With 2012 now behind us, it is time to close the book on another tremendous football season with the announcement of the Fayette Newspapers All-County Team.
Each year as the overall play around the area gets better and better, the process of selecting the award winners and the team members gets harder and harder. In the end, we do the best we can to honor the finest football players around. Selections are made with nominations from the coaches of the schools and the staff here at the paper.
Before delving into the honorees, we have to mention some of the tremendous team efforts from 2012.
Obviously you have to start with another special season from the Sandy Creek Patriots. For the third time in four years, the Patriots are the state champions. At this point, it is no longer a surprise to see Sandy Creek holding the trophy at the end of the season. They have no doubt become one of the state's truly elite programs.
The Whitewater Wildcats put together their finest season in the young history of the school. The Cats finished 12-2, falling 28-14 to eventual state champion Gainesville in the semifinals. Whitewater ripped off a tremendous 12 game winning streak to highlight their campaign.
The McIntosh Chiefs did what they haven't done in some time, notching a .500 season for the first time in over a decade. The Chiefs started the season 3-0 and saw their highlight come when they beat Starr's Mill for the first time to tally their fifth win.
The Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats put up a strong season as well, finishing with a 6-5 mark for their third straight winning year. The Bobcats also truly earned their first playoff birth. They had reached the postseason once previously with just one win on an automatic region birth.
With so many strong team performances this year, there were obviously a number of impressive individual showings. However, one player stood out above them all. Running back Kendall Conley of Whitewater is the hands down choice for the All-County Most Valuable Player. Conley, a preseason Super 12 player, was expected to be good this year. No one could have predicted how good he would be. Conley ran for 2,157 yards on 267 carries (8 yards per carry) with 37 touchdowns. He was so impressive that some of his games were dubbed the Kendall Conley show. One coached called Conley simply a 'game changer.' During the nomination process, other coaches talked about facing Conley and thinking he was tackled and turning their focus to the next play, only to see he had somehow slipped away and was racing down the field for another score. "I think Kendall is a kid that it's very rare for you to run across in this day and time," Whitewater head coach Amos McCreary praises. "He is a kid where it's always 'coach, whatever it takes to win.' He's a rare player. He is one of the toughest football players I've ever coached."
Not far behind in terms of playmaking is wide receiver Demarre Kitt of Sandy Creek, the Offensive Player of the Year. Kitt, a junior, is not just one of the best wideouts in the state, but in the whole nation. Kitt hauled in 68 passes for 1,151 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged more than 16 yards as the Patriots' return man.
As one of the state's finest defensive teams, Sandy Creek had a number of special talents. Ultimately, junior linebacker Khari Lain gets the nod as Defensive Player of the Year. Lain led the way for the Patriots with 99 total tackles (69 solo) and two interceptions. His nose for the ball was never more evident than when Lain put their semifinals opponent on ice with a fumble recovery for a touchdown to send his team back to the Georgia Dome.
The award with the most qualified candidates had to be for the men leading the troops. Obviously, Chip Walker is one of the state's finest over at Sandy Creek. You can't win three titles in four years without being tremendous. As an opposing coach said of the Walker and the Patriots, "Their body of work is second to none in the state or even the nation." Our Lady of Mercy's Mike Earwood continues molding the Bobcats into a winning program. McIntosh's Lee Belknap is doing what many didn't think possible in making the Chiefs into a winner. Still, the honor of Coach of the Year goes to Amos McCreary of Whitewater. Many had counted the Wildcats out this year thanks to a number of key players graduating and a big loss in their season opener. McCreary turned his troops around to the tune of a 12 game winning streak and a spot in the state semifinals. The job he did at Whitewater was fantastic and his coaching peers recognized it, nominating him for top honors. Another coach said of McCreary and his team, "They've gotten better and better each and every week. He's done a fabulous job."
Without further adieu, it is time to name the All-County First Team, a hard fought honor among some tremendously talented players.
Sandy Creek's Cole Garvin leads the way under center as the top quarterback. Garvin, a junior, completed 64.8% of his passes while throwing for 2,491 yards and 20 touchdowns with just eight interceptions and a QB rating of 116.
Kendall Conley easily claimed one of the top spots at running back. He is joined by Sandy Creek's dynamic duo of Eric Swinney and Delvin Weems. Weems and Swinney, both sophomores, were simply too good to be split up. Swinney racked up 1,350 yards and 21 touchdowns with Weems picking up 1,042 yards and 16 scores.
Demarre Kitt leads the wide receiving corp, joined by Whitewater's Trevor Morgan and McIntosh's Trey Walters. Morgan, a commit to the University of Memphis, caught 20 passes for 498 yards with five touchdowns. Walters, a junior, caught 33 passes for 465 yards.
The offensive line is a diverse group with representatives from five different schools. The big men in the trenches are Sandy Creek's Alan Knott, Whitewater's Pat Dalton, McIntosh's Drew Saunders, Starr's Mill's Garrison Elliott, and Our Lady of Mercy's Matthew Frank. It's hard to put statistical numbers to their dominance on the line, but it's safe to say their offenses have each of them to thank for their many trips to the end zone.
On defensive line you will find Whitewater's Malik Harris along with a trio of Patriots in Chris Williams, Zach Lane, and Michael Henderman. Harris was wildly underrated, anchoring the Wildcats' defensive line as one of the state's finest nose guards. Harris tallied 64 tackles and five sacks. Williams, a junior, led the Patriots with 11 sacks.
