The Friday Night Lights have gone dim with the end of the season, but it’s time to honor the stars who shone brightest on the gridiron in 2019.
While the season didn’t go as planned for everybody, two teams carried the torch for football in Fayette, as Sandy Creek and Starr’s Mill both reached the state semifinals. Along with their dominance on the field, the Patriots and Panthers both lead the way in our All-County honors.
Standing above stiff competition, Brian Branch of Sandy Creek is the Player of the Year. The Alabama signee came into the season with a lot of hype, and he lived up to it and then some. Branch did a little bit of everything, catching 60 passes for 1,107 yards and 14 touchdowns as a receiver, recording 26 tackles and 6 interceptions with 2 defensive touchdowns in the secondary, and notching 2 punt return touchdowns.
For his ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball, Cole Bishop of Starr’s Mill is the Ironman of the Year. Bishop, a junior sensation, made his biggest mark for the Panthers as a defensive back, racking up 101 tackles and 5 interceptions. Offensively, he was a big-play wideout, hauling in 8 catches for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns in a run-heavy attack.
It was impossible to pick just one star on offense, so Sandy Creek’s Rashad Amos and Matt Williams share Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors. Amos, a running back signed to play at South Carolina, piled up 1,432 yards running at a 7.74 yards per carry clip, with an eye-popping 30 touchdowns. He also added 485 yards receiving with 6 more touchdowns. Williams, a senior quarterback, rewrote the Patriots’ record books with 3,880 yards passing, 40 touchdown passes, and over 4,000 total yards of offense. He was efficient too, completing 63 percent of his passes, with only 9 interceptions, along with an extra rushing touchdown.
Joining his teammates in picking up individual honors, Nolan Johnson of Sandy Creek is Defensive Player of the Year. The junior linebacker was an unblockable force, piling up a ridiculous 120 tackles with 5 sacks and 2 force fumbles.
A familiar face leads the way, as Chad Phillips of Starr’s Mill is Coach of the Year. Phillips’s Panthers came into 2019 without big-time recruits or lofty headlines, but they just went out and racked up wins. Against opponents more physically opposing or athletically gifted, they played with heart and love for each other, finishing with a 10-4 record, reaching the semifinals for the first time in a decade, and winning a fourth-straight region championship along the way.
The All-County First Team kicks off with Hunter Lawson of Starr’s Mill under center. The senior posted 601 yards passing and 7 touchdowns and ran for 477 yards and 7 more touchdowns, but his contributions go beyond his stat line. As the quarterback in their complex option attack, it was Lawson’s decision making that made the high-octane Panther attack go.
The backfield bleeds blue and black with senior Starr’s Mill teammates Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne. Sims piled up 1,392 yards rushing, breaking the school’s career mark, and scoring 13 touchdowns. Bodne was the bruising compliment to Sims’s speed, racking up 1,243 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Sandy Creek teammates Ahmad Jackson and Dealo Parson are the wide receivers. Jackson, signed to play at Liberty, hauled in 61 catches for 1,1191 yards and 11 touchdowns. Parson, a lightning quick senior, caught 29 for 555 yards with 5 total touchdowns.
Owen Phillips of Starr’s Mill is the tight end. Phillips, a senior, did his best work as a blocker, but also hauled in 6 catches for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The offensive line is composed of Whitewater senior Grayson Bullard, Sandy Creek seniors Eric Gardiner, and Starr’s Mill juniors Joseph Rampey and Cole Sanders.
The defensive line is made up of Sandy Creek’s Jordan Mitchell and Justin Beadles and Whitewater’s Trevor Golubeff and TJ Hill. Mitchell, a Georgia Southern signee, racked up 46 tackles and 6 sacks. Beadles, a Virginia Tech signee, posted 29 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Golubeff, a senior, notched 63 tackles and 6 sacks. Hill, a sophomore, exploded for 76 tackles and 8 sacks.
The linebacking corp is built around Starr’s Mill’s Wes Haney and Vee Holcomb, Whitewater’s Micah Binford, and Sandy Creek’s Jared Davis. Haney, a junior, piled up 100 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 interception. Holcomb, a junior, posted 89 tackles and 2 sacks. Binford, a senior, racked up 93 tackles. Davis, a junior, notched 72 tackles and 3 sacks.
The secondary is Jonathan Higle of Starr’s Mill, Burton Hahn of McIntosh, and Sandy Creek’s Comanche Francisco and Cody Jones. Higle, a junior cornerback, racked up 37 tackles and 4 interceptions. Hahn, a senior safety, posted 66 tackles and 2 interceptions. Francisco, a UNC Charlotte signee at safety, put up 32 tackles and 1 interception. Jones, a UMass signee at safety, totaled 14 tackles and 3 interceptions.
The specialists are kicker Evan Rogers of Whitewater and punter Adrien Richez of McIntosh. Rogers, a senior, was 8 of 10 on extra points and 10 of 13 on field goals, booting a long of 50 yards. Richez, a senior, punted 31 times with 13 landing inside the 20 yard line, with a 37.77 yards per average and a long of 67 yards.
