By Chris McCarthy/Editor
It was both a Welcome Home get-together and a Bon Voyage party for two well-known Gadsden natives on May 25.
Former Gadsden City High and University of Alabama football standouts and current NFL players Dre Kirkpatrick and Jerrell Harris were honored at a celebration at Convention Hall. Over 1,000 people attended the private event hosted by WGAD Radio.
City of Gadsden mayor Sherman Guyton presented Kirkpatrick and Harris with respective Keys to the City.
A 2009 GCHS graduate, Kirkpatrick was a first-round draft choice at last month’s NFL draft, going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 17th overall selection.
A 2008 GCHS graduate, Harris signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent.
Both players were part of Alabama’s 2009 and 2011 national football championships, Kirkpatrick as a cornerback and Harris as a linebacker.
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“I’m blessed to be in a situation where I was able to go to college and win two national championships and now getting a chance to play professional football,” said Harris, who recently graduated from the Capstone. “It’s a honor to be in a position that a lot of people would die to be in. So many people have really helped me in my maturation process of being accountable for my actions and taking care of business. I do want to thank everybody here tomight who over the years has helped me and Dre in our journeys and showed us support and love.”
Kirkpatrick, a junior who left the school a year early to enter the NFL draft, plans on finishing his degree in the near future.
“Words can’t describe the feelings I have right now,” he said. “God has truly been a blessing in my life, and wherever I go, I try to keep Him with me. To every I ran across in the community, I want to thank you for the words of encouragement you gave me. When I was down, you always lifted me up, and my family and I appreciate that. I just ask that everyone continue to keep me in their prayers.”
After spending his freshman year at Emma Sansom, Kirkpatrick noted that the students from Emma Sansom, Gadsden and Litchfield high schools quickly formed a bond as Gadsden City Titans.
“As a student body, we were always as one. I never had an issue or problem with anybody in school. I was one of the guys that everybody looked up to, and if I did something a certain way, everybody would follow, because they knew that it was going to be a positive way.”
Several guest speakers shared stories about Harris and Kirkpatrick and congratulated them on their achievements, including local attorney Roy McCord, Fellowship Baptist Church pastor Scottie Rice, Thompson Elementary School teacher Susie Adams, GCHS head football coach Joe Billingsley, GCHS assistant football coach Ali Smith, Gadsden City councilman Robert Avery, Gadsden City Middle Schools football coach Steve Steward, UA assistant director of player personnel Ashleigh Kimble and Anniston Faith Connection pastor Larry Holcomb.
University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban gave a video tribute to Harris and Kirkpatrick.
WGAD.WJBY Radio personality J, Holland was the event’s master of ceremonies.
GCHS boys basketball coach Rev. Reginald Huff gave the invocation.
Epiphany Cherry provided musical entertainment, while Kiana Corbin shared a poem.
WGAD’s Brian “Kramer” Freeman presented a video tribute to both players, while Shawn Huff served as D.J.
“Both of you had a great work ethic when they worked for me in high school,” McCord told Harris and Kirkpatrick. “You’re here tonight because of your parent’s and loved ones. The love and support they gave you and the discipline they provided allowed you both to achieve what you’ve achieved.”
McCord reminded those present that Harris and Kirkpatrick would meet as opponents for the first time when Cincinnati visits Atlanta for a NFL preseason game on Aug. 16.
“I go way back with these two young men,” said Avery. “Even when they were small kids, it was always ‘yes sir’ and no sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ and no ‘ma’am’ with them. That comes from family support, and you could tell even back then that these two young men were going to be successful, in no matter what they did.”
“A lot of things were said tonight about these two young men, and it’s all about the same thing – family, discipline and work ethic,” said Billingsley. “Dre once told me that all he wanted to do in life was to make his mom and dad proud. Jerrell is a man of few words, but a man of great example in what he does.”
“These guys have opened up a lot of doors for this community,” said Smith. “Whenever these guys went to camp, they wanted to be good representatives of Gadsden, Alabama. So these guys are very proud of where they’re from, and I think the whole community has something to be proud of. I’ve been coaching for 15 years, and you try to treat each kid the same, but God has put these two young men in my life, and it’s something special.”
“I first met Jerrell when he was a nine-year old boy, and he had parents who were never satisfied with mediocrity,” said Adams. “ They were determined that Jerrell was going to be excellent in all subject areas. As for my former third-grade student, I’ll always cherish the fact that Dre visited with my third-grade class the day before he was drafted by the NFL. I am so proud of both these outstanding young men.”
“Jerrell came up through our church, and from the start I knew that there was something special about him,” said Wright. “Most of all, he was a Godly young man, and whatever he did, he did from his heart. Like Dre, I also lived in Oakley Estates, and I know that he was a good young man with great talents. I want to encourage you both to stay close to God, and never, ever give u on your dreams.
Event sponsors included Bee-Gee’s of Albertville, The Cupboard of Attalla, Chick-fil-A of Gadsden, Churches Chicken of Gadsden, Cothran’s Bakery of Gadsden, Dad’s BBQ of Rainbow City, Downtown Dei of Gadsden, Fast Fixins of Boaz, H & H Printing Service of Albertville, Ideal Florist of Gadsden, Jacks of Attalla and Gadsden, Mon-El Photography of Boaz, Popeye’s of Gadsden, Pro Systems Clean Care, The Red Apron Bistro of Attalla, The Rib Shack of Gadsden, Struts of Rainbow City, Uncle Sam’s of Gadsden, Villa Fiesta of Gadsden/Sardis and WGAD/WJBY Radio of Gadsden.