In a season bordering on the unprecedented, we opted for the same landscape-altering approach to our all-Suncoast football team. For what we believe is the first time in our history, three individuals — Jefferson's Quentin Williams, Armwood's Josh Grady and Plant's James Wilder Jr. — share our player of the year honors. Why? All were the clear catalysts in their respective team's drive to a state final berth. Three state finalists, three honorees. See the symmetry? Granted, Williams, who won the state's Mr. Football Award with jaw-dropping numbers, was the only one of the trio to lead his team to a title. But we couldn't in good conscience deny Wilder, who may have meant more to his team than any other player on any team in the state; or Grady, who carried Armwood's offense for much of the postseason.
Players of the Year
Quentin Williams Sr., QB, Jefferson
In his spare time, Williams likes to play EA Sports NCAA Football on XBox. "I like to take one of those little-known teams and win a championship with them," he says.
It's fitting, because on the field Williams put up video-game passing stats in leading a record-setting offense to the Class 3A state title — no B button needed.
In becoming just the third Hillsborough County player to win the Florida Mr. Football Award, he set Florida high school records for single-season passing touchdowns (56), single-season passing yardage (4,451), career touchdown passes (109) and career passing yardage (10,384).
In the Dragons' championship game win over Miami Norland, he threw for three scores and ran for two as Jefferson ran out to a 30-point second-quarter lead that had the Vikings searching for the reset button in an eventual 44-34 Dragons win. Unlike his XBox accomplishments, Williams, a Bethune-Cookman commit, has a gold medal to show for it, one he has rarely taken off.
James Wilder Jr. Sr., RB/DE, Plant
Where do we start with J-Dub? The biceps? His powerful strides? His speed off the edge? How he drags tacklers? The stiff arm?
So many things stand out about Wilder's game, which explains why MaxPreps made him its No. 1 recruit in the nation. From the first game of the season, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder battled bumps and bruises. But make no mistake, he did most of the punishing, rushing for 1,597 yards and 22 touchdowns on offense and 75 tackles and eight sacks on defense.
In the playoffs, Wilder averaged 143 yards and had nine touchdowns, including a 235-yard, five-touchdown effort in a 48-6 trouncing of Lakeland in the state semifinals that immediately became the stuff of legend. As a sophomore at Chamberlain Wilder had just one carry at running back, but will leave for Florida State as the area's most powerful runner in years, and arguably the best player Tampa Bay has ever seen. While most colleges saw his future more promising on defense, he's going to Tallahassee to do big things at running back.
Josh Grady Sr., QB, Armwood
The defining moment of Grady's career may have arrived after the most deflating one.
With 19.6 seconds to play in the Class 4A semifinals at Armwood's Lyle Flagg Field, Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer's Jacoby Brissett had just eluded an intense Hawks pass rush to find Tommylee Lewis in a corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown on third and 10, giving the guests a 20-19 lead.
As Grady, who already had thrown for three TDs, fastened his chin strap to try to salvage a miracle, Armwood defensive coordinator Matt Thompson turned his way and said, "This is what legends are made of."
"That's pretty much the last thing I heard from any coach before I went out onto the field," recalled Grady, a 6-foot-1 senior who totaled 3,061 yards and 26 TDs.
After a penalty provided Armwood some generous field position, Grady hit 210-pound tailback Matt Jones in space for a 28-yard gain. He then found sophomore Alvin Bailey on a button-hook pattern for 12 more yards. Five ticks remained on the clock.
Grady had left enough time for Ash Dudney to boot a winning 44-yard field goal. The senior captain, summoned to carry the injury-plagued Hawks offense most of the playoffs, had handled the season's most critical juncture with presence, poise and precision.
All ingredients of a legend.
QB: Phillip Ely, Sr., Plant. Bama commit overcame injuries to throw for 2,731 yards, 26 TDs, led Panthers to 5A final
WR: Chris Moore, Sr., Jefferson. Cincinnati commit led bay area with area with 1,572 receiving yards, 22 TDs
WR: Andre Davis, Sr., Jefferson. Dynamic deep threat had 1,296 yards, 13 TDs for 3A state champ
RB: Rashad Lewis, Sr., St. Petersburg. Rushed for Pinellas County-best 1,666 yards with 27 TDs
RB: Conner Powers, Sr., Newsome. Wolves' workhorse was Hillsborough County's top rusher (1,851 yards)
RB: J.J. Hubbard, Sr., Robinson. "Waterbug" dashed and darted his way to more than 1,500 rush yards, 27 TDs
OL: Tyler Moore, Sr., Countryside. Nebraska recruit is considered one of the best tackles in the country
OL: Tyler Pierson, Sr., Countryside. Teamed with Moore to form best offensive tackle tandem in Pinellas
OL: Zach DeBell, Sr., Tarpon Springs. Georgia recruit was selected for Army All-American game
OL: Jordan Prestwood, Sr., Plant City. Converted tight end is seen as a can't-miss OT recruit, has committed to FSU
OL: Cody Waldrop, Jr., Armwood. Guard was interior force in Hawks' daunting power run game
K: Michael Hill, Sr., Tarpon Springs. Accurate kicker had four field goals 40 yards or longer
Ath: Tre Dudley-Giles, Jr., Pasco. Scored touchdowns as a receiver (nine), punt returner (three), running back (one), quarterback (one) and cornerback (one)
QB Jacob Guy, Jr., Pasco
WR Will Irwin, Sr., Land O'Lakes
WR Tyron Baker, Sr., Spoto
RB Dazmond Patterson, Jr., Plant City
RB Isaac Bailey, Sr., Nature Coast
RB Matt Jones, Jr., Armwood
OL Tony Posada, Sr., Plant
OL Taylon Culbreth, Sr., St. Petersburg
OL Tyler Sweetland, Sr., St. Petersburg
OL Kevin Reeves, Sr., Jefferson
OL Jamall Carter, Sr., Pasco
K Andres Vasquez, Jr., Sickles
Ath Alvin Delaine, Sr., Hernando
Coach of the Year Mike Fenton, Jefferson
The offensive coordinator on Dragons teams that fell one game short of a state title in 2002 and '04, Fenton finally broke through as a head coach.
