From Staff Reports
In football, one of the greatest compliments an offensive coordinator can pay to a defensive player is to call plays that run to the other side of the field.
Northwest Whitfield defensive end Isaiah Mack is very complimentary.
Mack, a 6-foot, 2-inch 230-pound junior, was the overwhelming choice of the Region 7-4A coaches as the Defensive Player of the Year as the All-Region team was released on Sunday.
“We started out the year with teams running towards him 65 percent of the game, and by the end of the year, it was down to 40 percent,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said of Mack. “He has such a knack to continue to make plays on the other side of the field because he has a motor that just didn’t quit. He is definitely a benefit, and what is even better is he is a junior and we have him another year.”
Even with teams running away from his side of the field, Mack was still a beast.
In leading the Bruins to a 6-4 season, Mack finished with 136.5 tackles with nearly 20 percent of those tackles coming for a loss. Mack had 26.5 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks. He also caused a pair of fumbles.
“He did all of what he did within the context of our overall scheme and playing technique as a defensive lineman,” Robinson said. “He could have freestyled and had even better numbers, but he plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. It made everyone else on our team better. He knows he is good, but he still puts the team first. I have had one other player like that, and that was (former Kentucky standout and current Georgia State player) Nermin Delic.”
Fittingly, region champions Ridgeland dominated the top honors. Vonn Bell, who stars on the defensive side of the ball in the backfield and is also doubly threatening as a receiver and kick returner, was named the Player of the Year. Senior running back Darrell Bridges shared Offensive Player of the Year honors with Cedartown running back Nick Chubb. Tanner Brumby of Pickens was the Special Teams Player of the Year, while Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis was named the Coach of the Year.
The Panthers will play in the Class 4A state championship game in the Georgia Dome at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday against Sandy Creek.
Dalton, the only other team from the region to advance past the first round of the playoffs, led all teams in the number of selections, placing eight players on the first team with 17 total players overall.
Sophomore Catamount Eder Mora was selected as the “athlete” of the first team. Mora, who played fullback on offense, rover on defense and also punted, led Dalton with more than 160 tackles with three sacks, four interceptions and six tackles for loss and averaged more than 40 yards a punt.
He was joined on the first team offense by running back Kelvis Rhodes, senior wide receiver Brandon Dale, senior offensive linemen Jake Roberts and B.J. Rowland and senior placekicker Pepe Garcia.
Rhodes, another sophomore, ran for more than 1,500 yards and scored 18 touchdowns in his “coming out” season in the backfield, replacing Tre Beck.
Dale was Dalton’s top receiver with nearly 650 yards and nine touchdowns in an offensive that was selective in its passing.
Roberts and Rowland anchored a line that allowed the Dalton running attack to roll up nearly 3,000 yards on the ground.
Garcia was a specialist among specialists, serving as the kickoff kicker and consistently putting his kickoffs in the end zone to force opposing teams to drive 80 or more yards most of the year.
Northwest receiver O’Shea Hill, a 6-4, 225 pound senior, excelled in the slot of the Bruins’ spread offense and was the area’s leading receiver with 831 yards and 10 touchdowns on 56 receptions.
On the defensive side of the first team, Northwest senior lineman Victor Lopez and senior back Kaleb King were selected by the coaches.
Lopez finished with 78.5 tackles on the year with 1.5 sacks, while King was the “lock-down” corner for Robinson’s team with 84 tackles and an interception.
Dalton had a pair of first teamers on defense as well with senior linebacker and team captain Robert Harda-way and senior defensive back Ethan Fromm selected.
Hardaway, like Mora a two-way player at fullback, led the team in sacks and fumble recoveries and was third on the team in tackles. Fromm was second on the team with three interceptions.
Southeast Whitfield’s lone first team selection was Jayro Perez, who was seemingly used all over the field throughout the course of the year.
Playing at linebacker and defensive line for the Raiders, Perez led the team in tackles and even saw time in the offensive backfield at fullback.
On the second team defense, Dalton senior lineman Laighton Reese, Northwest junior back Tevin McDaniel and Southeast junior back Blake Foster and junior punter Jonathan Sanchez were named to the team.
On the offensive side of the ball, Northwest senior quarterback Silas Ledford and senior running back Chris Tinson were joined by Dalton senior tight end Will Irwin and Southeast junior receiver Rhett Harper as second team selections.
Honorable mention selections for Dalton were Hayden Gross (So., OL), Jordan Keener (Jr., DL), Ethan Marlow (Sr., DL), Jay Rockholt (Jr., LB), Nathan Bryant (Jr., DB), Chris Childs (Jr., OL) and Grant Sane (Jr., SNP).
Joining them on the team from Northwest were Caleb Bowie (Jr., LB), Jarrod Farmer (Sr., LB), Andy Whisenant (Jr., DB) and Seth Pierce (So., DB). From Southeast, Easton Ridley (Sr., RB), Jared Davis (Sr., OL), Matt Cloer (Jr., OL) and Carlos Fraire (Sr., DL) were also named honorable mention.