The Herald’s 2018 All-Area offensive and defensive players of the year share one thing in common: neither is having an easy time in college football recruiting.
But that speaks more to the weirdness of the college football recruiting game, than anything else. Rock Hill’s Narii Gaither and Nation Ford’s Michael Peterson would make any college program happy it decided to pull the trigger with a scholarship offer.
Gaither is The Herald’s offensive player of the year after a huge statistical season rushing the football, despite having another 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield with him, and also playing on defense for extensive chunks of the season. He was essentially the Bearcats’ spiritual leader, integral in the program’s best season in a decade which saw Bubba Pittman’s team win a first city and region title since 2009, and a first playoff game since 2008.
Peterson is the defensive player of the year after producing another 161 tackles, despite teams sending extra blocking attention toward the senior linebacker (after his monster junior season) and his having to call defensive schemes for his teammates (which he didn’t do last season).
Peterson has recruiting interest from East Tennessee State, Western Carolina, and several other schools, as well as a preferred walk-on spot from Virginia Tech. Gaither has an offer from Gardner-Webb, as well as a host of Division II programs that would be lucky to have him. No question both will have a busy January recruiting-wise before the next signing day, in early February.
Picking The Herald’s coach of the year was as easy as it gets.
Victor Floyd left Chester in 2007 for a job in Georgia, and when he returned for a second stint in charge of the Cyclones, he said he was motivated by “unfinished business.” Well, the business is finished. Floyd led the Cyclones to a 15-0 record and the 3A state title, behind a punishing run game and an opportunistic defense. The team fully embodied his personality, which unsurprisingly resulted in the school’s first state title in over 50 years.
Offensive player of the year: Narii Gaither, Rock Hill
Defensive player of the year: Michael Peterson, Nation Ford
Coach of the year: Victor Floyd, Chester
QB - Kemarkio Cloud, Lancaster - Cloud was a legitimate two-way threat QB for the Bruins. The senior rushed for 1,411 yards and 17 touchdowns, and completed 81-of-142 passes for 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns, with just two interceptions.
RB - Narii Gaither, Rock Hill - North-South all-star was also named Region 3-5A player of the year and Tri-County Coaches Association offensive player of the year. Gaither carried the ball 111 times for 1,573 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had 49 tackles, with five for a loss, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The senior standout rarely came off the field during the Bearcats’ big games and hit his huge rushing yardage total despite another player in the Bearcats’ backfield topping 1,000 yards too.
RB - Joe Ervin, South Pointe - Offensive MVP of the North-South all-star game signed with Kansas State last week. Ervin rushed for over 1,000 yards in the last five games alone, finishing the season with 1,964 and 24 touchdowns. The senior was named the Region 3-4A offensive player of the year and finished the season with zero fumbles. He also broke Stephon Gilmore’s South Pointe career rushing record.
RB - Nathan Mahaffey, Nation Ford - junior set Nation Ford’s single-season rushing yardage record, along with a host of other new Falcon football milestones. Mahaffey carried the ball 264 times for 1,607 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior also caught 26 passes for 218 yards and four more touchdowns, for 17 total scores. Watch out for him next season.
OL - Carson Murray, Rock Hill - junior graded 92 percent with 36 knockdowns. Murray was named All-Region 3-5A and won several Hawg of the Week and Tri-County offensive lineman of the week awards.
OL - Wyatt Tunall, Chester - Shrine Bowl selection and Mr. Football finalist signed with North Carolina. Tunall was named the South Carolina Football Coaches Association’s Upper State 3A lineman of the year and was also named the Region 4-3A offensive player of the year. He graded 85 percent for the year, with 61 knockdown blocks.
OL - Jackson Chappell, South Pointe - Shrine Bowl selection graded 92 percent with 56- big-time blocks and 28 pancake blocks.
OL - Jalen Tatah, Lancaster - North-South all-star graded 91 percent with 17 pancake blocks.
OL - Lane Towery, York - North-South all-star helped pave the way for Cougar running back Stephen Oglesby’s great senior season.
WR - Marice Whitlock, South Pointe - Whitlock was a dangerous weapon for the Stallions whether at receiver or running back. The senior caught 47 passes for 838 yards and ran the ball 65 times for 525 yards, finishing with 16 total touchdowns and over 1,300 all-purpose yards.
WR - Heze Massey, Clover - senior North-South all-star caught 52 passes for 668 yards and five touchdowns.
ATH - Pha’Leak Brown, Chester - senior made 55 tackles and played considerable snaps at safety, but did the brunt of his damage carrying the football. Brown turned 190 carries into 1,603 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was named Region 4-3A player of the year and a huge force behind the Cyclones’ state championship.
K/P - Jacob Cato, Lancaster - senior kicker hit 14 field goals, averaged 47 yards per punt and hit 13 kickoffs for touchbacks.
DL - Teddy Murphy, Chester - junior defensive end made 101 tackles, with 25 for a loss, recorded 32 quarterback pressures and notched 14 sacks. It was fitting that the All-Region 4-3A pick made the win-clinching sack in the Cyclones’ 3A state title win.
