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December 25, 2012

2012 ASWA ALL-STATE FOOTBALL TEAM: Jones lands only local spot on first team

Nine others earn honorable mentions

In a day and age where many student-athletes choose to do their talking with their mouths, Ty Jones was content with letting his play on the football field speak for him in 2012.

Using 300 carries over 11 games, the senior running back reeled off an eye-popping 2,214 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns, setting Cullman County records in both categories and leading Vinemont on a magical 8-3 ride that ended with a postseason berth.

While a 200-yard performance would constitute a career night for the average player, that total was merely a benchmark for Jones. The bruiser topped the mark a whopping six times before closing the regular season with his strongest showing yet — 317 rushing yards and his third-straight five-touchdown night on 42 carries in a gritty 33-24 road victory over Randolph.

By the time the Eagles made their way to Lauderdale County for a first-round playoff game, the No. 4 Tigers knew to expect a heavy dose of Jones.

They still couldn't stop him.

Despite having the biggest of targets on his back, the senior managed to pick up a modest 126 rushing yards and Vinemont's lone touchdown.

Now, nearly a month-and-a-half after taking the last carry of his illustrious prep football career, Jones is picking up a more-than-modest piece of recognition — a First Team selection at running back in Class 3A when the Alabama Sports Writers Association released its All-State squads on Wednesday.

“To look at what Ty did is honestly pretty unbelievable,” Eagle coach Alan Scott said. “I expected him to be a pretty good ballplayer for us, but for him to set the rushing yards and touchdowns mark was pretty remarkable.”

In Scott's eyes, the honor couldn't have been bestowed upon a better kid.

“I just think he's very solid. He never really gets too high, and he never really gets too low,” the coach said. “He's always smiling, in a good mood, dependable and consistent. He gave it everything he had every single play, and I think that definitely showed on the field.”

With 33 touchdowns — five more than Hanceville's Diamond Simmons compiled in his 3A Back of the Year campaign in 2011 — it's safe to say Jones had a nose — and eyes and ears and legs and arms — for the end zone. Scott learned pretty early in the season who to give the ball to when the Eagles needed a six-point play.

“Whenever we got near the goal line to start the year off, I would try different things,” the coach said. “It became apparent very quickly No. 4 wanted the ball when we got close. To score 33 touchdowns on the ground, you've got to have that desire to cross the goal line, and he definitely had it.”

A grand total of 10 players from The Times' coverage area garnered All-State honors this year, but Jones was the only one who cracked his classification's First Team. The other nine, representing five different squads, were chosen as honorable mentions.

Accompanying Jones from Vinemont were offensive lineman Marcus Clarke and Tyler Boland, an all-purpose threat who made the exclusive squad at defensive back.

Any good running back knows holes don't just open up on their own. That's where offensive linemen come in, and Clarke simply could not be stopped when it came to creating rushing room for Jones. The junior graded out at 85 percent or better in all 11 games and served as the leader of an O-line that accounted for a massive 3,016 rushing yards in 2012.

“As the year progressed, the line started gelling,” Scott said. “Those backs don't get those yards without big guys pushing the other team's big guys around. Ty will be the first to tell you his offensive line did excellent this year.”

Though Boland was a deserving choice at defensive back, he realistically could've been added at any number of positions, be it running back, wide receiver or athlete.

If Jones were Batman, then Boland was his Robin, using his track-star speed in every facet of the game. The junior finished with 1,110 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns.

On offense, Boland rushed for 632 yards and six touchdowns on 74 carries, while also catching 12 passes for 208 yards and another three scores.

On defense, he racked up 26 solo tackles, four interceptions with 145 return yards and one touchdown, two pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one tackle for loss.

If all that weren't enough, Boland also had his hand in the Eagles' return game, taking one kick 58 yards for a touchdown in his team's near upset of then-No. 4 Hamilton.

As the only squad in The Times' coverage area to advance past the first round of the playoffs, it should come as no surprise Cullman wound up with the most members — four — on the ASWA's All-State Team. Quarterback Zac Crocker, wide receiver Houston Turner, defensive back Trey Moon and defensive lineman Alex Martin all landed on the 5A list as honorable mentions.

The selection was the second in a row for Crocker, who followed up a breakout 2011 with an equally impressive and efficient senior year, despite the Bearcats being thrown in one of the state's toughest regions with Muscle Shoals, Hartselle, Russellville, Athens and others.

With the full trust of legendary coach Mark Britton and a potent wide receiving corps of three seniors and one junior, the dangerously accurate signal-caller finished 242 of 358 (68 percent) for 2,522 yards and 28 touchdowns in 12 games. To top things off, Crocker also brought his big-boy boot to the Black and Gold's punting game when called upon.

The quarterback had no shortage of targets to choose from, but his most popular turned out to be Turner, who was always a deep threat and never thought twice about laying his body on the line for a catch. That was never evident more than in Week 5 against eventual-3A state champion Madison Academy, when the 6-foot-6 senior completely sprawled out down the left sideline to come up with a miraculous 30-plus yard grab.

Turner led Cullman with 68 receptions, 781 yards and 14 touchdowns. Some of his best performances came against the Bearcats' biggest competition, catching nine passes for 102 yards and one touchdown in the third round versus McAdory and hauling in two scores against then-top-ranked Muscle Shoals at home in Week 9.

