Like seemingly every other fall sport, there was one standout football team in Bartow County and a trio of ones that struggled despite having some stellar players. Cartersville turned what many people …
Like seemingly every other fall sport, there was one standout football team in Bartow County and a trio of ones that struggled despite having some stellar players.
Cartersville turned what many people dubbed a rebuilding year into a reloading year. The Canes used motivation from that doubt, anger from 2017’s shocking postseason exit and an influx of talent to reach the state championship game.
Even though, they came up short in the final, falling to Blessed Trinity, the Canes have shown a solid foundation. Cartersville seems likely to produce a long playoff run next season, too.
The other three teams in the county missed out on the playoffs this season. Adairsville and Woodland each finished 4-6, while Cass wound up 1-9 with its lone win coming over the Tigers.
Adairsville came up agonizingly short of a playoff spot with one more win enough to push the Tigers into the Class 3A at-large berth. Injuries were the main culprit in derailing a once-promising year.
Despite finishing with the same record, Woodland had little chance to make the playoffs out of a ridiculously tough region in the final few weeks. The Wildcats, though, began the season on a four-game winning streak, eliciting plenty of excitement in the program.
After finishing winless in 2017, Cass started off the season with a victory over county rival Adairsville. There were a few chances for other wins along the way, but the Colonels couldn’t quite get over the hump again.
Player of the Year: Titus Jones, Woodland senior
Some believe the term “Player of the Year” should refer to the best player; some believe it should honor the most valuable player. Well, it’s hard to argue that Woodland’s Titus Jones doesn’t check both boxes in regards to Bartow County football. He did everything for the Wildcats, and he did everything well. On offense, he scored eight touchdowns (five rushing, three receiving), while averaging 8.4 yards per carry and 22.8 yards per reception. He racked up 102 total tackles (68 solo), five tackles for loss and two interceptions on defense. For good measure, he returned punts and kickoffs and blocked an astonishing six kicks on special teams.
Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Gary, Cartersville senior
Marcus Gary took full advantage of his only season as the Cartersville starting running back, becoming the third straight Canes tailback to earn this title. The 5-foot-8, 174-pound senior burst onto the scene with 145 yards rushing and 94 receiving in the season opener against Allatoona. While the receiving yards represented a season-high total, Gary continued to prove his value running the ball. He finished with 100-plus rushing yards in seven of the final eight games of the year, including 175 in the state championship game. Overall, Gary finished with 1,631 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, plus 277 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Athlete of the Year: Mason Boswell, Adairsville senior
For the second consecutive year, Mason Boswell has landed this superlative. He proved his worth by carrying a wounded Adairsville team to the brink of the state playoffs. He missed one game with an ankle injury — the road defeat against Cass — and probably never played at 100 percent all year. Even still, he effectively led the Tigers on both sides of the ball. Early in the year, he split time offensively between quarterback and running back, finishing the season having rushed for 972 yards, passed for 406 yards and accounted for 15 total touchdowns (12 rushing). The 6-foot, 200-pound safety made 48 tackles — many of which were touchdown-saving stops.
Johnny Bootz, Cass junior — A participant in the Georgia Elite Classic as a sophomore, Bootz is another example of the top-tier offensive linemen Cass has been able to produce in recent times. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound center helped pave the way for an offense that relied on its O-line to get a solid push in the run game and provide starting quarterback Rett Moore or backup Logan Nelson ample time to pass the ball. He'll enter 2019 among the best centers in Northwest Georgia.
Josh Brown, Adairsville senior — Most people don't pay the big boys up front any attention until they make a mistake. But Brown stood out when watching Adairsville play. It's hard to ignore a 6-foot-2, 295-pound offensive tackle that plays through the whistle the way Brown did. He most often played left tackle, but he also featured on the right side at times. The one constant on almost every big offensive play for the Tigers — it happened on Brown's side of the field.
Justice Carter, Woodland senior — It took until the final game of the season, but Carter finally eclipsed the coveted 1,000-yard barrier, totaling 1,046 rushing yards on 170 carries. The hard-nosed fullback piled up more than 100 yards in five of 10 games. Twice he went over 200 yards on the ground. Carter also proved to be the most constant receiving threat in an expanded passing attack, catching a team-high 13 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for six scores.
