Every season The Southeast Sun/Daleville Sun-Courier’s Elite 11 squad is made up of some of the most talented football players in the Wiregrass, and the 2019 version of this group may be one of the most talented.
The Elite 11 representatives from each school helped guide Enterprise, Daleville and New Brockton back to the playoffs this season.
Daleville running back Jalen White came into 2019 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after being ignored by many of the bigger colleges in the FBS, and that chip resulted in the senior running back breaking virtually every single and career rushing record at Daleville along with the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s single-season rushing record. White headlines this group of athletes as the Elite 11 Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
White amassed a staggering 3,519 rushing yards with 49 rushing touchdowns on the season. The yardage was a state record and the touchdowns are tied for second all-time in the state.
“I didn’t know it would go the way it did but I knew that if anyone could have a season like that it would be him, because of how hard he works,” Daleville coach Desmond Lett said of his running back. “Over the summer he worked harder to get bigger, stronger and faster to be able to put it all together this year.
“After he had the 300-yard game against Elba to start the year, we thought maybe he had his big game of the season in the first game. Then, he went out and just got better and better all year.”
Lett said that despite the yardage and touchdowns piling up over the season, White never let it get to his head and never pushed to get more touches either. Part of that unselfishness is what made him the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year.
“Off the field he’s a phenomenal student, he’s a great leader and he’s been more of a vocal leader this year, too,” Lett said. “He’s handled everything very well and very mature.
“Even after he started tearing it up he still wasn’t getting the attention we feel he deserved, but he just continued to play football. And now there’s a lot of interest.”
That interest has led to dozens of schools descending upon the City of Daleville in an attempt to lure White to their school. So far Tulane, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Toledo, Arkansas State and South Alabama are the FBS schools to extend the 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound White a scholarship offer, but SEC schools like Florida and Tennessee have also begun to recruit the senior.
White could have just as easily fit into the Elite 11’s All-Around Player of the Year, as well as leading the Warhawk defense with 64.5 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and three sacks along with averaging 35.1 yards per punt as the team’s punter. For his career, White totaled 6,659 yards and 85 touchdowns.
Joining White from Daleville on the Elite 11 squad this year are juniors Sincere McKenzie and Myles Parris.
The much smaller McKenzie was Daleville’s second option in the running game, but also provided help in the passing game and was a leader on the defense.
“He was huge for us this year,” Lett said of McKenzie. “He’s an undersized guy but you will get everything out of that little frame every single play.
“Being able to stretch the field and get the ball to him in space was big for us, he hurts you when you’re trying to key in on Jalen. He’s a little bit shiftier than Jalen and really is able to make some big plays in space.”
McKenzie averaged 11.3 yards per carry in 2019 with 403 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, along with 188 yards and another touchdown through the air. His 17 two-point conversions were the third most in state history for a season. He also recorded 48 tackles on defense along with seven tackles-for-loss and two interceptions. McKenzie also had 162 yards on kickoff returns.
McKenzie was one of the Warhawks’ more versatile players having played running back, receiver and fullback along with linebacker, cornerback and safety on defense.
“He played a lot of positions for us on both sides of the ball,” Lett continued. “If every kid had the type of heart that Sincere does we’d be dang hard to beat. He’ll be huge for us next year.”
McKenzie will be Daleville’s leading returning rusher next season and he isn’t taking the role of White’s successor lightly.
“He sat down and talked to Jalen and told him that he’s going to break every single one of his records,” Lett said with a smile. “That’s his goal. When you have a guy thinking that way, it’s going to be huge for him and for the program.”
Parris was another big piece of the Daleville defense with a team-leading 69 total tackles along with 11.5 tackles-for-loss and two fumble recoveries.
The junior linebacker had a knack for being around the ball and making plays this season.
“Myles does everything wide open all the time,” Lett said. “He may miss his assignment sometimes but he’s flying to the ball.
“He’ll get some penalties, too because he’s going wide open all the time, but he’s a guy you don’t have to worry about being around the football. He’s always there. Having him back next year will be so big for our defense.”
