News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Grieving player has stellar game

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The timeline gnaws at Jordan Creel, who missed his mother by about 15 minutes Wednesday night and woke up early Thursday to a screaming fire alarm and looming smoke.

There were only about 15 minutes between when Creel, tired from a day full of school, football practice and church, went to bed about 9 p.m., and when mom Karen came home from a friend's birthday party.

Creel wishes he had woke up when his mom perhaps kissed him on the forehead — he isn't sure but is confident she did — because of what he remembers next.

The fire alarm and smoke that hovered seemingly just above his nose rustled him from bed. He ran into the living room to find a wall of flame separating him from his mother's bedroom, the one from which he heard a faint cry of "help" when he called his mom's name.

There was nothing Jordan could do.

Karen Creel, the 43-year-old proud mother of three, died while huddled in the marble bathtub in her bathroom, sheltering her beloved dog in her lap, as Jordan feverishly ran to neighbors and pounded on their doors for help.

Just a few more minutes Wednesday night and Jordan would have that final memory he wishes had been perfect.

"I tried to stay up for her," Jordan said. "I remember moving her ring and bracelet to the table by the couch and waiting on her to come home, but I went to bed.

"I wish I would have woke up, if she kissed me on the head or not, but I don't remember. I just woke up at 3 to the fire alarm."

"One thing we're so thankful for is that she went peaceful," Jordan said. "There were no burns and she died of smoke inhalation with Missy, the dog she was sure was reincarnated from her pet when she was young."

Jordan found his peace quickly.

"He really encouraged me," said senior Joseph Gibbons, who arrived at school to find eerily silent classrooms and halls, checked out after a few hours and went to see Jordan.

"Before I saw him, I was so down, but he encouraged me with how strong he was."

Creel was only getting started.

He pondered late Thursday whether he should play in ACA's game Friday at Daleville and told coach Gregg Baker that he wanted to play..

ACA athletic director Denise Ainsworth, the mother of Creel's girlfriend, drove him to school. Halfway there, Creel realized he'd left his jersey in his car and the two turned around to fetch it. Ainsworth called Baker and told him to wait.

"She said, 'Don't let the bus leave,' " said Baker, who hurriedly started packing Creel's equipment while the rest of the team, unsure whether Creel was joining them, took their bus seats.

"They'd been asking me all day, 'Is he coming?' " Baker said. "We had his stuff ready, so they knew something was up."

His teammates greeted him with applause.

"Everybody was clapping and I was like, 'Why are you clapping?' " Creel said. "But it's a family out here. Almost better than the family at home."

In the pregame locker room, Creel cried while listening to Baker's speech and even gave one of his own. When the players started for the field, Baker lingered behind and cornered Creel for a one-on-one conversation. "I said, 'I don't care how you play. I want you to enjoy the next two hours,' " Baker said. " 'But I want you to play well for your mama because she's watching you right now.' "

Said Creel, "He told me, 'I love you like a son and I know you're going to have the best game of your life. What a way to give her a going-away party.' "

Creel ran for a career-high 232 yards and two touchdowns, made nine tackles and forced a fumble, and led Alabama Christian to a 24-21 upset of Daleville. His teammates lifted him on their shoulders after the final play, and the Alabama Sports Writers Association named him the state player of the week Monday.

On Friday, Creel needed so long to wade through fans and supporters that he joked there was no shampoo left when he reached the locker room. Daleville coach Sam Holland even came over to speak to the Eagles.

"I told him what he did was a tribute to who he was and what high school football is all about," Holland said Monday.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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