DL - Quay Evans, Chester - junior defensive tackle was incredibly disruptive up the middle. He finished the season with 60 tackles, 31 QB pressures and five forced fumbles, keeping blocking pressure off his teammate, Murphy.
DL - Immanuel Bush, Lancaster - destructive junior lineman made 67 tackles, had 18 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks. Bush also blocked two extra points and a punt.
LB - Michael Peterson, Nation Ford - 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior linebacker notched 161 tackles, with 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, three interceptions -- including one returned for a touchdown -- two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
LB - Hayden Johnson, Clover - heat-seeking junior made 121 tackles (91 solo), with 19 tackles-for-loss, four pass breakups and an interception.
LB - Savion White, South Pointe - The Tri-County Coaches Association’s defensive player of the year racked up 114 tackles, with 11 for a loss, recorded seven QB pressures, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
LB - Robby Csuhta, Indian Land - hard-hitting middle linebacker made 137 tackles, with 17 for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
DB - Jaelan Harfield, Lancaster - defensive back made 46 tackles, with 11 for a loss and two sacks, broke up 12 passes and intercepted five, and blocked a punt and a field goal.
DB - A.J. Jefferson, Indian Land - junior cornerback led the area in interceptions (seven), to go with 41 tackles and 14 pass breakups.
DB - Dorrien Bagley, Chester - senior had 89 tackles, 10 pass breakups, seven tackles for negative yardage, five forced fumbles and two interceptions.
DB - Nick Ervin, Rock Hill - All-Region 3-5A safety had a busy senior season, making 61 tackles, with five tackles-for-loss, 11 pass breakups, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and a defensive TD.
ATH - Petey Tuipulotu, Nation Ford - 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior caught 33 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns, but made a bigger impact on defense as the Falcons’ starting safety. Tuipulotu recorded 108 tackles, six pass breakups, three tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, an interception and one defensive TD.
QB - Tahleek Steele, South Pointe - junior completed 161-of-250 passes for 2,470 yards and 33 touchdowns. Steele also ran for 404 yards and five scores.
RB - Stan Mills, Chester - junior rusher piled up 1,127 yards on 183 carries, scoring 12 touchdowns and making the All-Region 4-3A team.
RB - Stephen Oglesby, York - senior carried the football 180 times for 1,188 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also caught 13 passes for 113 yards.
RB - David Hall, Clover - powerful junior ball-carrier ran the football 157 times for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hall also caught 28 passes for 366 yards and another TD.
OL - Will Boggs, York - Boggs graded 90 percent for the Cougars.
OL - Devon Rice, Rock Hill - Rice has started every game up front during the Bearcats’ last two seasons. He graded 88 percent with 20 knockdowns.
OL - Fred Reid, Lancaster - Bruins lineman graded 92 percent with 19 pancake blocks.
OL - Dorian Jamison, South Pointe - big senior tackle graded 91.6 percent with 24 big-time blocks and nine pancake blocks.
OL - Jesse Mace, Indian Land - 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior graded 92 percent this season and only allowed one sack. Mace was an All-Region 4-3A pick.
WR - Antonio Barber, Rock Hill - junior made big plays for the Bearcats in the passing game, catching 28 balls for 575 yards and eight touchdowns. The Tennessee commit averaged over 20 yards per catch. He added 161 yards and three TDs on the ground.
WR - Jaylin Lane, Clover - junior hauled in 43 catches for 625 yards and eight TDs.
ATH - Zion Mills, Chester - senior DB/WR made 21 tackles and intercepted five passes, including one returned for a touchdown. Mills also caught 19 passes for 268 yards and five touchdowns and stepped his game up noticeably in the playoffs, according to coach Victor Floyd.
K/P - Kyle Romenick, Fort Mill - senior averaged 39.3 yards per punt, with 10 kicks downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
DL - Cam Steele, York - senior defensive end had 54 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss. He added 8.5 sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries.
DL - Ashten Schaufert, Nation Ford - 5-foot-11, 225-pound defensive lineman made 77 tackles, with 22 for a loss, despite missing almost a month of the season. Schaufert added nine sacks, 17 QB pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
DL - Tahj Knight, Indian Land - senior recorded 24 tackles-for-loss, along with 71 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles.
LB - Brian Phillip, York - linebacker racked up 109 tackles, with 13 for a loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
LB - Alex English, Rock Hill - All-Region 3-5A junior made 90 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, five pass breakups, two sacks, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.
LB - Javonti Jackson, Chester - sophomore linebacker had 126 tackles, nine QB pressures and a pair of interceptions, both in the Cyclones’ 3A state title victory over Dillon.
LB - Octaveion Minter, Chester - another talented Cyclone sophomore linebacker, Minter made 116 tackles, recorded 19 QB pressures and made nine tackles-for-loss.
DB - Jaylen Mahoney, South Pointe - Shrine Bowler signed with Vanderbilt made 44 tackles, broke up 10 passes and intercepted four more.