DL: Dante Fowler, Sr., Lakewood. FSU recruit had 20 sacks, 32 tackles for loss
DL: Anthony Chickillo, Sr., Alonso. Backfield menace, Miami commit averaged 12.3 tackles, had 18 sacks
DL: Thomas Bronson, Sr., Hernando. Edge rusher had 14 sacks, 47 tackles for loss and six caused fumbles
DL: Cody Pogorelc, Sr., St. Petersburg. We're sliding this fearsome 'backer (18 sacks) down to the defensive edge on our team
LB: Terry Johnson, Sr., Countryside. Pinellas Defensive Player of the Year had 95 tackles
LB: Ramik Wilson, Sr., Jefferson. Dragons' defensive leader played in a variety of spots, had 90 tackles, 18 sacks
LB: Anthony Harrell, Sr., Jesuit. Wake Forest commitment (98 tackles) also was Tigers' No. 2 rusher
LB: Eric Striker, Jr. Armwood. Hawks speedster collected 127 tackles, 16 sacks
DB: Nick Addison, Sr., Spoto. Two-way standout was lockdown corner, accounted for 2,637 yards total offense
DB: Denzel Thompson, Sr., Countryside. Led Pinellas County with nine interceptions
DB: Jamie Byrd, Sr., Pasco. Hard-hitting, Division-I prospect led 11-1 Pirates in tackles (73)
DB: Jermaine McKinney, Sr., Armwood. Blitz-happy safety had three sacks in state title game
P: Mattias Ciabatti, Sr. Hillsborough. For a good part of the season he was Terriers' top offensive weapon
KR: Frankie Williams, Sr., Robinson. When teams actually kicked to him, he averaged 42.6 yards per return
Util: Nelson Agholor, Jr., Berkeley Prep. Three-way Division-I prospect had three picks, but did so much more
DL David Tinsley, Sr., Armwood
DL Shawn Council, Sr., Brandon
DL Adarius Rayner, Sr., Largo
DL Tyriq McCord, Jr., Jefferson
LB Jackson Cannon, Jr., Land O'Lakes
LB Keith Lewis, Sr., Freedom
LB Jamone Myrick, Sr., St. Petersburg
LB Nick Morrison, Jr., Sunlake
DB Alex Dixon, Sr., Countryside
DB Wesley Moore, Jr., Land O'Lakes
DB Leon McQuay III, So., Armwood
DB Stevie Murph, Sr., St. Petersburg
P Adrian Krupka, Sr., Sunlake
KR Teddy West, Sr., Lakewood
Util Danny Taylor, Sr., Spoto
Armwood – Cameron Dees, Kyle Wilcox; Clearwater – Ryan Hagen, Jon Hogan; Countryside – Mike Love; East Lake – Tyler Higbee, Chris Leppinen; Gulf – Jeff Kruse; Hernando – William Alderman, Darren Hambrick, Derek Wilson; Hillsborough – Charles Lovett; Hudson – Gary Myrick; Jefferson – Alain Del Rio, Rashad Dunnigan; Jesuit – Derrick Friga; Land O'Lakes – T.J. Chamberlin, Spencer Michelson, Kent Taylor; Largo – Derek Doss, Jarvis Stewart; Mitchell – Codi Folsom, Marcus Hicks; Newsome – Joe Worth; Pasco – Mike Clower, David Emmanuel, Janarion Grant, Mark Landry; Pinellas Park – Jeremi Powell; Plant – Austin Aikens; Robinson – Ruben Gonzalez, Tevin Newman; Springstead – John McCloskey, Lou Wendelstedt; St. Petersburg – Stevie Murph, Raeshaun Washington; Sunlake – Jacob Jackson, Matt Sanders; Tampa Bay Tech – DeVonte Danzey; Tarpon Springs – Darius Daniels, Brodrick Lee, Derek Matson, Runaldo Wright; Wesley Chapel – Jake Fisher