2012 Class 1A All County teamPublished 12:00am Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Florala’s 6-4 finish in 2012, its best since 2007, highlights the Andalusia Star-News’ Class 1A All-County football team. The Wildcats got off to a good start with a big win over Central Hayneville. After losing three straight region games, FHS beat J.U. Blacksher and Red Level in weeks five and six. FHS fell to Kinston 14-12, which effectively bumped it from the playoff hunt. The Wildcats then went on to win three straight, including a final-game win over playoff-bound Fruitdale. This was the best record for FHS since 2007, when it finished in the second round. As a result of Florala’s success this season, second-year head coach Justin Jones was selected as the Coach of the Year. Wildcats’ senior quarterback Austin McNeill was selected as the Offensive Player of the Year, and PHS senior linebacker John Newby was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year. The Class 1A Reader’s Choice Player of the Year is Red Level’s Caleb Varner, who had 11 votes.
Coach of the Year — Justin Jones, Florala
Florala head football coach Justin Jones is this year’s Coach of the Year.
“To me, it’s a great honor and I’m very humbled by it,” Jones said on receiving the honor. “To me, it’s a team thing. It’s more about our kids and how they responded to what they wanted.”
Jones gave a lot of credit to his assistant coaches who have bought into his system.
“The kids, starting from the seniors down, just bought in to what we expect out of them, being hard-nosed football players, trying to be disciplined in and out of the classroom,” he said. “We hope that this can be a great start for where we want to go in the future.”
Jones said he thought his team responded well in the second half of the season.
“Five out of your last six you win and the last being a playoff team,” he said. “A lot of it being 5-1 at home, and the only loss to the eventual state champion, that’s not nothing you can’t really say that’s too bad.”
The most memorable game for Jones came against Fruitdale, especially in the second half of the game, when the Wildcats’ defense showed up to play. Fruitdale had been driving the field over Florala in the first half.
“Nobody had really marched it down the field on us during the season,” he said. “There were some people who scored. They did that for two drives.
“They responded to that coaching in the second half,” he said. “They hit a long pass right there at the end, but it was pretty much over anyway. They didn’t punt in the first half, but punted four times in the second half.”
Jones has compiled a 8-12 record so far at FHS.
The runner-up Coach of the Year is Cody McCain of Pleasant Home.
Offensive Player of the Year — Austin McNeill, Florala
Florala senior quarterback Austin McNeill said he knew his Wildcats were going to have a good season in 2012.
McNeill had a good season as well, finishing with 1,133 rushing yards and 527 passing yards, while scoring 21 touchdowns.
Good blocking and play calling helped out a lot during his break out-season, McNeill said.
“Everything fell into place after that,” he said.
McNeill said he knew he had to have a good year given that it was his last as a Florala Wildcat.
“My team helped me out a lot with that,” he said. “We accomplished more than we have in a long time.”
The senior said he didn’t feel much pressure at QB because he’s played the position so much.
“There’s always pressure being quarterback,” he said. “But, after you’ve been quarterback for so long, you get used to it.”
What made this year unique for McNeill was the fact that this was the first time that he’s played with the same coaching staff for back-to-back years.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” he said. “They’ve believed in me since we started. They knew that I’d be able to carry this team.”
McNeill hit a milestone during the last game of the season, surpassing 1,000 rushing yards against Fruitdale.
“I wasn’t aware how many yards I’d needed for the game,” McNeill said. “He told me I’d rushed for more yards in one half during the season.”
Ending the season at 6-4 was a big step for the future of the program, McNeill said.
“I would’ve really loved to make the playoffs, but I knew that we had set a foundation for years to come and that it will only get better,” he said.
McNeill is the son of Archie and Lisa McNeill of Florala.
The runner-up Offensive Player of the Year is Cameron Hill of Pleasant Home.
Defensive Player of the Year — John Newby, Pleasant Home
Pleasant Home senior linebacker John Newby is this year’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Newby said it was a tough road to get to 117 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries for the season, but wouldn’t change anything for the world.
When asked how he compiled such a lofty statistic at tackles, Newby said it all goes back to peewee ball.
“Hunt the ball. I’ve alway been taught since I was little to fly to the ball, no matter what’s going on and don’t stop until the whistle blows,” he said. “That’s where it’s gotten me. It’s finally gotten me to 117 tackles. I thought I’d never get to 117.”
Newby’s dad, Bryan, has been a central part of his football life, the senior said.
“He’s coached me through peewee,” John said. “He’s the one that’s told me to never stop running.”
Newby’s played the sport he loves ever since he was in kindergarten, and admitted that the game has changed every year as he grew older.
“It seemed like when everyone was younger, everybody was bigger than you,” he said. “As I got older, I learned more. You could get the feel of it more, where you need to be on the field.”
More than anything, Newby said he appreciates the help he got from the defensive line and coaches that led to his success this season.
John is the son of Bryan Newby of the Pleasant Home community.
The runner-up Defensive Player of the Year is Blake Donaldson of Florala.
On the offensive side of the ball, Florala and Pleasant Home take up four spots each on the team.
Florala’s Austin McNeill was selected as the quarterback.
Pleasant Home’s Cameron Hill and Florala’s Desmond Smiley were named the two running backs for the team. Hill had 1,276 yards on 127 carries and 15 touchdowns, and Smiley had 1,078 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns.
Pleasant Home’s Corey Self was selected as the tight end. The wide receivers are Red Level’s Dee Tolbert, Pleasant Home’s John Newby and Florala’s Tamaris Jamison.
Florala’s Matthew Gibbs, Pleasant Home’s Evan Yates, Pleasant Home’s Austin Chesser and Red Level’s Cody Marler make up the offensive line.
Honorable mentions: Florala’s Austin West, running back; Florala’s Tristan Petrey, offensive line; and Florala’s Ray Hall, wide receiver.
Defensively, Pleasant Home’s John Newby takes the top spot in the linebackers position. Pleasant Home’s Carl Whitehurst and Florala’s Gavin McCurley take the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively.
Pleasant Home’s Troy Greathouse, Zack Roberts, Evan Yates and Tanner Veasey make up the defensive line.
Florala’s Austin West, Red Level’s Dee Tolbert, Pleasant Home’s Hunter Odom and Florala’s Kyle Price fill the defensive backs positions on the team.
The punter is Florala’s Austin McNeill. The kicker is Red Level’s Hunter Fleming.
Honorable mentions: Red Level’s Kn’yn Jones, linebacker; Red Level’s Caleb Varner, linebacker; and Red Level’s Drew Robinson, defensive back.
The Class 1A All-County football team was compiled by Star-News sports editor Andrew Garner. Pleasant Home head coach Cody McCain, Red Level head coach Tony Ingram and Florala head coach Justin Jones were invited to nominate players on the team.