For the third time in their history, The Covington News and Rockdale News have transcended county lines to bring you the third annual Newton-Rockdale County All-Area Football Team.
The team represents 26 of the top football players from six schools throughout two counties, highlighting the seasons of some of Newton and Rockdale counties' best on the gridiron.
It's never easy choosing the yearly honors, but each player on the list earned his spot with blood, sweat and tears shed during the season.
Newton quarterback Romario Johnson (Offensive Player of the Year), Alcovy defensive lineman Curtiss Benton (Defensive Player of the Year), Alcovy quarterback Tristen Payne (Athlete of the Year) and Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman (Coach of the Year) rose above the rest to earn the All-Area team's top honors.
Although Johnson, Benton, Payne and Hoffman have been highlighted, Newton and Rockdale counties can be proud of their teams this season, with three of the six teams earning postseason bids. The future of football is in good hands.
In the end, every player who laced up cleats, put on pads and strapped on helmets made an impact, and the countless hours spent practicing and planning have not gone unnoticed.
Fourteen players from Newton County joined 12 players from Rockdale County on the third annual Newton-Rockdale All-Area team.
The list represents the 26 top players in the two counties for this season, highlighted by Offensive Player of the Year Romario Johnson, Defensive Player of the Year Curtiss Benton and Athlete of the Year Tristen Payne.
These standout players helped three teams reach the postseason this season, two from Newton County, Newton High and Alcovy High, while Heritage High represented Rockdale County in the playoffs this season.
The season saw Alcovy tie its school-best 7-3 regular season record, a three-game turnaround from a season ago, while Rockdale County coach Venson Elder led the Bulldogs to their first winning season since 2009.
Players of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year: Romario Johnson (QB, Newton)- There were few players more exciting to watch this season than Newton's Johnson, who threw for 1,666 yards and 21 touchdowns in 11 games. Johnson connected on 52 percent of his passes in his first year starting, while also hurting defenders with his feet, rushing for 854 yards and three touchdowns. In all, Johnson accounted for 2,520 total yards of offense in his first year under Newton coach Terrance Banks.
Defensive Player of the Year: Curtiss Benton (DL, Alcovy)- Benton was a terror to opposing quarterbacks this season for the Tigers, amassing 96 total tackles along the defensive line. Benton finished the season recording 77 solo tackles, while assisting on 27 others. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end finshed 2013 with an outstanding 25 tackles-for-loss, including 15 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Athlete of the Year: Tristen Payne (QB, Alcovy)- As the Tigers' quarterback, Payne led the Tigers in rushing and passing, throwing for 1,035 yards on 77 of 178 passing and 10 touchdowns. Payne also ran for 1,105 yards on 267 carries, carrying the ball three times more than any other Tiger on the roster. Payne averaged 4.1 yards a carry, running for three touchdowns. On defense, Payne recorded 37 total tackles, including 30 solo takedowns. The senior had two tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception. The 5-foot-11 safety also had three knockdowns while playing defense for the Tigers.
Coach of the Year: Kirk Hoffman (Alcovy)- Alcovy Tigers' coach Hoffman earned the Coach of the Year honor after leading the Tigers to a 7-4 overall record in 2013. Hoffman and the Tigers had an opportunity to win a region title in the final weekend of the regular season, and the Tigers made their third consecutive apperance in the state playoffs. Hoffman has tallied 17 wins over the last three years, and has 32 wins in eight seasons at Alcovy.
First Team Offense
Jomandi Smith (RB, Eastside)- Smith led both counties in rushing from the running back position in 2013, rushing for 769 yards and 11 touchdowns on 118 carries for the Eagles this season. Smith averaged 6.5 yards a carry, while also grabbing 15 passes for 154 yards and a score. Smith also returned 13 kickoffs for 282 yards, averaging 24.4 yards per kick return.
Robbie Cyrus (RB, Salem)- The Seminoles may not have had much to brag about in the win-loss column this season, but Cyrus provided plenty of highlights on the field, rushing for 498 yards on 99 carries. Cyrus grabbed 22 passes out of the backfield this season, finishing the year with seven touchdowns, while grading out at 91 percent blocking for the season.
Jaylin Penny (WR, Alcovy)- When the Tigers’ offense took the field in 2013, defenses knew they had to cover one of the most gifted wide receivers in Region 2-AAAAAA. Penny lived up to his hype this season, grabbing a team-high 35 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns. Penny averaged 16.4 yards a catch, towering over defensive backs on Alcovy’s way to a seven-win season.
Davonta Jones (WR, Newton)- Jones led the Rams with 35 catches for 590 yards this season, establishing himself as the go-to receiver in Newton’s high-powered spread offense. Jones averaged 16.9 yards a catch, while recording six receiving touchdowns. Jones also rushed for 79 yards and a score, while completing five passes for 81 yards under center in back-up duty.
Terrell McLaughlin (WR, Rockdale Co.)- McLaughlin made himself a household name for Bulldogs’ fans in 2013, leading Rockdale County with 15 catches for 364 yards and three scores. The Bulldogs were confronted with quarterback injuries during much of the season, but McLaughlin still averaged 24.3 yards a reception, with a long catch of 52 yards.