For the second consecutive year, Josh McCray leads Enterprise’s representatives on the Elite 11 team as the All-Around Player of the Year after serving as the team’s starting tailback, safety and returning kicks. McCray also spent time playing wide receiver and cornerback, as well.
Despite a hip injury that kept him out of three games, McCray still rushed for 604 yards and seven touchdowns along with 103 yards and another touchdown receiving. He also completed one pass for 53 yards and recorded 32.5 tackles on defense along with two tackles-for-loss, six pass breakups and was tied for the team-lead with four interceptions. McCray returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown.
“The first thing I think of with Josh is loads of potential,” Enterprise coach Rick Darlington said. “Enormous potential for that kid. He can play a lot of different positions and we played him at a lot of positions. He’s a great player and a great athlete. He’s just so gifted.”
McCray has turned that potential into a number of scholarship offers already, including offers from Tennessee and Troy. Darlington wants to see his gifted running back excel more in a leadership role as a senior, however.
“I want Josh to be a guy that drags other players with him and be more of a vocal leader,” he said. “People will follow him, he just has to open his mouth. He has so much God gifted talent.”
Joining McCray as Enterprise representatives on the Elite 11 are quarterback Jackson Darlington, linebacker LZ Leonard and linebacker Robert Ellis.
Jackson Darlington – who just signed a letter-of-intent to play at Air Force – was as essential for his knowledge of his father’s offense as he was for his play on the field this season.
“Jackson is a great leader that wants to win more than anything and help others get there, too,” Rick Darlington said of his son. “His will to win and how much he cares about his teammates and about winning are really his biggest (attributes).”
Jackson Darlington completed 67-of-138 pass attempts for 967 yards and five touchdowns with seven interceptions as a senior, but also rushed for 509 yards and eight more touchdowns.
He also played on the defensive side – as an outside linebacker and safety – recording 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sack, three pass breakups and eight quarterback hurries.
Leonard is another player that has played at a number of positions at EHS, including running back as a freshman and cornerback last season. After starting out 2019 as an outside linebacker he transitioned to inside linebacker and really blossomed.
“I think LZ came along the most of any player on this team, especially as a person,” Rick Darlington emphasized. “Started out as a (defensive back) and then moved to (linebacker) and really found a home at inside backer. He’s also so fast.”
That speed led to a total of 326 yards in kick returns on the season, as well as leading the Wildcat defense with 73 tackles and 14.5 tackles-for-loss. He also recorded three sacks and an interception, but his coach was most proud of the way the sometimes emotional Leonard was able to put those emotions in check.
“He just came so far as a person and we count on big things from him as a senior,” Rick Darlington said. “He’s been able to get his emotions under control and has come a long way. He’s still got further to go but I’m really proud of him.”
Ellis was one of Enterprise’s most consistent players this season totaling 46.5 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries. He saved his best moments for the crunch time, however.
Against Lee, Ellis was responsible for tipping the two-point conversion attempt that sealed the win, and the following week he recorded a sack on Jeff Davis’ final possession to seal that win, as well.
“He’s just so steady and a future college football player,” Rick Darlington said. “He’s a great leader and really everything you want in a football player in your program. He’s a good player, a good person and a good student.
“He definitely made a heck of a play against Lee to tip away the pass there that helped us win, too.”
Leading the way for New Brockton’s representatives is the Elite 11 Defensive Player of the Year Brandon McCoy.
McCoy practically lived in opposing team’s backfields totaling an eye-popping 28 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks along with 63 total tackles.
“When we got here and showed me our team and then asked me who would be unblockable I wouldn’t have picked Brandon McCoy,” New Brockton Zack Holmes admitted. “His super-power, though, is that he played harder than almost every one else on every single snap. He never took a play off and that made the difference for him. That made him unblockable.”
Holmes and New Brockton defensive coordinator Jonathan Hawkins produced a number of defensive linemen at Eufaula that went on to play at the college level – including KD Hill at Ole Miss – but he said McCoy’s season blew all of them out of the water.
