The four football teams in Bartow County finished a combined 22-22 in 2019.
As has been the case in recent years, Cartersville led the way. The Canes produced half of the county’s 20 regular-season wins. They also had the only playoff victories. However, the team bowed out in the Class 4A state quarterfinals after falling to Woodward Academy.
Adairsville finished 5-5 in the regular season. The Tigers placed fifth in Region 6-AAA, but they earned the classification’s at-large bid to the playoffs. Adairsville, though, fell to Jenkins in the opening round.
Cass wound up 4-6 and finished sixth in Region 7-AAAAA. The Colonels bounced back after totaling just one win over the previous two seasons combined.
After graduating one of the largest and most talented classes in school history, Woodland managed just one win this year. The Wildcats had a few other chances to get in the win column, but the team’s youth showed up at inopportune times.
All four teams will return talented players next season. Although, it’s difficult to predict how it will translate into 2020 records, because reclassification and changing region alignments will alter upcoming schedules greatly.
Player of the Year: Tee Webb, Cartersville senior
It can get a bit monotonous anointing the starting quarterback for Cartersville as Bartow County Player of the Year. But one year after ceding the award to Woodland’s jack-of-all-trades Titus Jones, the honor returns to what has become a familiar place. Webb played well his junior year, leading the Canes to the Class 4A state title game and posting 2,875 yards and 35 touchdowns through the air. He had 40 more passing yards in two fewer games this year, usurping Brooks Barden for second all-time at CHS. Webb passed for 27 touchdowns, slightly below last year’s pace, but cut his interceptions from 12 to three.
Defensive Player of the Year: Malachi Gardner, Adairsville senior
Arguably Gardner’s biggest play (or at least his signature one) came on special teams, where he blocked a Cass punt to set up a key touchdown in a county win. (He even recovered a fumble on the scoring drive.) But Gardner’s most significant contributions came on the defensive side of the ball in 2019. A solid basketball player, particularly adept on the boards, Gardner exceeded 100 tackles, finishing with 108 stops in 11 games. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Gardner dominated from his linebacker position, totaling 71 solo tackles, 17 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups and an interception.
Athlete of the Year: Devonte Ross, Cartersville junior
Ross had a legitimate case for POY honors, and he should be considered the way-too-early front-runner for the award next year. His ability to contribute in every facet of the game is what makes him so impressive. Offensively, Ross hauled in 53 passes for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns. The dozen scores and 20.3 yards per catch showcase his deep-ball ability. However, Ross was nearly as important on intermediary passes, as Webb’s preferred target in any situation. On defense, he recorded 33 tackles (17 solo), four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He even returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Johnny Bootz, Cass senior — Bootz has been among the best offensive linemen in North Georgia for the past three years. His senior season saw him earn one of Cass’ two first-team all-Region 7-AAAAA selections. Playing in a region with an abundance of athletic, physical defensive linemen, Bootz always proved up to the challenge. Primarily a center throughout his Colonels career, Bootz was moved around a bit in 2019 to help his team find the right mix up front.
Tanayce Calhoun, Cass sophomore — Cass displayed several athletic offensive weapons in 2019. Calhoun put together the best statistical season of the bunch. Playing slotback, he carried the ball 94 times for 576 yards, while adding 20 receptions for 244 yards. Calhoun seemed to make something happen every time he touched the ball, averaging 6.1 yards per rush and twice as many yards per catch. He totaled eight touchdowns — five rushing, three receiving.
Jonah Gambill, Cartersville senior — An absolute rock at right tackle for the Canes the past two seasons, Gambill will be sorely missed in 2020. A Memphis signee, Gambill will enroll early to compete this spring for playing time with the Tigers. Last year, Gambill was listed at 265 pounds. He was penciled in at 287 on the 2019 roster. His ability to not lose any of his athleticism with the added weight bodes well for his future success at the collegiate level.
David Gbadie, Cass junior — To be frank, Gbadie would not have been considered for this list entering the final week of the regular season. He had put together a solid junior season up until that point. But he lacked the overall numbers or signature game to put himself over the top, well, that came in the form of an otherworldly display in the season finale. He had 171 of his 602 rushing yards and half of his six touchdowns in a victory over Paulding County.
