thing is, I’ve always been his coach and now I won’t be his coach,” Doug said. “But I guess I can turn things over to Nick Saban and not worry too much about it.”