“All of the guys that Coach (Hawkins) coached at Eufaula ended up playing in college but his stat line is better than every single one of them,” Holmes said. “He’s just so active and able to find a way to get into the backfield. It was nuts how he would find ways to make plays in every game.
“It didn’t matter what the opponent was, he was never intimidated and was productive in every single game. He’s just a tough old football player.”
Holmes attributed much of his success to the level of confidence he was able to form throughout the year. The senior defensive lineman came into 2019 as primarily a field goal kicker – nicknamed “Leg” – that had played sparingly on defense in previous years.
Playing next to former all-state defensive end Josh Cardwell – who totaled 53 tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks this season – also helped.
“People remember how productive (Cardwell) was last year and so they would key on him and open things up for Brandon, too,” Holmes said. “I just think the confidence of realizing ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at football,’ did so much for him, too. He has a knack for shedding blocks.”
Joining McCoy as a Gamecock representative is sophomore quarterback Kaden Cupp, senior tight end/punter Russell Weeks and senior running back Kyan Horne.
Horne became the first Gamecock running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 2016, totaling 1,345 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.
“The biggest thing about Kyan is that however many rushing yards he had, his longest run on the year was just 35 yards,” Holmes said. “When you handed the ball to Kyan you’re going to get 5-6 yards every single play. He was the epitome of a workhorse.”
The fact that Horne was even able to play in his senior season was up in the air back in August. Horne suffered a knee injury during the summer that was initially believed would require surgery, but after it was discovered that an MRI scan was misread he was able to make it back to the field with a special brace and really got going after rushing for 224 yards against Class 2A’s No. 1-ranked Luverne in week three.
“When he got going he became the key to our offense,” Holmes said. “His ability to run the ball set us up to be a successful offense.
“The Luverne game was the difference maker for him. He pounded on them and hammered them in that game. He was huge for us. He was probably the most consistent player for us on offense.”
Cupp broke the single-season passing record as a freshman in 2018, but had an even bigger season in 2019. He completed 92-of-185 passes for 1,430 yards and 18 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. Cupp also ran for 549 yards and eight more touchdowns on the ground.
“Kaden grew as much as any football player on our team and as a person, too,” Holmes said. “The last two regular season games he really helped our offense progress. Quarterback means a lot to every team but he really meant so much to our offense.”
Holmes pointed to his leadership role as the biggest growth for Cupp as a sophomore.
“The part that’s really growing for him is that leadership role,” Holmes continued. “It’s really hard to lead as a sophomore but he did a good job with that and I think he’ll be even better next year.
“That’s the most exciting thing is that his best football is ahead of him. He’s nowhere near as good as he will be. He works his tail off and he wants it so bad. I’m so thankful to have two more seasons with him.”
Weeks – who just signed his letter-of-intent to play at Army – was New Brockton’s leading receiver and punter in 2019. He caught 31 passes for 487 yards and eight touchdowns along with averaging 39.3 yards per punt.
“Russell was our leading receiver but the best thing about him is that in the end-zone if you just get the ball near him he’s going to catch it,” Holmes said of the 6-foot-4-inch tight end. “His catch radius is unbelievable and his blocking ability and all of those things are stellar, too.
“He was so versatile, he could do so many things. He could split out wide or come in attached on the line or line up in the backfield. He could do so many things for us, which made him special.”
Holmes said that Army’s recruitment of him speaks volumes for the type of person he is, as well.
“When you look at the type of kids they take up there, they don’t just take anybody,” Holmes said of Army. “That speaks to his character and how hard he works to earn that opportunity.”
Also receiving Honorable Mention for the 2019 Elite 11 team are linebacker KD McCray, running back Mykel Johnson and defensive end DJ Turner of Enterprise; defensive end Josh Cardwell, offensive tackle Jake Holloway and Colton Marsh of New Brockton; and offensive/defensive lineman Casey Moore, offensive/defensive lineman Brian Serrano, tight end/linebacker Melvin Matthews and receiver/quarterback/cornerback Peanut Bloodsaw of Daleville.