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Former Phillips star Jahleel Billingsley looks to add another championship ring with Alabama

Current Phillips coach Joe Winslow, who was the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator during Billingsley’s prep years, said there has been a buzz around the school as players make plans for a viewing party on Monday.

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) celebrates his touchdown with Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley (19) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) celebrates his touchdown with Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley (19) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
AP

Back in November, Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked about junior tight end Jahleel Billingsley.

“When a guy has opportunities, he’s got to take advantage of them,” Saban said of the former Phillips star. “He’s got to play fast, can’t drop the ball. ...

“He’s certainly a guy that can help us in some kind of way. We need him to go out there and play how he’s capable of playing. And that’s our responsibility as coaches to try to get him to do that.”

Billingsley’s numbers have been modest in a year that saw him miss time during preseason camp for what Saban called “COVID protocols”: 17 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns.

But he seemed to take Saban’s critique to heart in delivering one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest catches of the season a few weeks later. His 14-yard reception on fourth down against Auburn on Nov. 27 kept alive the game-tying drive late in regulation. Alabama went on to win in overtime en route to the Southeastern Conference title.

Now, Billingsley figures to have more opportunities as Alabama (13-1) goes after its second straight national championship when it meets Georgia (13-1) on Monday night in Indianapolis. It’s a rematch of the SEC title game, won 41-24 by the Crimson Tide.

John Metchie III, whose 96 catches lead Alabama, is out with an ACL injury. That figures to mean more targets for wide receivers Jameson Williams and Ja’Corey Brooks, as well as ‘Bama’s top two tight ends, Cameron Latu and Billingsley.

Current Phillips coach Joe Winslow, who was the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator during Billingsley’s prep years, said there’s been a buzz around the school as players make plans for a viewing party on Monday.

He expects Saban’s tough-love approach to get the best out of Billingsley, who already owns two SEC championship rings and a national championship ring.

“Life is about lessons,” Winslow said. “I think he learned his lesson and now I think he’s going to have the opportunity to help the program win a big game.”

Having a player on this stage for the second straight year means a lot for Public League football, which doesn’t always get a lot of respect.

“I think it’s one of the most important and gratifying moments that CPS has ever had, at least as long as I’ve been around,” Winslow said. “A lot of the coaches like [Morgan Park’s] Chris James and Sinque [Turner of Kenwood] — those guys know Jahleel too. He is the measuring stick for a lot of [players] and even some of us as coaches.”

There is no doubting Billingsley’s physical gifts as a super athletic 6-4, 230-pounder.

“He’s so agile, he’s so smooth in his route running and he attacks the ball with his hands,” Winslow said. “That’s Odell Beckham-ish.”

NFL draft experts see the same attributes. CBS Sports ranks him as the No. 13 tight end prospect, while SI.com’s latest mock draft has him going in the third round, 66th overall, to the Jaguars.

Winslow can’t wait to see what’s next for Billingsley.

“I’m so proud of the kid,” Winslow said. “His family is good people. He deserves it.”