COVINGTON, Ga. — While the 2019 season did not see an undefeated season like the season prior, there still was plenty of solid football played from all teams with better days on the horizon.
The Newton Rams and Eastside Eagles were their regular dominant selves, while the Alcovy Tigers were a much more competitive team as their playoff hopes came down to the final game of the season.
The Social Circle Redskins struggled, but a few players showed promise for the future. With a new coach to take over the helm after Redskins head coach Chad Estes stepped down, it will be interesting to see where the program goes from here.
The Rams and Tigers debuted new coaches in 2019, and the Rams bounced back from their previous dismal 4-7 season with a strong 7-4 season under first-year head coach Camiel Grant Jr. This outstanding bounce back in his first year earned Grant our Coach of the Year honors.
Coach of the Year: Camiel Grant Jr.
Grant took over as the Rams head coach, and although the three-game swing from losses to wins in 2019 is an excellent indicator of the direction the program is moving in under Grant's leadership, there were plenty other strong indicators as well.
For starters, one of the most notable stats is the excellent defensive play the Rams boasted in 2019. The Rams only allowed 215 points in 2019, which is 104 fewer points than what they allowed in 2018. The Rams also saw a slight upswing in the number of points they scored in 2019 with 10 more in that category as well.
The main area that certainly seemed to stand out in 2019 for the Rams was their discipline under their new head coach. This is an area of the game that Grant has preached to his team since his time as an assistant coach. Without the penalty numbers from both years at hand, The Rams appeared much more disciplined under Grant's tutelage. Grant's Rams have a promising group returning and should continue to improve with him at the helm.
Player of the Year: Noah Cook
Eastside quarterback Noah Cook may not have the best stats in the county, but his ability to still put up impressive numbers with multiple key players out is a testament to his skill and leadership. Cook finished his 2019 season with 1,849 yards passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns and 72 yards rushing while only having three interceptions on the year. He did that while playing most of the year without his starting running back and starting tight end. His top receiver also missed multiple games, so Cook had to make up for a lot of offensive production.
Cook did just that and with guys like wide receiver Giovanni Macek IV, running back Sincere Johnson and running back Dallas Johnson stepping up in these players' absence. This offense still relied heavily on Cook and almost seemed to go as he went, and his leadership went a long way into this teams' success. Cook set the Eagles single-game record for passing yards this season with his 367-yard performance against Monticello. Cook will move on to the next level in 2020, and the Eagles will have to find a way to replace arguably the best quarterback in school history.
Offensive Player of the Year: Neal Howard
Neal Howard was arguably just as deserving of the Player of the Year honor as his numbers were even more impressive. He finished his 2019 season with 2,335 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Howard also started having a knack of making plays with his feet and had a plethora of rushing yards as well.
Howard was surrounded by weapons as the Rams boasted four outstanding receivers with Nyland Green, Robert Lewis, Diondre Glover Jr. and Jerrol Hines, giving opposing defenses nightmares. They also had a two-headed rushing attack of Quincy Cullins, who finished with 904 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns while averaging 6.46 yards per carry, and Josh Hardeman, who finished with 338 yards rushing and two touchdowns and averaged 8.89 yards per carry. Howard was tasked with spreading the wealth among all of these talented playmakers, and he did an excellent job as the leader of the offense. Like the Eagles, the Rams will also have to find a replacement to make up for the production lost with Howard's graduation.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jaquez Snell
The Alcovy Tigers just missed the playoffs, and their staunch defensive group played a massive role in getting them in that position. At the top of this outstanding defense was cornerback Jaquez Snell, whose five interceptions helped keep the Tigers in multiple ballgames.
Although the Tigers only had two wins on the season, multiple games were within striking distance and could have swung in their favor. However, Snell's interceptions both played major roles in both of the Tigers' wins. In the Tigers' first win of the season, Snell got the scoring started for his team as he intercepted a pass and took it well over 60 yards and into the end zone.
In the Tigers' second win and first region win since 2015, they were trailing early, and the Warriors of Grovetown were looking as if they were about to add to their lead. Snell would prevent that as he picked off a pass and returned it to the Warriors 10-yard line.
Snell's playmaking in the Tigers secondary in pivotal moments was consistent throughout the season and helped keep opponents off-balance through the air. His excellent play in these types of games made him stand out among plenty of strong defensive candidates.
Freshman of the Year: Justin Benton
Rumblings of Justin Benton's potential impact were apparent in the Rams offseason, and he burst onto the scene. With at least three sacks on the season and multiple tackles for loss, Benton showed he is already very much ahead in his development. With three more years of high school football left, the sky is the limit for Benton, who should have plenty of interest from top programs if he continues to grow and develop.