Offenses always get a majority of the glory, but the Black and Gold's defense, led by coordinator Matt Hopper, was also at its best in 2012. The unit held opponents to only 16 points a game and claimed two shutouts, the most impressive a 30-0 second-round blowout in a hostile Walker environment.

Moon and Martin played huge roles in the defense's successes.

Moon had some rather large shoes to fill at safety when All-State First Teamer Andrew Winfrey experienced a severe car crash in mid-February. It didn't take long for the junior to show he was up for the challenge, though, picking off a pass in Cullman's season-opener against Walker.

Moon concluded the season with four interceptions, including one in the third round versus McAdory, and led Cullman in tackles with 116 total — 64 solo and 52 assisted with one for loss. He also had two fourth-down stops and four hammers.

While Moon did his damage in the defensive backfield, Martin did his in opponents' offensive backfields, providing a constant presence with nine tackles for loss and a hearty seven sacks to go along with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 hammers. The junior was responsible for 113 tackles overall in 13 games — 64 solo and 49 assisted.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound lineman was also used frequently on fourth-and-short situations in the team's “Bearcat” formation, where three big players line up behind the quarterback with the intent of one of them bulldozing ahead for the necessary yardage. Martin converted many of those attempts and even ran in a touchdown during the playoffs.

Rounding out the area's All-State athletes are Fairview's Luke Bailey (4A offensive athlete), Hanceville's Sheldon Lewis (3A defensive athlete) and Addison's Franky Melson (1A linebacker).

Bailey put the finishing touches on a masterful football career for the Purple and Gold with one last honor from the state's sports writers. The dual-threat quarterback was the boy who set everything in motion for an Aggie squad that finished 7-4 and hosted Munford in the first round of the postseason.

Bailey nearly reached quadruple digits on the ground with 964 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 141 carries, while also completing 141 of 237 passes for 2,282 yards and another 19 scores for good measure.

Often overlooked was the senior's contributions as a punter. He embraced the added responsibility and excelled at it just as he does with every endeavor he undertakes, finishing with 804 yards on 26 kicks for an average of 30.9 yards.

Bailey's most impressive performances of the season came in statement victories against some of the best squads Fairview's region had to offer.

The first came in a comeback effort over Saint Clair County. With the Aggies quickly down 16-0, the Purple and Gold's winningest quarterback in school history had a hand in all four of Fairview's unanswered touchdowns en route to a 30-16 win.

The second came in a 55-44 shootout against Sardis. All-State First Teamer Toby Pee wowed audiences on either side of the stadium, but Bailey ended the ballgame with the last laugh, leading the Aggies to the triumph with 262 yards and three touchdowns through the air, as well as 132 yards and another two six-point plays on the ground.

Bailey only needed a single half to put up his usually astounding numbers in a 55-26 victory versus Locus Fork. After just two quarters, the senior amassed 326 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He ended the night with 378 passing yards and a fifth score via the air.

With senior leaders like Diamond Simmons, Broc Malcom, Braxton Pitts, Lance Twitty and Daniel Whitfield lost to graduation following a dream 10-0 regular season in 2011, Hanceville needed at least one player to step up and take hold of the rising program.

There was never any doubt Lewis was that player.

On defense, the big boy — he's 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds — knew how to bring the pain, acting as a ruthless tackler with a knack for delivering bone-crushing blows. The extremely aware defender didn't let his teammates panic after a disappointing 0-3 start, helping lead the Bulldogs to an inspirational seven-game win streak and playoff berth by season's end.

Lewis piled on a crazy-high 95 solo tackles and assisted in 66 others, good for 161 total tackles, an average of 15 per game through 11 contests and the highest mark in The Times' coverage area. Eighteen of those tackles were for loss with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also tacked on one interception, returning it 46 yards for a touchdown.

Lewis was equally as sensational on offense, almost topping four-digit rushing totals at fullback. The freight train, who frequently dragged three or four defenders down the field with him, made the most of his 131 carries, powering to 921 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

First-year coach David Smothers easily considered Melson the leader on an Addison defense that allowed only 12 points per game over 10 Friday nights. The Bulldogs only gave up 29 points in the last seven games of the regular season, including three shutouts, one three-point game, two sevens and one 12. The 12 was understandable considering it came from then-unbeaten Falkville in Week 8.

Melson's downright dirty display on defense played a sizable part in Addison bouncing back from a shocking 0-2 start and finishing the year with a 7-3 record and first-round hosting rights in the playoffs.

At 5-foot-8, 182 pounds, the junior isn't generally the biggest kid on the field, but as a country kid who works in a lumber yard all summer, Melson packs a punch into each and every one of his tackles. He earned his All-State accolade by totaling 119 tackles in 10 games — 47 solos and 72 assisted. Six were for loss and four were sacks.

The All-State team was chosen by a panel of the state’s high school writers earlier this month. The group also selected its finalists for Back and Linemen of the Year in each class, to be released on Saturday (Dec. 29). The winners of those 14 awards, as well as the selection of Mr. Football, will be announced at the ASWA’s annual Player of the Year luncheon, to be held in Montgomery on Jan. 16 and sponsored by the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association.

Nominations were solicited from high school coaches by newspapers in their area as well as the ASWA; not every school responded to the request for information, but more than 1,100 players statewide were nominated.

% The ASWA's Paul Beaudry contributed to this report.

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