Quante Jennings, Cartersville junior — Jennings missed almost half of the regular season, but whenever he was fully healthy, he proved to be a fully capable lead back. Jennings still managed to rack up 637 yards and nine touchdowns on 93 carries, an average of 6.8 yards per carry. He also had just over 100 receiving yards. In the season opener, he had one of the plays of the season, breaking off a game-changing 98-yard touchdown run to help defeat Allatoona.
Beau Jernigan, Woodland sophomore — Jernigan was one of five new starters up front for the Wildcats this season. Replacing an entire offensive line is never easy, but having to do so with a quintet of underclassmen is an impossible task. Jernigan and Co. did their best in one of Georgia’s toughest regions, paving the way for an offense that rushed for 1,882 yards and 17 touchdowns. For his efforts, Jernigan landed honorable-mention recognition in the region.
J.T. Jolly, Adairsville senior — With Dave Adams out with a broken collarbone early in the season, Jolly became the leader for the Tigers offensive front. Jolly stepped into the role and thrived in his Adairsville swan song. The O-line, as a whole, improved leaps and bounds throughout the year. The unit went from the team’s Achilles heel to one of its strengths by the end of the campaign. While the return of Adams certainly helped, the improvement of Jolly was a major factor.
Sam Phillips, Cartersville junior — Phillips had a bit of a strange junior campaign. He caught at least one pass in every game, although four times it really was just a single catch. That being said, he compiled some absolutely monster games along the way. His best came against Sandy Creek in a thrilling matchup, in which Phillips recorded 11 receptions, 178 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, he finished with 52 catches for 670 yards (12.9 avg.) and eight scores.
Matthew Surrett, Cartersville senior — One of the most underrated players — let alone offensive linemen — in North Georgia, Surrett proved to be a key cog for the Canes at center again in 2019. An all-county selection as a junior, he helped open holes for an offense that produced more than 4,500 yards this season. Despite his 6-foot-1 frame likely turning off some college coaches, Surrett has been able to pick up offers from a handful of schools, including Division-I Presbyterian.
Demarcus Williams, Woodland senior — Williams put together an impressive senior season at running back. Despite missing essentially three games, he piled up 675 yards on 137 carries for an average of nearly 5 yards per attempt. Even when healthy, Williams split carries with Asa James, who will be tasked with being the Woodland workhorse next season. Williams also accounted for more than half of the Wildcats’ touchdowns, scoring nine times on the ground.
Blake Cash, Woodland senior — Cash was one of the biggest leaders on a Woodland team that lost plenty of veteran leadership with the departure of the Class of 2019. A first-team all-region linebacker, Cash had a steady senior season, compiling 70 tackles (42 solo), 11 tackles for loss, six quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one sack. As one of the most respected players in the county, Cash will be arguably the toughest Wildcat to replace in 2020.
Marquail Coaxum, Cartersville senior — One of four returning starters in the Canes secondary, Coaxum produced a good senior year, even though he missed a few games with a shoulder injury. Despite not having any interceptions, Coaxum broke up seven passes and forced one fumble, while also making 47 tackles (30 solo). His tackle numbers are particularly impressive considering he had 48 in 15 games last year. Coaxum recently committed to play for Kent State.
Reed Davis, Cass senior — There’s always at least one Cass linebacker on the all-county team. Most years, there could be multiple ones. That’s how good the unit always is for the Colonels. This season, the team had three all-region linebackers. Davis, though, had the best season of the bunch. He piled up 87 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Davis and inside linebacker mate Cameron Hill will be extremely tough for Cass to replace.
Garrett Ellis, Adairsville senior — Ellis was nothing short of a beast along the defensive front. He has a nose for the football unlike many at his position, often running down a ballcarrier from behind on the perimeter. In total, Ellis racked up an absurd 127 tackles, of which 76 were solo. He also had a dozen tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. When Dakota King was healthy, he and Ellis comprised one of the best defensive line duos in Region 6-AAA.
