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Brian Tannehill / Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. William Whitlow Jr. (9) tackles the Smith Station running back.

DL: Cade Bazzell, Edgewood senior

For the second straight season, Bazzell was the leader in the trenches on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats. Bazzell rarely missed a snap and led the team with 74 total tackles including 7.5 for a loss from the defensive end spot. “He’s used to playing both at this point but he’s always embraced that,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “He’s always been one of the hardest workers and he’s really just a smart football player.”

DL: Hunter Martin, Holtville senior

Martin was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and his impact on the edge continued to grow each season. Martin finished with 64 total tackles, including 14 for a loss and 11.5 sacks. He forced and recovered three fumbles, one going for a touchdown. Martin added 124 yards and three touchdowns on the offensive end. “If you have a kid that can rush the passer and contain the edge, that’s special,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “For him, it started in the weight room and he bought into what we’re doing here. He’s just bigger and stronger than a lot of guys he goes up against and that helps.”

DL: William Whitlow Jr., Stanhope Elmore junior

With an SEC offer already on the table before the season, Whitlow Jr. made it clear why he was getting attention from college programs and he showed there is likely more on the way. He racked up 78 tackles, including 39 for a loss and eight sacks, seven pass deflections, a blocked punt and three forced fumbles. “He’s just a special athlete,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “He’s got a long future in this game if he wants it. He’s the quickest player off the ball I have ever seen plus the power on top of that. You have to game plan against him because you can’t block him one-on-one.”

DL: Caleb Foster, Stanhope Elmore sophomore

Foster often got lost in the crowd of Stanhope’s talented defensive line but he has already shown flashes of greatness and may be further along than either of his fellow all-county teammates were as sophomores. Foster finished with 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks plus four pass deflections and three fumble recoveries. “He’s got the build for a college player,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “He’s definitely further along as a sophomore so we’re expecting bigger things from him next year. The good thing is he’s just a very humble and hard-working kid.”

LB: Kenny Cole, Wetumpka senior

Wetumpka’s defense did not have a lot of positives this season but one of the bright spots was Cole. He moved from linebacker to defensive end then back again as the coaching staff continued to figure out the best rotation for the front seven. Cole finished with 86 tackles including four for a loss and one sack. “Kenny’s play was invaluable for our defense,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “He never complained about moving around and always accepted his roles. He played at a high level everywhere he played.”

LB: Mikey Forney, Holtville sophomore

For the second straight year, Forney lived around the ball when the opposing team had possession. He finished with 90 solo tackles to go along with 31 assists. Forney recorded eight tackles for a loss and three sacks while intercepting two passes. “He is always working hard and it shows up with Mikey,” Bulldog coach Jason Franklin said. “He’s a strong and physical player and he’s always at the point of attack. He plays with a chip on his shoulder so he’s one of those guys you want on your team.”

LB: Jeremiah Cherry-Daniel, Stanhope Elmore senior

Stanhope defensive coordinator Hunter Adams recruited Cherry-Daniel from the wrestling team for his final year in high school. There were not many expectations for him but Cherry-Daniel wasted no time in making an impact. He led the Mustangs with 79 tackles and added a sack while defending the pass well with five deflections and one interception. “He was definitely a big surprise for us,” SEHS coach Brian Bradford said. “We first thought he could be a special teams guy or a role player. He was just so coachable and he kept making plays. He did everything the right way and to come out like that in his first year was pretty special.”

DB: Jeremy Thompson, Stanhope Elmore senior

Despite dealing with several nagging injuries, Thompson made a big impact for the Mustangs. He finished with 39 tackles including six for a loss but his numbers against opposing quarterbacks make him stand out. Thompson finished with 11 pass breakups and set school records for interceptions in a single season (7) and career interceptions (13). “He was the leader of our defense,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “There’s no doubt about that. He was the one that set the tempo in practice. When he has a bad day, we have a bad day. He was going to put us in the right spot every time.”

DB: Azlan Williams, Stanhope Elmore junior

While Jeremy Thompson controlled the secondary for the Mustangs, Williams took advantage of being the unknown player on the field. Opponents often attacked his side of the field but he rose to the occasion. Williams finished with 41 tackles and 11 tackles for a loss to go along with three interceptions and two forced fumbles. “He was a surprise player for us,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “He didn’t get to play as much as we wanted to but once he figured it out, he became our big play guy. He was our spark when we needed something.”

DB: Napoleon Foster-Reed, Tallassee senior

It was rare to find an opposing team willing to throw to Foster-Reed’s side of the field but when they did, there was not much success. Foster-Reed led the Tigers with 11 pass breakups in nine games. He also recorded 54 tackles including 1.5 for a loss. “He did exactly what we thought he was going to do and more,” Tallassee coach Mike Battles said. “He’s a great person and a great teammate. You will never see him not smiling. He was a leader for us on and off the field.”

DB: Garrett Ingram, Holtville sophomore

Holtville did not have a lot of answers to the back end of its secondary at the beginning of the season but when Ingram made the full-time move, the Bulldogs saw improvement. Ingram made an immediate impact in a young secondary. He finished with 32 tackles and two interceptions in half a year as a starter. “To come in and do that in his first year with us, it provided a lot of stability,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “He was never scared to be stuck on an island against anybody. I was really proud of how far he came this year.”

ATH: Tavarious Griffin, Tallassee senior

There were very few successful plays for Tallassee that did not involve Griffin. Entering the season, everyone knew his impact as a linebacker, where he finished with a team-high 85 tackles and graded out at 82 for the season. He also found a new role in the offense; he recorded 742 yards and 10 touchdowns. “He does all the things the right way,” Battles said. “It doesn’t take long to watch one of our games and see what he meant to this team. He was willing to do everything and that speaks to the type of kid and athlete he is.”

P: Kam Burleson, Edgewood senior

After finishing as an all-state punter in 2018, Burleson continued to put in work at his second position and he improved. He punted only 28 times but he averaged 39.1 yards per kick. He had 11 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line and six downed inside the 5. Burleson also added 566 yards and seven touchdowns on 23 receptions. “Specialists were huge for us,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “Kam gave us the opportunity to flip field position often. He was probably our most improved player this year. He really blossomed into his role and became a weapon.”

Honorable Mention

Wetumpka: Hezekiah Nowden, DB, Sr.; Tallassee: Eng’Tavius Briskey-Chappell, LB, Sr.; Elmore County: Hayden Holton, LB, Sr.; Stanhope Elmore: Fred Moore, DB, Sr.; Holtville: Cooper Mann, DL, So.; Peyton Coburn, P, Sr.; Edgewood: Isaac Gordy, LB, Jr.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.