FLEMING ISLAND - After an exciting football season that included two playoff spots for two area teams; Keystone Heights and Fleming Island high schools, and near misses by Clay High and Oakleaf High, the final three weeks of the season provided a chance to see athletes perform at their very best to try and push the season for a week or more.
Clay Today newspaper and the sports staff would like to highlight some of the very best players of the year in a tribute to a return to the competitions in all sports.
Our Super Teams, comprised of our staff picks for the athletes that provided the most exciting and telling stories of the seasons. Statistics are a part, week-to-week observations are a part and season-endings are a part of choices on the Clay Today Super Teams.
Football will be comprised of the Super 11 team for offense and a Super 11 team for defense.
For 2021, Oakleaf High quarterback Drew Ammon earned two spots on the selections with a best kicker choice and also the offensive player of the year while, on defense, it was Clay High defensive end Blake Thompson, with his timely sacks, fumble recoveries and one electrifying tackle on the goal line with nine seconds on the clock that got Thompson the top choice as defensive player of year.
Ammon did about as much as a first year starting quarterback could do to win games with six games above 30 points ending in losses, but the smooth tactical thinker found targets and executed the complex Oakleaf offense with efficiency and tenacity with plenty of close calls. Ammon had 1750 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a QB rating of 85 for the season. Ammon also had 48 kickoffs that averaged better than 50 yards; punted 26 times with 40 yard average and three landing inside the 20 and 33 of 38 point after kicks with three of five field goals for 42 extra points to the Oakleaf total.
Thompson was the barometer for the Blue Devil defense because as Blake went, Clay went and it was mostly good stuff for the Blue Devils in pressure situations with Thompson on the field. Dependable and aggressive, Thompson was where my camera went when a third and 12, fourth and six and final play against Middleburg was going. Thompson, Clay High’s high-energy defensive end was the main disruption for the Blue Devil “11-hats to the ball” mentality with a big engine and a fearless abandon to attack on demand. Thompson recovered numerous key fumbles in the biggest of games and had tackles for losses; sacks at opportune moments of the Blue Devil season; 60 tackles, eight sacks, two fumbles caused, three fumbles recovered.
In upcoming issues, Cross Country’s Super 11 teams will be comprised of the top three male and female runners for the season.
Swimming will be comprised of the top three male and females swimmers for the year and a diver.
Golf will be the top four athletes; male and female from the season.
Volleyball will have a Super Six team plus one.
Football Super 11 Offense
Freshman quarterback Cibastian Broughton possibly solidified his name as a four year starter for coach Damenyum Springs with his quick study on the high school game after the Golden Eagles opened the season with a big question mark at the position. Broughton brought an energy, a near-mistake free execution and the courage to keep getting up off the turf at the helm of a team that was looking at replacing a ton of talent to graduation; a daunting task for a returning quarterback let alone a freshman. Here’s the ironic concept; Broughton did exactly what the coach asked.
Senior Dalton Hollingsworth at Keystone Heights was the focal point for the Indians rugged offense that featured games of nearly 350-450 yards rushing compiled by a four-man attack and a voracious offensive line. Hollingsworth was top stat guy in Class 4A, but also hardly ever came off the field with a handful of kick returns for exciting touchdown runs and a bucketload of tackles from his secondary position. To rush for over 1500 yard with 21 touchdowns, smash 60 tackles, kickoff occasionally, average 24 yards a punt return with a 90 yarder for a score and a few of them going 70-plus with penalty flags squashing the effort and 17 two-point plunges, that’s workhorse numbers.
Orange Park junior JoJo Restall was simply just rugged. With his big man up front, Roderick Kearney, Restall was a guy who was the muscle for the Raider offense on a team that had defenses from four state-ranked defenses with strong games against the likes of Oakleaf, Clay and Riverside. Restall finished with 1134 yards; five over 100 yards, and nine touchdowns. The tell tale of Restall’s tenacity was his quarterback was the second leading rusher with just 177 yards.
Clay High had to adjust it’s offensive personality a bit near mid season and that task fell to senior wide receiver D’Maurion Frazer who became the spark for the Blue Devils’ offense. Frazier time and time was the surprise open guy 35 yards downfield that blew up a game with his speed and daring downfield snatching balls out of the sky against not one, but most times, two defenders. With 50 catches and nine scores, Frazier not only was the ace in the hole for coach Kyle Kennard, but Frazier also snared three interceptions when injuries and inexperience dictated a move to defense. Frazier also was a jet-sweep option for Kennard with a near 10 yards a pop when the need for a blast was needed.