The First Team is rounded out by the talents that couldn’t be slotted into just one position. They are Marc Stampley of Fayette County, Ben Anderson of McIntosh, Maddox Mueller of Whitewater, and Miles Thornton of Sandy Creek. Stampley, a sophomore receiver and cornerback, posted 12 catches for 273 yards and 4 touchdowns on offense and 27 tackles on defense. Anderson, a junior linebacker and running back, tallied 82 tackles and 1 sack on defense, with 142 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on offense. Mueller, a senior dual-threat quarterback and receiver, put up 460 yards passing with 2 touchdowns, 428 yards rushing, and 18 catches and 4 touchdowns. Thornton, a sophomore receiver and quarterback, caught 23 passes for 472 yards with 7 total touchdowns.
The All-County Second Team is led by quarterback JeKobe Coleman of Fayette County. The senior dual-threat talent’s season was cut short by injury, but he still posted an impressive 1,159 yards passing with 15 total touchdowns.
The running backs are Dominick Cosper of McIntosh and Silas Rhodes of Whitewater. Cosper, a sophomore, shined after missing his first season due to injury, running for 544 yards and 6 touchdowns. Rhodes, a junior, led the Wildcats with 509 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.
Aaron Jones of Whitewater and Kamron Glass of Fayette County are the wideouts. Jones, a junior, caught 23 passes for 460 yards and 3 touchdowns. Glass, a senior, caught 12 for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Will Snellings of Whitewater is the tight end. Just a freshman, Snellings caught 10 passes for 66 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The offensive line is made up of Lloyd Shobe of Sandy Creek, James Forbes of Fayette County, Robert Clarke of McIntosh, and Starr’s Mill’s Jeff Tiller and Jaxon Via.
The defensive line is composed of Starr’s MIll’s Jack Barczak and Barrett Schmidlkofer, Whitewater’s Terry Brown, and Fayette County’s Emmanuel Orusa. Barczak, a senior, blew up in the playoffs to finish with 5 sacks. Schmidlkofer, a sophomore, tallied 41 tackles and 3 sacks. Brown, a senior, posted 48 tackles and 4 sacks. Orusa, a senior, notched 55 tackles and 2 sacks.
The linebackers are the senior quartet of Ardit Hoti of Starr’s Mill, Stephen Domaleski of Whitewater, Nathan Anderson of McIntosh, and Fred Claridy. Hoti posted 76 tackles and 1 sack. Domaleski racked up 78 tackles. Anderson notched 56 tackles and 4 sacks. Claridy put up 67 tackles.
The secondary is Fayette County’s Camron Ivey and Nicholas Price, Starr’s Mill’s Nate Kearns, and Whitewater’s Daeveon Buie. Ivey, a senior, put up 23 tackles. Price, a junior, posted 19 tackles. Kearns, a junior, tallied 48 tackles and 2 interceptions. Buie, a senior, notched 31 tackles.
The specialists are kicker Christian Castillo of Starr’s Mill, punter Brennen Schmitt of Whitewater, and David Gonzalez of Sandy Creek.
Castillo, a senior, went 49 of 50 on extra points and 4 of 8 on field goals, with a long of 32. Schmitt, a junior, booted 49 punts at a 35.25 yards average, with 16 landing inside the 20. Gonzalez, a senior, handled kicking and punting chores, hitting on 68 of 74 extra points, 3 of 7 field goals with a 46-yard long, and averaged 31.9 yards per punt.
The Second Team is completed with the multi-position stars. They are Andrew Villiger of McIntosh, Gavin Necessary of Starr’s Mill, and Fayette County’s Miles Montgomery and Joshua Thomas. Villger, a senior receiver and defensive back, put up 27 catches for 343 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 passing touchdown on offense and 29 tackles and 1 interception on defense. Necessary, a junior receiver and punter, punted 114 yards receiving with 2 touchdowns, 1 touchdown passing, and a 38.1 yards-per-punt average. Montgomery, a senior, posted 316 yards rushing and 1 touchdown and 24 tackles in a partial season with the Tigers. Thomas, a junior, tallied 140 yards rushing, 313 yards receiving, and 3 touchdowns, along with 33 tackles and 1 sack.
There is still a lot of talent at Honorable Mention.
Fayette County High’s honorees are Jordan Bridges, Matthew Gilliam, Nasir Long, and Elijah Taylor. McIntosh’s honorees are Matthew Allum, Jeffrey Burrell, Hayes Herzog, Ari Petruzelli, Joseph Presell, and Luis Salkeld. Starr’ Mill’s honorees are Jackson Baxley, Karsen Kalen, Micaiah Shaber, and Joseph Suddreth. Whitewater’s honorees are Chris Mitchell, Kyle Morris, John Raines, and Kevin Wilcher. Our Lady of Mercy’s All-County honorees are Bryson Mullins, Darren Jackson, John Phillips, Anthony Griffin, Brennan Schmitz, and Jayden Watson.