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January 26, 2014

First team All-Tiftarea has speed, power

TIFTON — Football may currently be in transition from one season to the next, but there still honors to be announced. 'Tis the season for the annual All-Tiftarea team.

The first team is announced below. Second team and honorable mention will be in Tuesday's edition.

The Gazette wishes to send thanks to area coaches for their help in nominations. Selections were made by The Gazette staff.

Leading our team at quarterback will be Tift County senior Ryan Wedgeworth. Wedgeworth was one of the biggest keys to the offense. He threw for 6 touchdowns, including three against Worth County, but it was his legs which frequently kept the ball moving. He ran 10 scores and had three games of 100-plus yards. He even caught a pass for a touchdown. Region 1-AAAAAA named him as an honorable mention selection.

All teams need a running game and we have two outstanding players in the backfield. Wedgeworth will have the option of handing off to fellow Devil Ladarius Stewart or Irwin County's Antwuane Merritt.

Stewart was 2nd team all-region, carried the ball across the goal line six times, had four games with 100-plus yards each, caught a touchdown pass, ran a punt back for a score against Houston County and threw for one against Camden County. Not too shabby, considering it was his first year as a starter.

Watching Merritt borrows the old cliche "poetry in motion." He had 23 touchdowns for the Indians and just over 1,200 yards. One of his best performances was in the state semifinals against Charlton when he scored 4 touchdowns and 156 yards. Region 2-A named him Player of the Year and he was named first team All-State as an athlete.

The first team has three wide receivers as targets for Wedgeworth and they were all big ground-gainers.

Nathan Martin of Turner County had 714 yards on 46 receptions, including a monster game against Wilcox County where he had six catches for 190 yards. Martin had 8 receiving touchdowns, returned a pair of kickoffs for scores and scored on a punt return. He was a 1st team all-region selection for 2-A.

Malik Pittman was not the flashiest receiver in terms of yards, but he seemed to turn up whenever Tift County needed him. Pittman's 2 receiving touchdowns came against Coffee. The first jump-started the offense. The second was a long bomb from Wedgeworth late in the 4th quarter that gave them the lead. Pittman also threw  a 17-yard pass to his quarterback that went for six points. He was honorable mention for 1-AAAAAA.

The first Cook Hornet to make the lineup is Maysoe Wiley. Wiley, an all-region pick, had 380 yards on 30 catches and a touchdown, which came against Early County in the crucial last game of the regular season. Wiley is only a sophomore.

Even with such remarkable talent, no team is getting anywhere without an offensive line to open gaps and protect them.

Starting at center is Ike Powell from Tift. Powell was the lone first team all-region selection, but that's far from his only accolade. He has committed to Vanderbilt and participated in the Semper Fidelis Bowl earlier this month.

One of those aiding him is Berrien Rebel A.J. Wooten. The senior participated in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association's North-South All-Star game. He is a commit to Central Florida.

The other two linemen are Jontavia Lucy of Cook and J.C. Clark of Tift. Lucy was first team for Region 1-AA. Clark was a 2nd team all-region selection.

And after the team crosses the goal line — and the rare occasion they do not — they can use a kicker to tack on more points. In this role will be Aaron Sinclair of Worth County. He had three field goals and booted 19 extra points and consistently  kept teams pinned back with booming kicks.

The All-Tiftarea first team defense believes in a 4-3 formation and the defensive line would cause plenty of damage.

The Tiftarea Panthers rate a first teamer with defensive end Jack Raines. Raines had 62 tackles on the season. Five of those were for a loss and he had 7 sacks.

Blue Devil Jaelon Johnson has one of the positions anchored. He wreaked plenty of havoc on other teams and capped his season with a 41-yard interception of Brunswick's Cory Dixon in the season finale. He was honorable mention all-region.

Rashad Parks will also be there for Tift.  He also had a massive game against Coffee, including a fumble recovery and was one of Coach John Reid's picks for the War of the Border game.

The fourth lineman will be Cook's James Traylor, who was an all-region choice. Traylor had 41 tackles. Six were for losses.

Cook also has a pick in the linebacking corps, this one being Spencer Joiner. The senior was all-region and had 56 tackles. He also ran for 8 touchdowns.

Joseph Spinks was named All-State in GISA for the Panthers and participated in the All-Star game at Mercer. He had over 100 tackles on the season and 250 for his career.

Another all-region player, Turner's Yusuf Muhammad is the third linebacker on the team.  He had 83 tackles and assisted on 16 more and came up with 9 sacks.

The All-Tiftarea squad rolled cornerbacks and safeties into one category.

Devarious Butler is in for the Devils. He was 2nd team all-region for the squad and cut several drives short for opposing offenses. That included two interceptions in one game against Lowndes.

The Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes have a secondary selection with Gerald Morgan. Morgan, who played both ways, was a first team safety in Region 1-AA. The junior had 51 tackles, a sack, 4 interceptions, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 2 more and scored twice on defense.

Also rating a selection is Irwin's Jakyron Young. Young had 3 picks, 24.5 tackles and even blocked a punt. He was second team All-State, Young, who could be a first team pick at nearly every position, was also first team all-region.

The fourth man on the team is Worth's Eric Burrows. He had 50 tackles, a fumble recovery, 4 interceptions and broke up 5 passes. He was also dynamic as a kick returner, scoring three times.

Thomas Spurlin is the punter for the All-Tiftarea team. The Tiftarea player averaged 42 yards per kick.

Two more players rank selection to the first team as athletes, who have filled in all over the field.

Ethan Mims has starred for Tiftarea over the past few seasons. He had 1,654 all-purpose yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Eight of these were rushing scores, 6 were receiving and two more on special teams.

Ryan Peterson has also been a tremendous athlete for the Indians. Though limited in the first half of a year by an injury, he came on strong in the 2nd half. He ran for 722 yards and 8 touchdowns, had 4 catches for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns, bulldozed everyone in his path and has received major college attention.

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