2019 All-County Football Team Honored
With bellies still full after stuffing in our Thanksgiving feast, a quick look back at the local high school gridiron campaign is in order as we recognize the 2019 Banner All-County Team.
For the third straight year, the area coaches made their nominations, with the Banner Sports staff narrowing down the final choices for this year's honor squad.
All three county teams are well represented, including each walking away with at least one of the top awards.
Bradley Central dual-threat quarterback Javin Burke captured the Offensive Player of the Year, while Cleveland linebacker Leo Palelei was chosen at the Defensive Player of the Year. Bear standout prospect Tray Curry earned the new Athlete of the Year Award.
In honor of leading the turnaround of the Walker Valley program, new wrangler Drew Akins is the 2019 Coach of the Year.
With its 10th straight trip to the TSSAA postseason, Bradley ended up with a dozen of the 29 total honorees, while Walker Valley's improvement is reflected with 11 and Cleveland rounded the team out with a half-dozen players.
After transferring in from McCallie last January, Burke stepped into some huge Bear QB shoes, which included four straight All-State performances by Dylan Standifer and Cole Copeland.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior responded to the challenge by leading one the most potent offenses in Bradley history, which put up 451 points, for a program record average of 41 points per game, plus gained 4,741 yards while posting a 7-4 record.
Burke led the Bears with 738 yards on 99 rushes, for a 7.5 average, plus he found the end zone 10 times, many of which came from long breakaway runs.
With a powerful arm, he completed 120-of-222 passes for 2,152 yards and posted a 22-to-8 TD to interception ratio.
Menacing offenses all season, Palelei was in on 76 total tackles, including 31 solos. He made five tackles for loss, including a pair QB sacks.
With a nose for the ball, the "Mad Marauder" followed up his half-dozen takeaways to make last year's All-County team, with another five takeaways this season.
A Power 5 Conference 2021 prospect, Curry is the top rated junior "athlete" in the state according to some national scouting websites, and only bolstered that standing with another tremendous campaign.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder averaged over 13.5 yards a touch this season, with 1,327 all-purpose yards, plus led the area in scoring with 108 points on 18 trips to paydirt.
Curry, who played both wide receiver and running back for the Bears, had a devilish rushing total of 666 yards on 63 carries (10.6 ypc), scampering into the end zone on several long runs.
He also pulled in 31 aerials for another 566 yards and seven scores. Just to round out his versatility, Curry also threw a 37-yard halfback pass for a touchdown. The junior speedster returned a trio of kickoffs for 58 yards.
Taking over a program that only had one win the previous two seasons, Akins snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 42-40 road victory at Knox Karns to open the season.
After falling to state-ranked Bradley and Rhea County, plus a surprising three-point loss at White County, the Mustangs galloped to three straight midseason wins, outscoring Cumberland County, Lenoir City (their first region win in almost three years) and Marion County 159-44.
An offensive guru, Akins' Stallions put up 3,580 yards and scored 307 points this season.
The Mustang fans and classmate have rallied around the team, which has a renewed outlook for a positive Herd future.
The All-County offense includes linemen seniors Michael Holyfield (6-foot-4, 280) and CJ Dills (6-foot-1, 265) from Bradley, along with Blue Raider Austin Allen (6-foot-2, 275), plus WV juniors Trevor Vines (6-foot-5, 265) and Skylar Mullins (6-foot, 220).
The three-headed rushing attack features Raider sophomore sensation Tetoe Boyd (area leading 1,437 yards, 230 carries, 6.2 ypc, 10 TDS), Mustang senior Kole Hall (948 yards, 154 carries, 6.2 ypc, 10 TDs) and Bear senior Ricky McCleary (733 yards, 63 carries, 7.0 ypc, 9 TDs, while missing significant time the last few games due to an ankle injury).
With Burke getting the OPOY nod, WV junior signal caller Tucker Pope (323 yards, 75 carries, 2 rushing TDs, 157-of-275 passing completions for 1,976 yards with a 19-to-13 TD to INT ratio) slides into the AC QB slot.
The talented receiving corps include Raider senior and Samford commit Robert Flowers (area-leading 839 yards on 40 catches, 21.0 ypc, 10 TDs), Bear junior Kanon Hall (825 yards, 38 receptions, 21.7 ypc, 8 TDs) and Mustang senior Noah Duprey (481 yards, 28 catches, 17.2 ypc, 9 scores).
On the defensive side of the ball, the front line includes Mustang teammates Shimier Davis (6-foot-5, 247 pounds, 24 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 takeaway) and Bryce Hixson (33 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 3 takeaways), plus Bradley junior CJ Hardy (6-foot-1, 220 pounds, 43 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks).
The linebacking corps features some of the top tacklers in the area, including Mustang lead Kellar Carson (96 total hits, 51 solos, 6 TFL, a takeaway), Bear teammates Camden Creighton (79 tackles, 47 solos, 8 TFL, a sack, 4 takeaways) and Kam Arrowood (66 tackles, 32 solos, 5 TFL, a sack, an interception), plus Cleveland senior Zach Turner (66 hits, 32 solos, 3 TFL, a takeaway).
The all-star secondary is led by Bradley senior strong safety Tucker Still (area-leading 102 tackles, 74 solos, 6 TFL, 1 fumble recovery).
Also having standout seasons in the defensive backfield were Cleveland senior safety Parker Chastain (87 tackles, 37 solos, 1 TFL, 2 takeaways), Mustang junior safety Skyy Craig (74 tackles, 54 solos, 1 TFL) and Bear senior cornerback Davion Horton (19 tackles, 3 INT, 12 pass deflections).
This year's All-County squad honors two senior kickers — Bradley's Isaac Vaughan and Walker Valley's Charlie Swafford.
Vaughan, a Bear soccer standout, was talked into coming out to fill a need for the football team and responded by connecting on 45-of-49 extra point attempts, including a school record 27 in a row, plus a trio of field goals, including the game-winner at the end of the Cleveland game.
Adding 35 extra point kicks to his resume this season, Swafford became the all-time leading scorer in Mustang history this season. A four-year starter, he has 88 PATs and a half-dozen field goals for 106 points in Navy-and-Gold.