Obie Mash (OL, Eastside)- Mash was a unit leader for the Eastside offensive line in 2013, helping the Eagles to tally more than 1,800 yards rushing on the ground this year and 19 scores. Mash was named the Eagles’ Offensive Player of the Week against Walnut Grove when the Eagles rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
Blake Davis (OL, Rockdale Co.)- Davis cemented his spot as one of the top offensive linemen in the area after grading out at over 80 percent in all 10 Bulldogs’ contests this season. Davis finished the season with 28 pancake blocks, while helping Rockdale’s rushing offense to more than 1,600 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.
Kiburu Blythe (OL, Heritage)- Along the offensive line for the Patriots this season, Blythe recorded 18 pancake blocks and graded out at 89 percent for the season. Blythe and the Patriots’ offensive line helped Heritage’s offense score seven touchdowns through the air and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Chandler Peeples (OL, Heritage)- Peeples led the Patriots’ offensive line from the center position, grading out at an astounding 92 percent for the season. Peeples helped the Patriots’ offensive line finish the season with three different 400-yard rushers on their way to six wins this year.
Tyler Watkins (OL, Alcovy)- Alcovy’s rushing game was the staple of its offensive attack this season, and oftentimes, Alcovy runners found themselves behind Watkins. Watkins helped Alcovy’s rushing attack total 1,625 yards along with 16 rushing touchdowns.
Austin Kulp (PK, Heritage)- Kulp proved himself to be the top kicker in the area in 2013, connecting on 9 of 12 field goals for the Patriots this season. Kulp kicked a long field goal of 44 yards for Heritage, while converting a perfect 100 percent of his extra-point attempts.
First Team Defense
Robert McCray (DL, Rockdale Co.)- McCray split time this season along the defensive line and at linebacker while putting together a standout season for the Bulldogs with 57 total tackles. McCray finished with 32 solo takedowns, including a team-high eight sacks and 16 tackles-for-loss. The senior also forced five fumbles for a Rockdale defensive unit that allowed over 21 points just five times this season.
Donovan Norfleet (DL, Heritage)- Norfleet finished with 65 total tackles this season from his defensive line position, tallying 56 solo tackles while assisting on 19 others. The senior finished 2013 with four sacks and five forced fumbles, limiting opponents to 14 points or less six times this season.
James Russell (DL, Eastside)- At defensive tackle for the Eagles this season, Russell recorded 58 total tackles, including 12 tackles-for-loss. Russell also notched a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and recorded a pair of batted balls for Eastside.
Okon Godwin (LB, Alcovy)- Godwin finished second in total tackles for the Tigers in 2013, recording 80 total tackles. Godwin tallied 53 solo tackles, while assisting on 27 others. Godwin also recovered a fumble for Alcovy, while grabbing five interceptions against opposing quarterbacks. The senior also finished with a team-high two scores on defense.
Daniel Foster (LB, Heritage)- Foster finished with by far and away the most tackles between the six teams represented on the All-Area list, recording 111 total tackles from his linebacker position for Heritage. Foster had 56 solo tackles and 55 assists, while finishing with eight tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Foster also ended 2013 with four forced fumbles.
Dez Billingslea (LB, Newton)- One of the most intimidating players in Newton County this season, Billingslea led the Rams with 91 tackles, including 74 solo takedowns. Billingslea assisted on 17 other tackles, while recording five tackles for loss and three sacks. Billingslea averaged more than nine tackles a game, while also forcing one fumble in 2013.
Zach Shelton (LB, Alcovy)- Shelton finished 2013 with 71 total tackles, including 36 solo takedowns. Shelton finished with one tackle-for-loss and three sacks for the Tigers, while forcing a fumble and recovering two others. Shelton and the Tigers finished third overall in Region 2-AAAAAA, falling in the first round of the state playoffs to Hillgrove.
Seth Fallen (LB, Heritage)- Fallen joins fellow linebacker, Foster, on the list after finishing the season with 82 total tackles. Fallen finished with 50 first-hit takedowns, while assisting on 32 others. Fallen tallied seven tackles-for-loss and two sacks, while forcing three fumbles and recovering another.
Obe Fortune (DB, Heritage)- At his defensive back spot for Heritage this season, Fortune recorded 59 total tackles, including 41 solo tackles. Fortune assisted on 18 other tackles this season, while forcing a fumble and a recovering two fumbles. Fortune was also a special teams giant for the Patriots in 2013, blocking a pair of punts for Heritage.
Robbie Wallace (DB, Newton)- Wallace led Newton’s defensive backs' unit with 54 total tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. Wallace finished the season with 40 solo tackles and 14 assisted tackles. Wallace picked up a pair of fumbles for the Rams in 2013, while forcing two others.
Jamal Hardge (DB/ST Eastside)- Eastside defensive back Jamal Hardge led the Eagles in total tackles with 79 takedowns, recording 49 solo tackles and two tackles-for-loss. Hardge broke up six passes for Eastside, and was named the Eagles’ Special Teams Player of the Week against Lumpkin County. Hardge also averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return, returning one kick back for a score this season.