By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
State quarterfinalists Etowah and Hokes Bluff were well-represented on the 2018 All-Messenger high school football team.
The Class 5A Blue Devils and the Class 4A Eagles had seven and five players, respectively, make the first team, including three of the four postseason awards.
The choice for Player of the Year was not a difficult one. Hokes Bluff junior halfback Darrian Meads (pictured above), who recently was selected to the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s All-State first team for the third straight year, spearheaded the Eagles to an 11-2 record and a third straight trip to the state quarterfinals with 2,634 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns. For his career, Meads has rushed for 6,511 yards and 79 touchdowns.
Etowah’s Jamin Graham made his presence felt week in and week out from his defensive end position. A 6-foot-6, 235-pound senior who signed with Nebraska in December, Graham finished the 2018 season with 86 tackles (including 54 solo), 11 sacks, 35 tackles for a loss, two safeties, two forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns while helping the Blue Devils a 12-1 record, an undefeated regular season, a region championship and a second straight berth in the state quarterfinals. Graham and his fellow Etowah defenders posted five shutouts while limiting opponents to an average of 8.7 points per game.
The team’s Offensive MVP, Southside’s Kenneth Bothwell, Jr., was a major factor in the Panthers’ rebound from a 1-4 start to a 7-5 record, second place region finish and the program’s first playoff victory in five years. Despite most defenses loading the box against him, the senior halfback rushed for 1,387 yards and 21 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 508 yards and another five TDs.
Hokes Bluff junior Austin Gulledge certainly earned the honor of Overall Athlete. Not many Class 4A quarterbacks start or even see action of defense, but Gulledge manned the free safety position full-time all season for the Eagles. He passed for 1,136 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushed for 396 yards and nine scores on offense and had 47 tackles in the defensive backfield.
The first team offensive backfield features Coosa Christian senior quarterback Caiden Lipscomb, Coosa Christian junior running back Dartavious Britton and Westbrook Christian senior running back Hunter Grimes. Lipscomb passed for 2,415 yards and 30 touchdowns and Britton rushed for 1,514 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 318 yards and three scores to help the Conquerors go 7-4 and qualify for the state playoffs for the third year in a row.
Grimes sparked the Warrior ground game with 1,362 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He was the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher in several years as Westbrook went 7-4 made the state playoffs for the second year in a row.
The first team receiving unit includes West End junior Jeremiah Roberson, Westbrook senior P.J. Wells and Coosa Christian sophomore Evan Delp. Roberson and Wells finished 1-2 in The Messenger’s coverage area with 67 and 45 catches, respectively. Both had over 800 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Delp, who had 38 receptions, was the area’s lone 1,000-yard receiver. He caught 12 TD passes. Both Roberson and Wells made the Class 2A All-State second team.
Sardis senior Jacob Hopper, who had 31 catches for 378 yards and nine touchdowns, made the team at tight end.
The first team offensive line consists of Hokes Bluff senior Jack Busch, Coosa Christian senior Chase Burger, Southside sophomore Garrett Orr, Westbrook senior Michael Lake-Haygood and Sardis senior Tre Dalrymple.
Gadsden City senior Carlos Flores gets the nod at kicker after making five of eight field goal attempts and connecting on 23 of 26 extra points.
The team’s Offensive Athlete is Gadsden City senior Jamontez Woods, who rushed for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned kickoffs, including a 99-yard return for a touchdown against James Clemens. Woods, who committed to Troy University back in the fall, made the Class 7A first team in the Athlete category.
Hokes Bluff’s Mike Robertson and Etowah’s Drew Noles shared Coach of the Year honors.
Etowah senior Trey Cole, Southside senior Chance Moon, Westbrook senior Jackson Luttrell and Etowah senior Alex Howard make up the first team defensive line. Cole had 62 tackles (including 30 for a loss), 10 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles; Moon had 74 tackles; Luttrell had 70 tackles (including 23 for a loss), 14 sacks, 19 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries; and Howard had 77 tackles (including 34 for a loss) and 10 sacks. Luttrell made all-state first team, while Cole made second team.
At first team linebacker are Etowah seniors Jarren Wright and Carter Dingler and Hokes Bluff sophomore Will Clemons. Wright and Dingler finished 1-2 in the coverage area with 132 and 120 tackles, respectively. Wright had 19 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. Dingler had 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three fumble recoveries. In his first season as a full-time starter, Clemons led the Eagles with 100 tackles.
The first team secondary features Etowah junior DeRickey Wright, Etowah senior Justin Harris, Sardis senior Trent Presley and Southside senior Blake Habyan. Wright was a first-team all-state pick following a season that included 46 tackles, six interceptions (including three returned for a touchdown) and six pass breaks-ups. Harris had 29 tackles (including 16 solo), an interception and a forced fumble. He signed with Vanderbilt in December. Presley finished with 52 tackles and six interceptions, while Habyan patrolled the Panther secondary with 55 tackles and five interceptions.
Southside junior Nolan Johnson was named first team punter after kicking 26 times for 940 yards for a 36.2 average. He had eight punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. He also had fields goals of 29 and 34 yards, was 36 of 39 in field goal attempts and had 24 touchbacks on kickoffs. He was a second team all-state selection.
Hokes Bluff senior Braydon Hill was named Defensive Athlete after starting at both defensive back and receiver. Hill had Hill had 52 tackles at cornerback while catching 29 passes for 609 yards and eight touchdowns on offense.
The All-Messenger second team offense includes West End senior quarterback Jacob Jones; Gaston senior Kameron Hawkins and Etowah sophomore Trent Davis at running back; West End sophomore Eli Pearce and Etowah senior Emil Smith at receiver; and Hokes Bluff senior Houston Edwards, Etowah senior Davion Smith, Glencoe senior Julian Bethel and Hokes Bluff junior Austin Elder at offensive line.
The second team defense features Coosa Christian senior Karter Roberts, Sardis senior Tristen Holcomb, Etowah junior Isaiah Atchison and West End senior Michael Patton at line; Southside junior Zeke Hefner, Gaston senior Lane Talbot and Sardis senior Brandon Noblitt at linebacker; and Gadsden City senior Samuel Goldthreate, Hokes Bluff senior Carson Eubanks, Sardis senior Mason Golden and Southside senior Brennan Stokes in the secondary.
Garnering honorable mention recognition were Westbrook senior Jackson Cox and Etowah sophomore Brady Troup at quarterback; Sardis senior Drew Vaughn and Westbrook senior John Ross Morgan at running back; Coosa Christian senior Caleb Cates, West End senior Kaleb Arledge and Gadsden City senior Carte’un Mitchell at receiver; Southside senior Ethan Stevenson, Coosa Christian junior Reece Myrick and Sardis junior Michael Turner at defensive line; Etowah senior Lester Phillips, Gaston junior Gage McArthur and Gadsden City senior Tyrone Tripp at linebacker; and Etowah sophomore, NyNy Davis, Hokes Bluff senior Jackson Fielding and Gadsden City senior Calvin Williams in the secondary.