While each of the team’s in The Southeast Sun/Daleville Sun-Courier coverage area had very different seasons, one thing that each had in common were its leaders. Those leaders make up this season’s Elite 11.
Defensive Player of the Year Josh Kelly exemplifies that leadership.
“Josh Kelly has been one of those players that has meant a tremendous amount for our football program,” Enterprise coach David Faulkner said. “He has great leadership, great discipline and great energy every day.
“He’s been a role model for our younger players on and off the field. Put on top of that his tremendous work ethic and that he’s a very talented player that has made a lot of big plays for us, it makes him a very valuable asset for our program.”
The senior defensive back was the heart and soul of a very young Enterprise defense. Kelly led the Wildcat defense with 94 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, three interceptions, a fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.
Kelly was the only Enterprise defensive back with starting experience coming into the 2017 season and the younger Wildcats had to lean on him. According to Faulkner, Kelly’s leadership will be greatly missed but he expects the senior to continue his success on and off the field.
“We are definitely going to miss him,” Faulkner said. “He’ll find a place to play at the next level and when he does someone is going to get a heck of a football player and a heck of a team member.
“I expect him to get his degree and to continue to be successful in life, not just in football.”
The Offensive Player of the Year, Chance Warren, cannot be described with the word “leader” being used.
“Chance checks all the boxes you want in a football player,” Faulkner said. “He has great work ethic, great competitive experience, he does very well in the classroom and he’s a super intelligent guy that has a lot of things laid out in front of him for his future.”
The all-state receiver broke Enterprise’s single-season reception record as a junior in 2016, and this season broke the single-game receiving record with an eye-popping 14 catches, 228 yards and two touchdowns in his final high school game against R.E. Lee.
For the season, Warren totaled 47 catches for 707 yards and seven touchdowns, and he did all of that despite Enterprise’s top two quarterbacks going down with injuries throughout the season. Warren himself was even forced to start two games at quarterback.
“He’s not just been an all-state player for us, but he’s been a great leader that’s been a great example for our younger players on how to come out and prepare every single day,” Faulkner said. “He’s been very valuable for our program during his career.”
Warren’s ability to accept every role presented to him was his leadership shining through.
“I think he handled everything very well this season,” Faulkner said. “Obviously with all of the injuries and things that we went through we had a lot of guys do things they aren’t normally asked to do. Chance did a great job of everything we asked him to do and everything he could to try and make the team successful.”
Warren has scholarship offers from a number of FBS programs including Navy, Army, Air Force, Virginia Tech and Stanford. After earning Class 7A All-State Honorable Mention in 2016, Warren was named to the second-team in 2017.
This season’s All-Around Player of the Year, Tyler Presley, may have been one of the most versatile players in the entire state. Presley started at receiver, slot-back, cornerback and was Daleville’s leading kickoff and punt returner during the season.
“When we first got here and watched film on the returning players, Tyler stood out as a guy that was really dangerous with the ball in his hands,” Daleville coach Rob Armstrong said. “Then we saw his film on defense and we realized he may be the best player on defense, too.
“If you look at the times he was injured, you would shake your head at the difference in our defense when he was on the field with what it looked like when he was off the field.”
Armstrong said that Presley may have been the most irreplaceable Warhawk on the team.
“If you have to pick one guy to say that that was the guy you’d hate to not have in the lineup, I would have to say it’s Tyler,” Armstrong emphasized. “Offensively, defensively and on special teams Tyler is leaving some pretty big shoes to fill with everything he did in all three phases of the game.”
Coming into 2017, Presley had never played running back in his entire football career but ended up being one of the Warhawks’ leading rushers, gaining 598 yards and eight touchdowns on 102 carries. He also caught 15 passes for 314 yards and six touchdowns.
“He had never played running back in his entire life and still had a great year running the ball,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong wonders what could have been had Presley not injured his knee before halftime of the Warhawks’ playoff loss to Oakman.
“You can always second guess and say ‘what if,’ all the time but I honestly believe that the second half of the playoff game is a different ball game if Tyler is in the lineup.”
Defensively, Presley totaled 89 tackles with four interceptions.
Joining Warren and Kelly on the Elite 11 team from Enterprise, is senior quarterback Koty Fulton-Tice and senior offensive tackle Noah Shattuck.
Fulton-Tice was forced to play through a number of leg injuries during his senior campaign that caused him to miss part or all of four games.
“One of Koty’s biggest attributes is his toughness,” Faulkner said. “He’s a very hard-nosed, physical football player, especially for that position, and I think that his commitment to the team and toughness he showed during the season was huge.
“He worked very hard to get himself back on the field, but he was probably never really 100 percent. He still found a way to push through it and get back on the field and played really well for us.”
Fulton-Tice threw for 1,071 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 195 yards and three touchdowns rushing in his senior season. Along with his toughness, his leadership was also a major attribute.
“Koty has been a great leader for us throughout his career and a very talented player,” Faulkner said. “He has just the right demeanor, never gets too high or too low, and he played really well for us over the last two years. He’s definitely been a key component and leader for our offense and our football team as a whole.”
Shattuck has been an anchor for the Wildcat offensive line the past two seasons and one of the most consistent players on the team, said Faulkner.
“Noah has been a very solid performer for us in our offensive line as a two-year starter,” Faulkner said. “He’s played a lot of football for us and has always been consistent in his performance and the way he practices each and every day. He’s been a guy we could depend on from week-to-week and day-to-day.”
