It’s time for another look back at the high school gridiron with the annual All-County Football Team.
It was another strong year for the county, with three teams making the state playoffs. Sandy Creek and Starr’s Mill both made the second round, while Fayette County lost in a tough opening round matchup against Buford.
With great teams comes great players deserving of recognition.
When it comes to the top all-around star in the county, one name has to come to mind. Sandy Creek’s do-it-all athlete Javon Jackson is the Player of the Year. Jackson, a Duke commit, was a threat on every snap. On defense, he intercepted 7 passes. On special teams, he averaged 28 yards per kick return and 19 on punts. On offense, he caught 11 passes for 177 yards and a score, ran for 67 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 72 more and an additional score. The Blue Devils are getting themselves a top weapon.
Even with so much talent on offense, the choice for top honors was clear. Rico Frye of Starr’s Mill is the Offensive Player of the Year. Just a sophomore, Frye broke the Panther records held by Zack Laskey, piling up 1,697 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. With two more years left, he’s going to be giving defenses nightmares for a while.
The competition for top honors on defense was especially heated, but Sean Harper of Fayette County emerges as the Defensive Player of the Year. Harper, a senior, was a force of nature on defense for the Tigers, roaming from sideline to sideline and making countless plays in the backfield racing up from his safety spot. Harper racked up 84 tackles, recovered 2 fumbles, and added a blocked kick.
A compelling case could be made for any of the county coaches for top honors. Chip Walker at Sandy Creek is always one of the state’s best, and Mike Davis got his Fayette County squad back in the postseason again despite a number of tough injuries. Mike Earwood, Amos McCreary, and Lee Belknap each had their squads battling for every inch, even with rosters heavy on young players. For putting together one of the best years in school history, Chad Phillips of Starr’s Mill is Coach of the Year. Under his guidance, the Panthers finished 10-2 with another trip to the playoffs, including an eight-game winning streak to start the season. All of that was done with a team full of underclassmen and injuries to key veterans.
Next up are the All-County First Team and Second Team, along with the top players at each position.
Quarterback of the Year Bryant Walker leads the All-County First Team. Walker, just a sophomore, completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 1,538 yards with 13 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions for Sandy Creek.
Running Back of the Year Rico Frye is joined in the backfield by Sandy Creek’s Marvin Hubbard. Hubbard, a junior, ran for 985 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
Eric Woods of Sandy Creek is the First Team fullback. Woods, a junior, blew open massive holes for the Patriots all year, while also scoring 5 touchdowns of his own.
Wide Receiver of the Year Korey Banks is joined on the First Team by Dion Munerlyn of Starr’s Mill and Wade Barlow of Fayette County. Banks, a senior committed to North Carolina, hauled in 61 passes for 813 yards and 8 touchdowns for Sandy Creek. Munerlyn, a senior, was an all-around threat for the Panthers, catching 8 passes for 331 yards for a massive 41 yards per catch average. He also ran for 771 yards, piling up 17 total touchdowns. Barlow, a senior, caught 14 passes for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns in 8 games.
Parker Mallett of Sandy Creek is the First Team tight end. Mallett, a junior, caught 5 passes for 140 yards with one 1 touchdown, while also chipping in as an excellent blocker.
Offensive Lineman of the Year Chandler Tuitt is joined in the trenches by Sandy Creek teammate Sir James Prothro, Fayette County’s Justin Wade, Starr’s Mill’s Colin Maguire, and McIntosh’s Asa Smith. Tuitt, an Ole Miss commit, and Prothro, a senior, helped paved the way for an offense that averaged 334 yards a game. Wade, a senior, and the Tigers ran for over 1,300 yards. Maguire, a senior, and the Panthers averaged 34 points a game. Smith, a senior, anchored the left side of the Chief line.
Defensive Lineman of the Year DJ Forte is joined by Derek Bertke of McIntosh, Ryan Spiecha of Starr’s Mill, and Tay Cody of Fayette County. Forte, a senior, posted 34 tackles and 6 sacks in the interior of the line. Bertke, a senior, anchored the Chief defensive line, posting 96 tackles and 3 sacks. Spiecha, a senior, finished the season with All-Region First Team honors. Cody, a senior, piled up 66 tackles and 2 sacks with a defensive touchdown.
Linebacker of the Year Will Harper is joined by his Sandy Creek teammate Elijah Gilmore, McIntosh’s Owen Peacock, Starr’s Mill’s Garrett Houston, and Whitewater’s Hunter Griffin. Harper, a senior, racked up 63 tackles and is one of the state’s most sought-after prospects. Gilmore, a senior, paced the team in tackles for the second straight year with 65. Peacock, a senior, posted 86 tackles and 3 sacks. Houston and Griffin, both seniors, lead their teams in the heart of the defense after earning Super 12 preseason honors.
Defensive Back of the Year Sean Harper is joined by Fayette County teammate Trent Carrington, Sandy Creek’s Mychael Jenkins and Isaac Appling, and Starr’s Mill’s Marcel Ray. Carrington, a junior, tallied 78 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. Jenkins, a junior, saved his best for the playoffs, finishing the season with 47 tackles and 7 interceptions. Appling, a junior, was a shutdown corner that teams avoided all year. Ray, a senior, paced a stingy Panther defense on the backend.
