By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Paul Beaudry/For ASWA
A trio of local high school football players just received a belated Christmas gift.
Southside High’s Dantley Coker and Tyler Carr and Coosa Christian’s Ben Mills were selected as finalists for the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s 2013 Back/Lineman of the Year awards.
Winners in each class – as well as the ASWA’s annual Mr. Football award and Super 12 team – will be announced on Jan. 15 at the Alabama Activities Center in Montgomery at the event’s annual banquet, sponsored by the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association.
At its All-State meeting earlier this month, the ASWA selected three finalists in each category in each of the six classes in the Alabama High School Athletic Association and one from the Alabama Independent Schools Association.
A senior halfback, Coker rushed for 2,541 yards and 22 touchdowns. A good portion of Coker’s statistics resulted from the blocking of the 6’5”, 300-pound Carr, a junior tackle who already holds several D-I scholarship offers, including SEC members Alabama and Auburn. The Panther pair helped Southside to an undefeated regular season, a school-record 13 wins and a berth in the Class 5A state semifinals. Both players were named to the Class 5A All-State first team.
“I think that the biggest thing for both kids is that their willingness to do whatever we ask the to do, whether it’s in the weight room or dressing room or in the huddle or on the field,” said Southside head football coach Ron Daugherty, who recently was named Class 5A Coach of the Year. “Both kids are all about getting better, and not just individually. Team goals are the most important things for them.”
Daugherty said that due to the Panthers’ intense off-season conditioning work, he wasn’t surprised in the least in Coker production this season.
“Just like our whole team did, I felt that Dantley got a lot stronger in the fourth quarter. We put them through some pretty tough practices during the week so they’d be ready on Friday nights.”
Daugherty also said that he wasn’t surprised at Carr’ seamless transition from defensive to offensive tackle.
“Coach Rose and Coach Stewart talked with Tyler about whether he would just screen off the guys who are smaller than him because he could, or would he make them wish that they weren’t playing football. Towards the middle of the year, Tyler started getting that grit and seeing the enjoyment of just pounding a guy, and it was fun to watch.”
Although Carr most likely will be playing at the next level in 2015, Daugherty believes that Coker and several other Panther seniors can make it to the college gridiron.
“When the Division I coaches have been rolling through here wanting to see Tyler, I’ve asked them to help me out I making connections for some of our other kids. I really feel like we’ve got six or seven seniors who can play, whether it’s Division I, II or III. They’ll be successful if they get into the right system.”
In the words of Coosa head football coach Scott Clifton, Mills “was the most dominant person we had on both sides of the ball.” Clifton was not exaggerating, as the Class 1A first team All-State selection rushed for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns while catching 27 passes for 517 yards and five TDs. At linebacker, Mills racked up 159 tackles (27 for a loss), seven sacks and seven forced fumbles on defense.
Mills was the Conquerors’ statistical leader in every one of the above categories. He was also the team’s punter.
“It’s an exciting time for Ben and our program as a whole,” said Clifton. “I’m super excited for Ben to have the honor.”
Clifton noted that Mills’ toughness and work ethic was second to none.
“It was amazing to see him out there for all 48 minutes of a game, not only be able to do it conditioning-wise but play at a high level all game long. Ben only came off the field on field goals and extra points. On defense he’d be running people down from plays that were away from him, On offense he’d carry the ball 20 or 25 times and game and still be running over people in the fourth quarter.”
After weathering a tough first half of the season during which the Conquerors lost their first six games, Coosa rallied to win three of their final four contests. Clifton pointed to Mills’ mental and physical maturation as a big reason for that turnaround.
“As the season went along, Ben developed into the leader that we needed him to be and finally understood what it took to play running back and what his role was in the defense. As he progressed, it was neat to watch him grow into a fine football player and leader.”
What made Mills’ accomplishment even more special was that according to Clifton, he played the final seven games at less than 100 percent due nagging injuries.
“There were several times at practice where Ben was in obvious pain, but when it came to game time, you couldn’t tell that anything was wrong with him. And then you would hold him out of contact at practice, and the next thing you know, he’s in there tackling someone.”
2013 ASWA Back/Lineman of the Year finalists
Class 6A Back
Kendrick Doss, Florence, senior, quarterback; Keith Mixon, Shades Valley, junior, athlete; Racean Thomas, senior, running back
Class 6A Lineman
Rashaan Evans, senior, defensive line; Shaun Hamilton, Carver-Montgomery, senior, linebacker; Keith Holcombe, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, senior, linebacker
Class 5A Back
Dantley Coker, Southside, senior, running back; Nick Gibson, Pinson Valley, junior, running back; Tyler Johnson, Spanish Fort, sophomore, quarterback
Class 5A Lineman
Tyler Carr, Southside, junior, offensive line; Jordan Sims, Homewood, senior, offensive line; Tre Williams, St. Paul’s Episcopal, senior, linebacker
Class 4A Back
Ronnie Clark, Calera, senior, athlete; Troy Dixon, UMS-Wright, junior, running back; C.J. Tolbert, Dadeville, senior, quarterback
Class 4A Back
Blake Bean, Oneonta, senior, defensive line; Richard McBryde, Charles Henderson, junior, linebacker; A.J. Smoot, Dora, junior, defensive line
Class 3A Back
Ryan Carpenter, Colbert County, senior, running back; Jamarius Henderson, Dale County, junior, running back; Malik Miller, Madison Academy, sophomore, running back
Class 3A Lineman
Exavyer Jackson, Piedmont, senior, defensive line; Frank Williams, Madison Academy, senior, offensive line; Tyler Wright, Leeds, junior, linebacker
Class 2A Back
Jakoby Aldridge, Sweet Water, senior, running back; Marlon Bridges, Lanett, junior, athlete; Tyler Rogers, Mobile Christian, senior, running back
Class 2A Lineman
Kadarrius Lawrence, Fultondale, senior, offensive line; Baltazar Rubio, senior, defensive line; Trent Thrash, Fyffe, senior, linebacker
Class 1A Back
Jermarcus Brown, Pickens County, senior, running back; Terrance Hollingsworth, Berry, senior, running back; Brody Meeks, Lynn, senior, athlete
Class 1A Lineman
Eddquerron Harris, R.A. Hubbard, senior, defensive line; Jatevin Horn, Marengo, senior, linebacker; Ben Mills, Coosa Christian, junior, defensive line