DB - Dorian Williams, Indian Land - Tulane signee had 94 tackles -- 11 for a loss -- four pass breakups, two interceptions and a sack.
DB - Anthony Jackson, Rock Hill - junior had 53 tackles, 12 pass breakups, four tackles-for-loss and four interceptions during an All-Region 3-5A campaign.
DB - Fentrell Cypress, Northwestern - Shrine Bowl pick and University of Virginia signee made 33 tackles, broke up six passes and intercepted two, including one returned the length of the field for a touchdown. He also blocked a field goal and forced a fumble.
ATH - Cam Saunders, Fort Mill - All-Region senior caught 31 passes for 551 yards and seven touchdowns, and also returned 21 kickoffs for 469 yards, for a total of 1,154 all-purpose yards.
QB - Gabe Carroll, Clover - junior completed 208-of-307 passes for 2,606 yards and 20 touchdowns, and also was dangerous with his feet, scoring a pair of rushing TDs and avoiding a number of sacks with his improvisational abilities.
RB - Noah Thompson, Rock Hill - Thompson had a great senior season, giving the Bearcats a potent 1-2 punch in the offensive backfield with Narii Gaither. Thompson ran for 1,239 yards and six touchdowns, averaging almost eight yards per carry.
RB - Sebastian Lach, Fort Mill - All-Region senior ran the ball 178 times for 930 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 108 yards to finish the season with 1,125 all-purpose yards.
RB - Antonio Heath, Northwestern - senior ran the ball 150 times for 776 yards and eight touchdowns.
OL - Montez Hall, Chester - center ended his career with 39 starts in three seasons, and graded 82 percent for the season, with 33 knockdown blocks. Hall was also an All-Region 4-3A pick.
OL - Wesley Williamson, Lewisville - senior lineman graded 82 percent with 25 knockdown blocks and 11 pancakes. The four-year starter also played extensively on defense, notching 30 tackles, eight for a loss, in five games played on that side of the ball.
OL - Keith Boyd, Chester - reliable All-Region 4-3A senior graded 82 percent with 43 knockdown blocks for Chester’s road-grading offense.
OL - Devin Hodges, Nation Ford - Hodges consistently graded in the 80s this season, and led the Falcons with 35 pancake blocks, while allowing just two sacks total.
OL - Anthony Cunningham Jr., Great Falls - All-Region 2-A junior graded 87 percent on the season, while playing extensively on defense as well.
WR - Demetric Hardin, Lewisville - Hardin had an injury-hit season but was still productive as a QB, receiver and kick returner. He threw for 406 yards, ran for 206 and had 277 receiving. He also averaged 35 yards per kickoff return and took two kickoffs back for touchdowns.
WR - Jamario Holley, Northwestern - senior caught 29 passes for 470 yards and six TDs, and was picked for the South Carolina Shrine Bowl squad.
ATH - Martez Moore, Lewisville - Moore led Lewisville in tackles (74), had five tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and two pass breakups. Offensively, he ran for over 300 yards and had 13 catches, with four touchdowns.
K/P - Brandon Dickerson, Indian Land - Dickerson made 9-of-11 field goals, with a long of 49 yards, and averaged 38 yards per punt. He also kicked 14 touchbacks on kickoffs.
DL - Rontarius Aldridge, South Pointe - junior had 54 tackles, 11 QB pressures, 7.5 sacks, six tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble and an interception.
DL - John Odom, Northwestern - senior made 90 tackles, with 10 for a loss, five sacks, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
DL - Logan Hicks, Rock Hill - senior All-Region 3-5A performer recorded 56 tackles -- 12.5 for a loss -- 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
LB - Terrence Mills, Chester - senior notched 94 tackles (58 during the Cyclones’ five playoff wins), five sacks and forced four fumbles.
LB - Greg Johnson, Northwestern - sophomore had a strong season, recording 116 tackles, with four for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.
LB - Kenny Byrd, York - junior made 103 tackles, with seven for negative yardage, four sacks and a forced fumble.
LB - Cole Rasmussen, Fort Mill - junior made 80 tackles, with seven for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
DB - Ly’Terrence Mills, Chester - junior strong safety made 83 tackles, with 15 for a loss, and intercepted three passes.
DB - D’Arthur Ratchford, Northwestern - senior made 74 tackles, broke up five passes and intercepted one. Ratchford was also named the Charlotte Touchdown Club’s Comeback Player of the Year.
DB - Jhace Stevenson, South Pointe - senior DB made 44 tackles, intercepted four passes, broke up two and forced a fumble.
DB - Zyon Duncan, Lancaster - senior secondary patrolman made 42 tackles, broke up nine passes, intercepted three and blocked a field goal.
ATH - Omega Blake, South Pointe - sophomore handled all of South Pointe’s punting duties (pretty well), played in the team’s secondary -- intercepting four passes -- and played backup QB, rushing for 62 yards and throwing for 30. A much bigger role is likely on the horizon for Blake.