Oakleaf High’s Taylor Bradshaw was a familiar name on my desk each week when examining the results of the Knights football team with the junior playmaker getting nearly 20 yards per pass in 47 snags making him the clutch guy for coach Frank Garis. Bradshaw’s best games were against the best teams; eight catches against Camden County, seven against Bartram Trail. From Don Long’s “That number 14 catches everything.”
Top five guys here are a recipe for massive, mammoth power up front; Orange Park junior Roderick Kearney, Keystone Heights High senior Mason Dicks, Clay High’s Desiron Gantt, Middleburg High’s Tanner Peery and Oakleaf High’s Wyatt Nordean.
Kearney, with wingman Braylon Hawkins, was the power for the Raiders with massive result (and a truckload of NCAA Div. I offers). Over 50 pancakes and a lot of pictures of him shoveling guys 10 yards past the line of scrimmage made Kearney the scariest guy to line up a defensive end against.
Dicks, with his shadow Luke Snider, was the quiet leader of the Keystone Heights run game that average nearly 400 yards per game. Both guys are state champion weightlifting team members and the best moment for Dicks was blocking a guy from the line of scrimmage on a two yard scoring plunge to the goal post and pinning him on the post much to the dismay of the defender.
Gantt, with his guard Brad Warren, were a smallish-sized pair that was the trough of doom for opposing defenders as the Blue Devils transitioned their run game from one style to another near mid-season. No problem, just keeping knocking people back. Gantt was one of smallest most effective blockers on the field for 48 minutes.
For Middleburg’s Tanner Peery, his guy was Dakota Gerber, but Peery was the dictate for the newly-explosive Bronco ground game that had an elusive quarterback, a power running back and a speed demon that could break on a dime. Peery’s leadership kept the Broncos attack moving the chains from his center position.
For Oakleaf, Nordean, like a NORAD commander, was the smallest of the massiveness on the Knights’ front line and probably one of the savviest guys to direct the first line of attack. There was no doubt that Oakleaf had the firepower to move the ball; 1736 passing yards, 2300 yards on the ground and 1750 yards via the air, and the ability to put points on the board; just one game out of double figures and four losses with 30-plus points on the scoreboard.
Caleb Freytag, Middleburg’s most often wide receiver and a Jet Sweeper and kick returner was the guy I would have liked to have seen get the ball more times in his games. Freytag was the brimming fire for the Broncos’ offense; ready to go on a dime when his number was called. With ripping kick returns, great long ball slashes and timely runs; especially that flip reverse thing that happened against Clay, Freytag was the hidden missile in the chamber.
Offensive Player of Year and Top Kicker:
Oakleaf quarterback Drew Ammon did about as much as a first year starting quarterback could do to win games with six games above 30 points ending in losses, but the smooth tactical thinker found targets and executed the complex Oakleaf offense with efficiency and tenacity with plenty of close calls. Ammon had 1750 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a QB rating of 85 for the season. Ammon also had 48 kickoffs that averaged better than 50 yards; punted 26 times with 40 yard average and three landing inside the 20 and 33 of 38 point after kicks with three of five field goals for 42 extra points to the Oakleaf total.
Super 11 Defense
Defensive line (4):
First guy to give some kudos to for job well done in tough situation was Ridgeview High nose tackle Derrick Mosley who was a Hard Hat, blue collar stud in the midst of a team that needed a MASH unit for most of the season. Mosley’s stalwart play as the crushing center of the Panther defense was admirable in that most teams ran away from him thus making his 70 tackles, three sacks and 17 for loss even more impressive.
Keystone Heights handled a 10-2 final season record with four shutouts and just three games above a touchdown scored with senior defensive end Caleb Moncrief one of the leading attackers from the line of scrimmage. Moncrief, with 39 tackles; 18 solos with 3.5 for losses and two sacks, was a big play and a tense moment sack or tackle for loss that kept the Indians defense out of the way for the high-octane offense. An interesting contribution of Moncrief’s presence, was that linebacker Logan Williams; about half Moncrief’s size, picked up six sacks off edge blitzes behind Moncrief. Moncrief also played tight end, catching four passes.
