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January 1, 2013

ALL-AREA FOOTBALL TEAM: After top-3 awards, Britton, Bearcats dominate First Team selections

If they're good enough for the Alabama Sports Writers Association, then they're good enough for us here at The Cullman Times.

All 10 local players who garnered All-State accolades last week were obvious First Team selections on this year's All-Area Football Team, and three of them — Vinemont's Ty Jones, Fairview's Luke Bailey and Hanceville's Sheldon Lewis — were easy picks for The Times' top honors.

No one deserved to be named Player of the Year more than Jones.

The Eagles' senior running back was miles — OK, maybe just a few hundred yards — ahead of the competition in 2012. He not only set Cullman County records in rushing yardage (2,214) and touchdowns (33) but played the leading role in The Times' feel-good story of the year — a gritty, youthful Vinemont bunch transforming from a 2-7 clunker in 2011 to an inspirational 8-3 playoff contender.

Jones, a humble and hard-working kid with a bruising running style, started the regular season fast — he topped 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Eagles' first two games — and ended it even faster, churning out 317 yards and his third consecutive five-touchdown performance in a hard-fought road win over Randolph.

On his final Friday night under the lights for the Red and White, Jones reached triple digits and provided Vinemont's only touchdown in a first-round defeat to then-No. 4 Lauderdale County. He concluded the 2012 campaign with an unreal average of 201.3 yards and three touchdowns per game.

Dual-threat quarterbacks are a dime a dozen these days, but triple-threat signal-callers like the Aggies' Bailey are few and far between.

He runs. He throws. He punts. And he does them all exceptionally well, making him the penultimate pick as The Times' Offensive MVP.

Bailey put an exclamation point on a brilliant prep football career with the Purple and Gold in 2012. The multi-sport stud broke coach George Redding's longstanding record as the winningest quarterback in school history with an electrifying comeback victory versus region-rival Saint Clair County on homecoming night and outslugged All-State running back Toby Pee and his solid Sardis squad only two weeks later.

Bailey didn't wilt when it came time for the postseason, either, going off for 177 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go with 205 yards and another score through the air in a back-and-forth battle versus Munford.

The All-State quarterback improved on his impressive rushing numbers from 2011, finishing with 964 yards and 15 touchdowns on 141 carries. Bailey was just as much of a beast as a passer, racking up 2,282 yards, 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

And don't forget he could kick, too, contributing on special teams by punting 26 times for 804 yards (average of 30.9 yards).

Watching Hanceville's Lewis constantly drag handfuls of defenders down the field on runs as a fullback was honestly comical. But when the Bulldog senior switched roles and set his sights on opposing players as a middle linebacker, now that was no joke.

Lewis made his fair share of bone-crushing hits this past season, and it's about time somebody hits the 6-foot-2, 238-pound beast back. That's where The Times comes in. We're hitting the headhunter with Defensive MVP honors, a very fitting finish for a senior who was instrumental in the recent revival of Hanceville's football program.

One year after a magical 10-0 regular season run, Lewis led a mostly different Bulldog squad back to the playoffs in 2012. It didn't come without a great deal of adversity, however, as the Purple and Gold stumbled out of the gates to a surprising 0-3 start. Lewis and Co. never panicked, though, and reeled off seven straight wins to earn hosting rights for a first-round matchup against Deshler.

Lewis was the top tackler in The Times' coverage area with 161 overall — 95 solo and 66 assisted — 18 of which were for a loss. He also flashed his awareness, speed and nose for the end zone with one interception, returning it 46 yards for a touchdown. If all that weren't enough, Lewis forced four fumbles and recovered two of them.

The hardest award to hand out was Coach of the Year. It came down to Mark Britton, whose Cullman squad endured one of the state's most brutal regions en route to a deep playoff run, and Alan Scott, who inspired his Vinemont football team with the rally cry, “Time to change,” which they did with pride in the most successful season at the Pinnacle in recent memory.

In the end, there was no way to overlook all that Britton accomplished with the Bearcats in 2012.

He grabbed his 100th win with the Black and Gold by downing longtime rival Russellville 21-20 in overtime on the road.

Without a true superstar to work with on either side of the ball, the 12th-year coach and his staff utilized Cullman's extremely talented roster to perfection, winding up with the region's No. 2 seed and a home game in the first round versus Arab.

The home-crowd received quite the show, too, as Cullman blew away the Knights one week before ending Walker's season the same way it began — with a crushing defeat at the hands of the Bearcats. In Round 3, the Black and Gold took eventual Class 5A state runner-up McAdory to the wire, but Britton ultimately came just short of tying Oliver Woodard's mark as the winningest coach in program history.

Eight Cullman players joined their coach on The Times' All-Area First Team — Garrett Crider, running back; Houston Turner and Troy Forrest, wide receiver; Jordan Van Gundy, offensive line; Alex Martin and Hunter Riley, defensive line; Richard Poston, linebacker; and Trey Moon, defensive back.

Vinemont and Hanceville were both represented by four boys on the top squad. The Eagles' Jones was accompanied by offensive lineman Marcus Clarke and Mason Lindsey, as well as Tyler Boland at athlete, while the Bulldogs' Lewis led a group that included Casey Thornton, offensive line; Brontae Harris, defensive back; and Caleb Hurst, punter.

The only other team with multiple selections was Fairview. Bailey was obviously the First Team's quarterback, and Jake Roberts was recognized on the offensive line.

West Point, Good Hope and Holly Pond each placed one player on the First Team.

The Warriors' Tyler Smith landed on the squad at kicker, the Raiders' Josh Grigsby made it on the defensive line and the Broncos' Chris Whitehead was a deserving choice at defensive back.

Cold Springs had one player earn Second Team status — Logan Campbell at defensive back.

The All-Area football team was picked by The Times' two-man sports department, editor Rob Ketcham and writer Jake Winfrey. All players from the seven county teams — Cold Springs, Fairview, Good Hope, Hanceville, Holly Pond, Vinemont and West Point — as well as Addison and Cullman were considered.

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