The Covington News and The Rockdale News have once again transcended county lines to bring you the third annual Newton County-Rockdale County All-Area Football Team.
The team represents 26 of the finest 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 All-Area 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 in the area appears to be in good hands.
In the end, every player who laced up cleats, put on pads and strapped on helmets made an impact. 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 led their teams to the postseason in 2013. Two playoff teams were from Newton County (Newton High and Alcovy High) while Heritage High represented Rockdale County in the postseason play.
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.
First Team Offense
Jomandi Smith (RB, Eastside) – Smith led both counties in rushing from the running back position in 2013, galloping for 769 yards and 11 touchdowns on 118 carries for the Eagles. Smith averaged 6.5 yards per 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 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. The 6-foot-2-inch Penny averaged 16.4 yards per 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 per 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 backup duty.
Terrell McLaughlin (WR, Rockdale County) – 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 per 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 this year and 19 scores. Mash was named Eagles Offensive Player of the Week against Walnut Grove when the Eagles rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
Blake Davis (OL, Rockdale County) – Davis cemented his spot as one of the top offensive linemen in the area after grading out at over 80 percent in all 10 of the Bulldogs’ contests this season. Davis finished the season with 28 pancake blocks, while helping Rockdale’s offense amass 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 and his co-linemen blocked well enough to help the Patriots finish the season with three different 400-yard rushers on their way to six victories.
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 running attack produce 1,625 total yards along with 16 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. Kulp kicked a long field goal of 44 yards, 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.
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. The senior also finished with a team-high two defensive scores.
Daniel Foster (LB, Heritage) – Foster finished with 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 the Patriots. 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 per game, while also forcing one fumble.
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 HHS 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, Fortune recorded 59 total tackles, including 41 solo tackles. Fortune assisted on 18 other tackles 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.
Robbie Wallace (DB, Newton) – Wallace led Newton’s defensive back unit with 54 total tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. Wallace finished the season with 40 solo tackles. Wallace picked up a pair of fumbles for the Rams while forcing two other fumbles.
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 Eagles Special Teams Player of the Week against Lumpkin County. Hardge also averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return, returning one kick for a touchdown.