Specialist of the Year Parker Romo earns First Team honors after a strong season with McIntosh. Romo, a senior, averaged 42 yards per punt, was 15-for-15 on extra points, and hit 5 field goals with a long of 48.
The First Team is rounded out by a group of players too talented to slot into just one spot, the athletes and ironmen. Javon Jackson is joined by Ian McIntyre of Whitewater, Anthonie Powell of Fayette County, Satchel Goodrich of Starr’s Mill, and Our Lady of Mercy’s Bryce Griffin. McIntyre, a senior, was the heart of the Wildcats as a bruising running back and defensive back. Powell, a junior, started the season at receiver for the Tigers, catching 8 passes for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns, before moving to quarterback and piling up 370 yards and 4 scores through the air and 413 yards and 4 more touchdowns on the ground. Goodrich, a senior, missed time with injury, but still managed to accumulate 210 yards receiving while playing stellar defense as a cornerback. Griffin, a senior, was the most consistent offensive lineman for the Bobcats, while also leading the defense in tackles with 95, along with 4 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.
The All-County Second Team boasts its own impressive array of talent.
Charlie Feldner of Our Lady of Mercy is the quarterback. Feldner, a senior, did not post gaudy numbers playing in a run-based offense (795 yards passing), but his leadership helped keep an extremely young squad competitive all season.
Jaelen Greene of Sandy Creek and Nick Brown of Starr’s Mill are the running backs. Greene, a junior, pounded his way to 710 yards and 8 touchdowns. Brown, a sophomore, piled up 650 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 85 carries.
Justin Emerson of Our Lady of Mercy is the fullback. Emerson, a senior, was a two-way force for the Bobcats, posting 221 yards and a score on offense.
The wide receivers are Kaleb Slaughter of Sandy Creek, Daveion Nash of Fayette County, and Luke Allen of Whitewater. Slaughter, a junior, hauled in 12 passes for 199 yards and two scores. Nash, a senior, was limited by injury, but still caught 24 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Allen, a senior, was a steady veteran presence for the Wildcats.
The offensive line is made up of Sandy Creek’s Chance Brown, Savon Simmons, and Cole Neely, Starr’s Mill’s Devin King, and McIntosh’s Hunter Fox. The Patriot trio helped lead their team to 30 points per game, while King and Fox both earned All-Region Second Team honors for their play.
The defensive line is composed of Sandy Creek’s Colby Warrior and Taylor Hodge with Whitewater’s Trey Miller and Nick Hellams of Our Lady of Mercy. Warrior, a junior, posted 24 tackles and 2 sacks. Hodge, a sophomore, tallied 23 tackles and 2 sacks. Miller, a senior, was a big load in the middle that caused problems for opposing teams all year. Hellams, a senior, posted 59 tackles and 2 sacks.
The linebackers are Starr’s Mill’s Melvin Broomfield and Anthony Davis, with Sandy Creek’s Antonio Trapp and Fayette County’s Malcolm Easterwood. Broomfield and Davis, both seniors, keyed a tough Panther defense. Trapp, a senior, racked up 37 tackles and a sack as one of the Patriots’ most underrated players. Easterwood, a junior, piled 86 tackles and an interception.
The defensive backs are headed up by Sandy Creek’s Tariq Muhammad and Ian Barnes, with Whitewater’s Cedrick Gervin, McIntosh’s Robby Mustic, and Starr’s Mill’s Matt Mullins. Muhammad, a senior who converted from wide receiver, posted 26 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery. Barnes, a senior, added 13 tackles and an interception. Mustic, a senior, posted 71 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. Mullins, a senior, battled through injury to post a strong season on defense and as a punt returner.
The Second Team specialist is Matthew Shupenus from Our Lady of Mercy. Shupenus, a senior, averaged 37 yards per punt, was 17-of-19 on extra points, and hit 4 field goals with a long of 46 yards.
The Second Team athletes are Taylor Casterline of McIntosh, James Hawkins of Fayette County, and Robert Chery of Our Lady of Mercy. Casterline, a senior, was one of the Chiefs’ top receivers, as well as a threat to throw the ball. James Hawkins, a junior, was a solid corner for the Tigers, but made his biggest play of the year when he hit a 37-yard field goal to send his team back to the playoffs. Chery, a junior, started the season at safety for the Bobcats before moving to the defensive line and excelling, finishing with 48 tackles and 3 sacks.
There is still a host of players deserving of Honorable Mention recognition. Fayette County’s honorees are Thez Wyatt, Malek Bowe, Jalen Ridges Jaylon Rhodes, Jacobie Wilkerson, Noah Alford, and Terase Hagans. McIntosh’s honorees are Daniel King, Brody King, and Dawson Riesselmann. Sandy Creek’s honorees are Major Weems, Javan Hawes, Drezyn Parson, Jay Johnson, Nate Brown, and Gary Davis. Starr’s Mill’s honorees are Ryan Roper, Joey DeLuca, and Whitaker Chu. Whitewater’s honorees are Gage Langlois, Antonio Andrews, James Teague, and Liam Voigt. Our Lady of Mercy’s honorees are Patrick Mangawang, James Morris, DJ Robins, Tyler Hill, and Grant Walker.