Jonah Gambill, Cartersville junior — Gambill has already received a few collegiate offers, including Coastal Carolina, and more will certainly come flooding in if his performance in 2018 is any indication. A selection to the Georgia Elite Classic is confirmation of his stellar campaign. At 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, Gambill has the size and mobility to play right tackle effectively for the Canes. His ability to add weight while maintaining his agility will determine his success at the next level.
Malik Grimes, Cass senior — Playing slotback for the Colonels is generally a lucrative position in the Cass offense, and that was no different this year. Grimes managed to put up some quality numbers despite splitting time at the position with up-and-coming sophomore Zay Jackson. In his final season, Grimes proved to be a valuable weapon on the ground, totaling 436 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and through the air, racking up 397 receiving yards and two scores.
Jalen Hudson, Woodland senior — Arguably the best lineman on both sides of the ball for Woodland, Hudson played a vast majority of his snaps on offense, where he was clearly the top player up front. An offensive guard, Hudson helped open up holes for Justice Carter to burrow behind time and again. His ability helped the Wildcats rush for more than 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns as a team. Defensively, he 19 had tackles and an incredible eight QB pressures in limited time.
Zay Jackson, Cass sophomore — A former Georgia Elite participant, Jackson made this list as an offensive player and made the all-region team as a defensive back. That alone shows the budding talent of the 10th-grader. Defensively, Jackson recorded 31 tackles, picked off three balls, broke up seven pass attempts and recovered two fumbles. On the other side of the ball, where he will likely see an uptick in snaps next season, he ran for 418 yards and five touchdowns.
Jackson Lowe, Cartersville senior — As one of Cartersville's only returning starters, Lowe saw an increased role in the Canes offense this season. Early in the year, the University of Tennessee signee saw plenty of targets from an inexperienced Tee Webb. He then saw a lot of balls late in the year as a clear mismatch in the playoffs. Lowe had a team-high 38 catches for 498 yards and six touchdowns, including a three-touchdown game in the second round of state.
Devonte Ross, Cartersville sophomore — Similarly to Zay Jackson, Ross could have made this team on either side of the ball. Having them both on offense clearly highlights the lack of weapons on that side of the ball in 2018. Ross only caught multiple passes in seven games, but he emerged late in the season as a true deep threat with three-plus receptions in four of the final six games. He led the team in receiving yards (521) and touchdowns (8), while adding 37 tackles.
Matthew Surrett, Cartersville junior — Surrett marks the second center and second Cartersville offensive lineman on this list. His presence in the heart of the Canes front provided a path for Marcus Gary, who didn't have a fullback leading the charge, to run through. At 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, Surrett is an immovable force in the middle. Poor snaps were a rarity, which is especially impressive considering Cartersville operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun set.
Tee Webb, Cartersville junior — Stepping into the role of Cartersville quarterback is never easy, doing so after the departure of an icon like Trevor Lawrence is an impossible task. And yet, Webb managed to make the position his own. While having Marcus Gary alongside him certainly helped, Webb made countless big plays throughout the season. He finished with 2,875 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also added four rushing scores.
Harrison Allen, Cartersville sophomore — Allen pretty much led the Canes in tackles the entire season, finishing with 115 stops in 15 games. He wasn't asked to make huge plays in the backfield, but he created other big moments with two forced fumbles and two interceptions. Allen also is adept at running the football. It will be interesting to see how Allen and Quante Jennings, another sophomore who is outstanding at running back and linebacker, are used next season.
Blake Cash, Woodland junior — Some players just have a knack for being in the right place at the time. A fumble recovery for a touchdown two plays into Woodland's scrimmage set the tone for Cash's year. In the regular season, Cash made 62 tackles, including an astounding 13 for loss. His big-play ability showed up with eight QB pressures and three each of sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and pass breakups. He also added a touchdown on a blocked field goal.