Benton finished his freshman campaign with the fourth most tackles for loss on the team with 11.5 while having the second most sacks with seven. Benton has already shown that he can wreak havoc on the defensive line and he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Athlete of the Year: Jeff Haynes
The ultimate game breaker and athlete in Newton County has to go to Jeff Haynes of the Eastside Eagles, as he can simply do it all, and when healthy, he did just that. On offense, Haynes 26 receptions, 530 yards receiving, and six receiving touchdowns led the team in each category. He put those numbers up while only playing in eight games.
On the flip side of that, Haynes also returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown while also intercepting three passes, including one pick-six. Haynes' outstanding athletic ability made him a dangerous player for opposing offenses, defenses, and special teams units.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Ezra King
Ezra King was an all-around special teams weapon for the Eagles like has not been seen in quite some time. Hitting multiple field goals from 45-plus yards and going 44 of 45 on extra points is most impressive for any high school kicker. However, it was King's ability in the punting and kickoff game that was most impressive.
Of King's 62 kickoffs this season, 47 (75.8%) went for touchbacks, which prevented opposing special teams threats from even having the opportunity of a big return. King also averaged 43.3 yards per punt this season and pinned 17 of his 39 punts (43.6%) inside the 20. The value of this type of punting and kicking ability is incalculable, but the Eagles will definitely miss King and his ability to flip the field in a multitude of ways.
There are plenty of outstanding athletes that made this list and plenty more who were on the fringe. Standouts like Quincy Cullins and Andrae Robinson were strong performers all season long out of the backfield. The Rams' receiving quartet of Nyland Green, Robert Lewis, Diondre Glover Jr. and Jerrol Hines was also most impressive in their wide range of abilities.
The trenches also were very strong this season with senior standouts like Bryant Byrd and Christopher Simmons, but also younger guys like Tray Perry were dominant as well. There was a wide range of talent in this year's class, and many athletes were seniors, but with some of the guys mentioned above returning alongside guys like Cullins, M.J. Stroud and Sincere Johnson, next year should continue this tradition of excellence in Newton County football.
All-TCN First Team Offense
QB Noah Cook - Eastside Eagles
RB Quincy Cullins - Newton Rams
RB Andrae Robinson - Alcovy Tigers
WR Robert Lewis - Newton Rams
WR Diondre Glover Jr. - Newton Rams
WR Giovanni Macek IV - Eastside Eagles
OL Bryant Byrd - Eastside Eagles
OL Ahmad Shannon - Alcovy Tigers
OL Christopher Simmons - Alcovy Tigers
OL Keyshawn Blackstock - Newton Rams
OL Pierce Downs - Eastside Eagles
All-TCN First Team Defense
DE Tyon Bigby - Newton Rams
DT Mark Jackson - Eastside Eagles
DE Tray Perry - Alcovy Tigers
OLB Cam Daniels - Alcovy Tigers
ILB Kyle Shivers - Eastside Eagles
ILB Trace Nicholson - Eastside Eagles
OLB Demetrius Thrower - Alcovy Tigers
CB Jaquez Snell - Alcovy Tigers
FS Jalen Davis - Eastside Eagles
SS Josh Hardeman - Newton Rams
CB Nyland Green - Newton Rams
K/P Ezra King - Eastside Eagles
ATH Jeff Haynes - Eastside Eagles
All-TCN Second Team Offense
QB Neal Howard - Newton Rams
RB Sincere Johnson - Eastside Eagles
RB Amarion Russell - Social Circle Redskins
RB Dallas Johnson - Eastside Eagles
WR Jerrol Hines - Newton Rams
WR Mathias Height - Alcovy Tigers
WR Dayton Green - Eastside Eagles
OL Knoah Franklin - Newton Rams
OL James Amos - Eastside Eagles
OL Jacob Wade - Alcovy Tigers
OL Elijah Zollicoffer - Newton Rams
OL Austin King - Eastside Eagles
All-TCN Second Team Defense
DE: Anthony Little - Alcovy Tigers
DT Malachi Arnett - Newton Rams
DE Justin Benton - Newton Rams
OLB Devin Brown - Eastside Eagles
ILB Sam Button - Eastside Eagles
ILB Greg Lewis Jr. - Newton Rams
OLB Javari Smith - Newton Rams
DB Laken Nettles - Alcovy Tigers
SS Eugene Tavares - Newton Rams
CB Adrian Robinson - Alcovy Tigers
K/P Abdiel Velasquez - Newton Rams
ATH M.J. Stroud - Alcovy Tigers
ATH Eric Taylor - Social Circle Redskins