Etowah’s Alex Howard (pictured) and Hokes Bluff’s Darrian Meads were named the Defensive and Offensive Players of the Year, respectively, for the 2017 All-Messenger football team.
By Chris McCarthy
In a 2017 season that saw several local high school football teams qualify for the postseason, Hokes Bluff and Etowah had the longest journey down the postseason road with both squads making to the quarterfinals.
Appropriately, an Eagle and a Blue Devil were selected for the top honors of The Messenger’s All-Area football team.
Hokes Bluff sophomore running back Darrian Meads and Etowah junior lineman Alex Howard are the team’s Offensive and Defensive Most Valuable Players, respectively.
Meads, who was The Messenger’s Offensive MVP in 2016, followed up an outstanding freshman season with an even better year this past fall. As the Eagles’ bell cow on offense, he rushed for 2,036 yards (a 157-yard per game average) and 27 touchdowns while helping the Eagles go 10-3 and reach the third round of the Class 4A playoffs for the second year in a row. Earlier this month, he was named to the All-State first team for the second year in a row
Howard was a big factor in the Blue Devils’ 11-2 record, the program’s first region title in six years and the team’s first state quarterfinal berth since 1999. A two-way starter in the trenches, he finished with 64 tackles (including a team-high 29 for a loss), 11.5 sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries at defensive end. At offensive tackle, he graded out at 87 percent for the season while ending up with 53 pancake blocks and 78 nasty blocks. He was named to the 5A All-State second team on defense.
Joining Meads on the first-team offense was Hokes Bluff senior quarterback Landon Johnson, a four-year starter who this season
Johnson also saw extensive minutes in the defensive backfield and was named to the All-State second team as a punter after averaging nearly 40 yards per kick.
Southside junior Kenneth Bothwell and Etowah senior Cory Thomas made The Messenger’s first-team backfield after finishing with very similar statistics. Bothwell carried the ball 165 times for 1,222 yards and 12 TDs. Thomas paced the Blue Devil rushing attack with 1,220 yards and 12 touchdowns on 150 attempts.
Earning berths on the wide receiver unit were Hokes Bluff junior Braydon Hill, Etowah junior Emil Smith and Westbrook Christian junior P.J. Wells. Hill caught 38 passes for 438 yards, Hill had 34 receptions for 735 yards and 11 TDs and Smith hauled in 28 passes for 419 yards and eight scores.
Coosa Christian senior Jackson Justus was the first team tight end with 38 catches for 592 yards and five TDs.
Coosa Christian’s Caiden Lipscomb earned first-team Athlete recognition. The Conquerors’ junior quarterback/cornerback rarely left the field while throwing for 1,442 yards and 17 touchdowns and making 57 tackles.
Making the first-team offensive line were Etowah seniors Seth Lowry and Dylan Carden, Hokes Bluff junior Jack Busch, Sardis senior Braydon Lacey and Southside senior Nick Shirley.
Garnering first-team honors at both kicker and punter was Gadsden City’s Jonathan Kilgo. The Titan senior was 24-of-27 in extra point attempts and 7-for-10 in field goal attempts while averaging 60 yards on 20 kickoffs. He averaged 40.4 yards on 32 punts and set a state record with a 92-yard kick.
On defense, Sardis junior Tristan Holcomb, Etowah junior Jamin Graham, West End senior Dewayne Miller and Westbrook junior Jackson Luttrell made up the front four. Holcomb finished with 88 tackles and seven sacks; Graham produced 33 tackles and six sacks; Miller had 65 tackles (15 for a loss) and six sacks; and Luttrell wound up with 64 tackles (22 for a loss) and four sacks.
Making the cut at first-team linebacker were Eto-wah senior Jarren Wright, Westbrook senior Court Coley, Etowah junior Carter Dingler and Hokes Bluff senior Levi Taliaferro. Wright finished with a team-high 140 tackles, including six for a loss. Coley had a team-high 114 tackles (31 for a loss) along with two fumble recoveries. Dingler had 128 tackles and four sacks, while Taliaferro ended up with 159 tackles while also starting at fullback on offense. Wright and Coley both earned first team All-State honors.
The All-Area first team secondary features Hokes Bluff sophomore Austin Gu-lledge, Westbrook senior Caeden Godfrey, Gadsden City junior Calvin Williams and Etowah junior Justin Harris. Gulledge had an area-high 164 tackles from his safety position. Godfrey contributed 54 tackles (11 for a loss), three interceptions and two sacks. Williams finished with 83 tackles. Opposing teams didn’t test Harris very often, but when they did he responded with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
The Messenger’s All-Area Second team offense features Sardis senior Logan Gaskin at quarterback; Eto-wah senior Caleb Horton and Coosa Christian freshman Dartavious Britton at running back; Sardis senior Chase Bright, Glencoe senior Noah Huff and Gadsden City senior Jaelyn Fleming at receiver; Southside senior Gavin Orr at tight end; Glencoe senior Dawson Bass, Coosa Christian junior Chase Burger, Gadsden City senior Carson Liggan Sardis senior Clay Jacobs and Hokes Bluff senior Houston Edwards on the line; and Southside sophomore Nolan Johnson at kicker.
The second team defense includes linemen Etowah junior Jesse Altman, Gadsden City senior Jakobe Griffin, Glencoe senior Tyler Palomares and Southside sophomore Chance Moon on the line; Gaston junior Lane Talbot; Glencoe senior Bradley Scott, West End senior Matthew Hood and Coosa Christian senior Jake McDowell at linebacker; Sardis senior Jake Ross, Southside junior Blake Habyan and Coosa Christian freshman Evan Delp at defensive back; and Sardis senior Dakota Daniel at punter.
Earning honorable mention recognition were West End quarterback Payne Stancil, Gadsden City junior running back Jamontez Woods, Southside senior receiver Tristan Riggin, Hokes Bluff senior tight end Peyton Moore, Gadsden City junior offensive lineman Q. Dillard, Etowah senior kicker Raul Hernandez, Hokes Bluff senior defensive lineman Jacob Ackerman, Southside senior linebacker Logan McGee and Sardis senior defensive back Kale Walker.