Marquail Coaxum, Cartersville junior — As part of a Cartersville secondary with no seniors, Coaxum was one of the more veteran players at his position group and the defense as a whole after starting his sophomore season. He put together another solid junior campaign, playing opposite Devonte Ross. Coaxum managed 48 tackles and four interceptions to join Woodland's Seth Johnson for the county lead. He only had multiple receptions in one game but did score five total TDs.
Marko Dudley, Cartersville junior — Dudley was banged up for a decent chunk of the season, but when he was healthy, the two-year starter was among the best safeties in the county. He had 58 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups, two of which came in the state championship game. Dudley rarely gets caught out of position and was a big reason why Cartersville rarely gave up chunk plays or long touchdowns. He could also see more offensive snaps in 2019.
Bobby Harris, Cartersville senior — Harris was an absolute beast along the Cartersville defensive front this year. He put up 63 tackles, including an otherworldly 24.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks. Harris' defensive stats jump off the page, but it was his leadership ability, particularly with fellow defensive end Isaiah Chaney sidelined, that showcased his worth to the Canes. He went out with one of his best showings, racking up eight tackles (3.5 for loss) in the title game.
La’Kwayme Jupiter, Cartersville junior — The only starting defensive lineman who will return for the Canes in 2019, Jupiter was a rock in the middle of the line. Defensive tackles rarely put up big numbers with their main objective being to occupy as many offensive linemen as possible. Jupiter managed to do both with ease, taking on multiple linemen and busting through to the backfield to blow up plays. He wound up with 43 stops and that included 6.5 tackles for loss.
Sunni Moorehead, Cartersville senior — Moorehead was absolutely all over the field for Cartersville this season in his first year as a full-time starter. Wherever the ball ended up, the instinctual senior linebacker was not far away. He spent a lot of his time ruining opposition plays behind the line of scrimmage. In total, Moorehead was in on 93 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. His production will be one of the toughest holes for the Canes to fill next year.
Amarai Orr, Cartersville sophomore — If you haven't figured out by now, the Cartersville defense was elite. The Canes limited teams to 8.27 points per game. It's hard to find a starring role on that unit, but Orr was able to secure one at linebacker. Despite not being a starter at early in the year, the athletic Orr forced his way into the lineup with huge plays, including key picks against Sandy Creek and Troup County. He totaled 68 tackles (12 for loss) and four forced fumbles.
Rodney Richards, Cass senior — The transition from defensive line to linebacker is sometimes a tricky proposition, but Richards made the move appear to be a seamless transition. The unquestioned heart and soul of the Colonels, Richards piled up 107 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior was the lone Cass player (and joined Woodland's lone selection, Titus Jones) on the all-Region 7-AAAAA first-team.
Chandler Shankles, Adairsville senior — There were few players in the county who could take over a defensive series the way Shankles could. When he got going, there really was little an offense could do to stop the defensive. He recorded 85 tackles (58 solo) and six sacks, despite every team actively trying to limit his impact. He and Savaun Henderson were the only Tigers to land on the all-Region 6-AAA second-team. (Mason Boswell made the first team.)
Evan Slocum, Cartersville sophomore — It's phenomenal to consider that Slocum marks the fourth Canes 10th-grader to land on this team. In a couple of years, it's possible that Slocum will be quarterbacking Cartersville. Until then, he'll settle for being one of the brightest defensive talents in the area. In his sophomore campaign, Slocum recorded 62 tackles, while intercepting three passes and forcing two fumbles at safety. He'll be part of one of the state's top secondaries in 2019.
Kaleb Speights, Cass sophomore — Finding reliable kickers at the high school level (and, frankly, all levels of football) can be difficult, but all four county teams produced solid seasons by their kickers this season. Speights, though, proved to be the most consistent over the course of the year. He made 15 of 16 point-after tries and 4 of 5 field goals with a long of 46. In his first varsity action, he nailed a pair of field goals in a 6-3 win over Pepperell in Cass' preseason scrimmage.
Nick Bailey, Woodland sophomore; Tristan Carlton, Cartersville senior; Blake Carrington, Cass senior; Isaiah Chaney, Cartersville senior; Savaun Henderson, Adairsville junior; Seth Johnson, Woodland senior; Rett Moore, Cass senior.