Jhace Edwards, Fleming Island’s defensive highlight reel at the end of the season, in kind of a hybrid defensive end outside linebacker role, is another guy that needed to be seen early in the season. Edwards’ explosive play at the end of the season only makes one wonder if the cat was unveiled early the amount of havoc he could have wreaked. He was the Clay Today player of the week on both offense and defense during the season, a feat never done before. Edwards constanct strong play throughout the season then explosiveness when the team requested it was impressive. And, he smiled a lot while making 67 tackles, intercepting passes downfield, knocking down passes and even running balls into the end zone. Playing as an inside linebacker against Oakleaf, Edwards was key to shutting down the Knights’ inside run game en route to the Golden Eagle upset that propelled them into the Class 7A playoffs.
Donovan Wimberly, Middleburg High’s athletic defensive tackle, was going to be the lead guy for the Bronco defense that would be tasked to give coach Ryan Wolfe more chances to flex his offensive wizardry on the field after years of exhausted defensive effort by past Bronco defenses. Wimberly finished off with 43 tackles; four for loss and a season high six against St. Augustine, and 10 quarterback hurries that contributed to 13 interceptions behind him, giving Wolfe and quarterback Luke Padgett plenty of offensive play time.
Clay High’s Dominic Martin was the fire behind the Blue Devil defense with his ultra-competitiveness keeping the offenses in front of him wary of 6-10 guys piling on the poor ball carrier. Not the biggest of guys in his position, Martin’s 72 tackles with 5.5 for losses was impressive compared to the size of the people blocking him.
Middleburg High’s Austin Cruce was just plain fun to watch. “Cowboy” as nicknamed was the prototypical tough-guy in the middle just picking fights against the biggest guy on the field. Cruce’s presence racked up 105 tackles (six games in double figures), four sacks, two interceptions; one an interception that should have been a pick-six and a handful of fumbles.
Oakleaf High’s Vladimir Rosa was a 72-tackle wrecking machine for the Knights’ defense that was a big reason why teams passed over him rather than challenge him through the middle thus creating a lot of secondary tackles for the Oakleaf defense. Rosa’s athleticism put him in tackles far away from him.
Defensive backs (3)
Middleburg High’s Malachi Flowers was the recipient of an ultra-aggressive Bronco defense with fellow Super 11s Cruce and Wimberly giving Flowers a shot at three interceptions for the season to combine with teammate Omar Holcomb’s six steals as enemy passers had to pick their own poison as to who to throw against. Flowers was equally aggressive at the point of attack with 61 tackles; 39 solos, to be one of the lead stoppers for the Broncos. Flowers was credited with 12 pass breakups, but probably could have had more had enemy offenses attempted to pass his way.
Dedric Walker, senior defensive back at Fleming Island got thrust into the role of lockdown corner when an injury took out West Point-bound Joe Stephens. Walker responded with the leadership in the secondary with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups dictating opposing quarterbacks go to the opposite side of the field. Walker also was a leading tackler for the Golden Eagles with 67 stops; just behind linebackers Walker Whiddon, Jhoel Robinson and Abram Wright.
Oakleaf High senior Dylan Stubbs (6’-1”, 175 lbs) was big enough to play linebacker, played safety and a nickel guy at times and also rushed the passer on outside blitz to create a stat package of 59 tackles, two sacks and a handful of kick returns. Opposing offenses needed to know where Stubbs was to create space away from him.
Utility: Fleming Island High’s Walker Whiddon was the quietest best tackler in the county with 85 tackles; 67 solos with one sack. Whiddon, much in the same history of his big brother Wesley, was best against the best with a season-ending flurry of nine tackles against Nease, 15 tackles against Oakleaf and 13 against Buchholz.
Defensive player of year: Clay High’s Blake Thompson was the barometer for the Blue Devil defense because as Blake went, Clay went and it was mostly good stuff for the Blue Devils in pressure situations with Thompson on the field. Dependable and aggressive, Thompson was where my camera went when a third and 12, fourth and six and final play against Middleburg was going. Thompson, Clay High’s high-energy defensive end was the main disruption for the Blue Devil “11-hats to the ball” mentality with a big engine and a fearless abandon to attack on demand. Thompson recovered numerous key fumbles in the biggest of games and had tackles for losses; sacks at opportune moments of the Blue Devil season; 60 tackles, eight sacks, two fumbles caused, three fumbles recovered.