Joining Presley from Daleville, is senior quarterback/cornerback Chance Head and running back/safety Jalen White.
Head had never played defense before this season but due to low numbers on the Daleville roster, even Armstrong’s starting quarterback was called on to play both ways.
“He’s one of those guys that was mad that he ever had to come off the field,” Armstrong said of Head. “He even wanted to play on special teams, too.
“With him being as physical as a runner as he was, sometimes he thought he was Earl Campbell out there running with the ball. He brought that same mentality to defense.”
Head started in his senior season at both quarterback and cornerback. Head was unquestionably a leader for the Warhawks and led them into the playoffs for the first time under first-year coach Armstrong.
“The leadership he provided at quarterback was invaluable,” Armstrong emphatically said. “I can’t tell you how many times he got us out of a bad play and checked into something else when the defense shifted or changed up on us.
“Just knowing the game and being the competitor that he is was great.”
Head completed 30-of-55 passes for 577 yards and eight touchdowns with 45 carries for 437 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Another weapon on the Warhawk offense was sophomore running back Jalen White, who also played on defense.
“I don’t remember just how many times Jalen touched the ball this year but looking back I wish we would have given it to him more,” Armstrong said. “He’s so tough to defend because he’s not only got that speed but he also has the size and strength that you need as a runner. He sees the field so well, too, and even though he was just a sophomore he had a year of experience under his belt.”
White rushed for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns on 221 attempts as the Warhawks leading rusher. Armstrong expects more of the same from the young Warhawk.
“I think having another year’s worth of experience will make him even better with knowing the offense and knowing where his blocks are set up,” Armstrong said. “When you have a talent like Jalen, he needs to be in the game and we’re going to make sure that happens as much as we can. The really good thing about him is how good he can be.
“If your best player is also your hardest worker then that’s hard to beat and not many work as hard as Jalen does. Whether it’s the practice field, a game, in the weight room or in the classroom, he’s a great, hard worker.”
Another supremely versatile player in quarterback-turned-receiver/running back/defensive back Dalton Adkison led the New Brockton Gamecocks back to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Coming into 2017 Adkison was the Gamecocks returning veteran quarterback, having started for two consecutive years, but an early-season head injury forced the senior to miss the first three games of the season.
When he returned, Adkison was tasked to play a different role, or more specifically a number of different roles.
“It just goes into showing you what kind of kid he is,” New Brockton coach Justin Jones said of his former star quarterback. “When you’ve been the star quarterback for two years and then we ask him to not only play a different role but to even play on the other side of the ball, that’s pretty big. The way he embraced that role of doing a little bit of everything for us was huge for the team.”
Adkison was deadly in the “Wild-Gamecock” formation as a runner, gaining 769 yards and 11 touchdowns on 100 carries. He also caught seven passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns, along with completing 5-of-8 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown through the air. On defense, Adkison totaled 35 tackles and two pass breakups from his safety position.
“He’s a great ambassador for our program with the way he handles himself and shows up every day to put in the time and effort it takes to be a great football player,” Jones said. “My hope is that he parallels that into the next part of his journey and he gets what we feel like he deserves at the next level.”
Adkison is joined by teammates Chase Cardwell, Josh Cardwell and Wyatt Grice on the Elite 11.
Chase Cardwell was the Gamecocks leading tackler from his linebacker position, totaling 107 tackles with 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“Chase is very similar to Dalton in that he’s very quiet in nature but they bring it when it comes time on the field,” Jones said. “He grew up so much from his junior to senior year, putting on 20 pounds and that added strength and weight helped him a lot.”
Chase Cardwell’s toughness was also a key for the Gamecock defense.
“He played two football games with a broken thumb,” Jones said. “No cast or anything, just played.”
Following those two games, Chase Cardwell approached the Gamecock coaching staff about his ailing thumb and it was discovered that it was broken.
“That’s a real tough kid,” Jones said. “He’s another kid that’s been a really good ambassador for our football team.”
Chase Cardwell’s brother, Josh Cardwell, was a surprise for the Gamecock defense totaling 40 tackles, two quarterback hurries, 3.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown from his defensive line position.
“He really was a surprise for us this year,” Jones said of the younger Cardwell. “Having Chase as a brother, he kind of fell into line with the way he plays. He plays really, really hard and I think everybody can learn from him that if you just play really hard good things will come to you. Football rewards you for effort.”
Jones said that many of the big plays Josh Cardwell made during the season were second-effort or hustle plays made by him refusing to quit on every single play. Jones expects Josh Cardwell to be a leader for the Gamecocks moving forward.
“He’s going to have to move into more of a leadership role next season,” Jones said. “Everyone kind of knows who he is now, so his performance has to always be at its best and he will embrace that.”
Wyatt Grice was another one of New Brockton’s heavily active linebackers that always seemed to be in the right position.
“He’s just solid,” Jones said of Grice. “He’s always consistent.”
Grice fought through injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons, but managed to stay healthy for most of his senior campaign and it showed on the field with Grice totaling 83 tackles, two quarterback hurries, and one sack.
“He managed to stay healthy this season and everyone got to see what kind of player he can be for a whole season,” Jones said. “I was really glad for him in that because he was rewarded for all of his time and effort.”