The linebackers are comprised of Khari Lain and his teammate Wesley Sullivan with Whitewater's Colton Clemons. Sullivan, a junior, was second on the Patriots with 90 tackles. Clemons, a junior, racked up 147 tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Two senior leaders for Sandy Creek in Shaq Wiggins and Corey Griffin head up the secondary along with Whitewater's Jake Carlson and Fayette County's Braylyn Cook. Wiggins, a University of Georgia commit, is one of the state's top shutdown corners and notched three interceptions despite being avoided all year by opposing quarterbacks. Griffin moved to safety this year and made a seamless transition, racking up 71 tackles. Carlson tallied 67 tackles and three interceptions. Cook picked up 68 tackles while also making an impact as the Tigers' kick returner.
Mitchell McMillin, the Patriots' kicker, gets the nod for his 104 point season. Austin Barnard is the hands down choice at punter after he averaged 44 yards a kick with a season long of 69 yards.
Some players just can't be slotted into one position and that's where you find the 'Athlete' honorees Rashard Fant of Our Lady of Mercy as well as Christian Wafford.
Speed kills and Fant, a University of Indiana commit, put opposing teams in a world of hurt. In eight games, Fant picked up 467 yards and seven touchdowns on 46 rushes, tallied 271 yards and five touchdowns on 12 receptions, added 502 return yards and four touchdowns, and intercepted two passes. That's an amazing 1,240 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns while playing through injury.
Wafford, just a sophomore, was a tremendous running back in his own right behind Kendall Conley. Wafford was far not off from 1,000 yards while also shining as a linebacker, racking up 147 tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles.
The All-County Second Team is an excellent batch of players that could play with just about any group of talent you could assemble.
McIntosh quarterback Andrew Johnson leads the way. Johnson, a junior, threw for close to 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns while running for nearly 700 yards.
Fayette County's Montrel Kelley and Our Lady of Mercy's Chauncey Laboo are a pair of bruisers with the rock. Kelley, a sophomore, ran for 765 yards on only 86 carries (8.8 yards per carry) with 10 touchdowns. Laboo, a Mercer commit, picked up 507 yards and nine touchdowns on 83 carries.
Fayette County's Antonio Messick headlines the second team receivers along with Sandy Creek's Kyle Wilson and McIntosh's Brian White. Messick, a Georgia Tech commit, tallied 17 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown. Wilson hauled in 37 passes for 633 yards and three scores. White 25 passes for 367 yards.
The offensive line features Whitewater's Tyler Sullenberger and Levi Kerlin, Sandy Creek's Issac Saxon and Ryan Warrior, and McIntosh's Will Nase.
Ian Timmins and Joe Kelly , a pair of McIntosh Chiefs, anchor the defensive line along with Evan Krug of Starr's Mill and Lynix Branch of Our Lady of Mercy.
Fayette County's Christian Ingalls heads up the linebackers with Whitewater's Joey Renta and Starr's Mill's Luke Runyan. Ingalls, a junior, led the Tigers with 61 tackles. Renta racked up 140 stops and three sacks. Runyan led the Panthers with 102 tackles.
Sandy Creek's Juwan Pullium and Brian Miller lead the secondary to go with Starr's Mill's Josh Roberts and Whitewater's Josh Alexander. Both Miller and Alexander are just sophomores and will have two more years to terrorize quarterbacks. Roberts led the Panther secondary with 32 tackles and four interceptions.
Both Starr's Mill's Daniel Rorick and McIntosh's Mike Licitra deserve honors at placekicker. Rorick was a school record 10 of 10 on field goals for the Panthers. Licitra was 9 of 7, along with a 38 yard per punt average, for the Chiefs. Starr's Mill's Grant Aasen averaged 35 yards per punt for the Panthers.
Three players will also be honored as Athletes for their selfless contributions to their team.
Fayette County's Jason Williams, while more a traditional runner or receiver, again stepped in and played admirably as the Tigers' quarterback. Williams ran for 668 yards while completing 47 passes for six total touchdowns.
Sandy Creek's Jamon Rowe was a three year starter all over the field for the Patriots. Rowe had been a fixture on the defensive line, but moved to the offensive line this season to help out his brothers.
Whitewater's Dylan Davis was an excellent defensive lineman, tallying 56 tackles, one sack, and a blocked punt, but he also added tight end to his resume when his team needed him down the stretch.
With so many great players in Fayette, you know there had to be some more deserving of recognition. The players earning Honorable Mention are a great bunch. Sandy Creek is represented by defensive end Josh Branom, tight end Joseph Alexander, and fullback Antonio Williams.
Whitewater is represented by offensive lineman Corey Gates, quarterback Jay Ashley, and defensive lineman Russell Welch.
Fayette County is represented by wide receiver Ashton Jackson, offensive lineman Willis Howard, defensive lineman Jamal Robinson, and linebacker Terrence Kelley.
McIntosh is represented by offensive lineman Travis Bertke, linebacker Jordan Woodruff, linebacker Jake Carney, and quarterback/wide receiver/long snapper Duke Kinamon.
Starr's Mill is represented by offensive lineman Nick Petry, defensive back Timothy Roberts, wide receiver Hayden Beyer, running back Dion Munerlyn, and quarterback Kyle Moseley.
Our Lady of Mercy is represented by Chris Wesley, Anthony Proffit, Kalon Anthony, Albert Wilson, Delfayeo Matthews, Jordan Thomas, Jameson Vest, Matt Dwyer, Keagan Jordan, Kyle Wilkins, and Christian Coleman.