Savaun Henderson, Adairsville senior — There’s not much flashy about Henderson’s performances, but there are few players in the county caught out of position less than Adairsville’s star safety. Opponents are more likely to see Bigfoot than an out-of-position Henderson. In his final season with the Tigers, he finished with 76 tackles (55 solo) and two fumble recoveries. He had only one tackle for loss, as he often served as Adairsville’s last line of defense.
Noah Hoffmeier, Cass junior — Hoffmeier faced double-teams almost every snap at nose guard. These weren’t normal double-teams either. Facing some of the best offensive lines in Class 5A, Hoffmeier proved that his prowess on the wrestling mat can translate to the football field. A traditional state champion as a sophomore, Hoffmeier used his low center of gravity and impeccable leverage to manage 46 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Zay Jackson, Cass junior — Considering he made this list as a slotback in 2018, Jackson is among the best all-around players in the county. While other offensive weapons stepped up this year to lessen Jackson’s burden on that side of the ball, he really improved his play at cornerback. He finished with 37 tackles, two tackles for loss and five pass breakups. Jackson recorded three interceptions and showcased his skills with the ball in his hands, returning two for touchdowns.
La’Kwayme Jupiter, Cartersville senior — As far as purely defensive players are concerned, Jupiter might be the single most impactful player in the county. Jupiter is a bully up front. Any underclassmen offensive linemen who have faced him will be more than happy to see him graduate. His stats were decent — 29 tackles (19 solo), nine tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery — but his performances went well beyond any statistic.
Jadon Martin, Cartersville senior — There’s a case to be made for Martin to be the most improved player in the county. That’s not a knock on how he performed as a junior. He began last season as a starter and still played significant snaps throughout. But this year, he took his play to another level. He finished with exactly 100 tackles. He had 56 solo stops, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. His play of the season came on a scoop-and-score against Cherokee.
Amarai Orr, Cartersville junior — Orr might be the most uniquely gifted athlete in the county. There might not be five players in Georgia who can play at all three levels of a defense as talented as Cartersville’s. Orr could see extended time at safety in 2020, but he made his home, mostly, as a blitzing outside linebacker this season. Orr compiled 94 tackles (50 solo), nine tackles for loss, six sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, a touchdown and a safety.
J.P. Perry, Cass senior — Perry might be the best defensive player to come out of Cass in the past several years. That’s saying something considering the athletes Bobby Hughes has produced on that side of the ball during his tenure. Perry set up shop in opposing backfields across the region, finishing with 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Overall, Perry produced 58 tackles to go with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Evan Slocum, Cartersville junior — Slocum will be playing on Saturday’s for an FBS program someday. For now, Canes fans are thrilled to get to see him every Friday night during the fall. He’s just a truly tremendous football player. He started every game at safety, compiling 80 tackles (42 solo), with three pass breakups, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. On offense, he managed 413 yards on just 44 touches, while scoring six touchdowns.
Emanuel Lopez, Adairsville junior — A preseason all-state punter, Lopez had an uneven season as a place-kicker, although he certainly had some signature moments. But he absolutely shined as a punter. On an Adairsville team with a solid defense, his ability to win the field-position battle was massive. Overall, he punted 40 times for 1,461 yards. He averaged 36.5 yards per attempt with a long of 57 yards and 13 punts winding up inside the opposing 20-yard line.
Kaleb Speights, Cass junior — Speights continues to prove his worth with as reliable a leg as can be found at the high school level. A second-team all-region selection, Speights knocked home 8 of 9 field-goal tries, with his lone miss hitting the uprights. He connected from as far out as 48 yards. Almost as importantly, Speights was virtually automatic on extra-point attempts, finishing 19-for-20 in those instances. He’s missed four total kicks over the past two seasons.
Dave Adams, Adairsville junior; Harrison Allen, Cartersville junior; Garrett Gonyea, Cass sophomore; Tokyo Gordon, Adairsville sophomore; Cameron Hill, Cass senior; Asa James, Woodland sophomore; Santino Jones, Cass sophomore; Dakota King, Adairsville senior; Blake Woods, Cartersville senior.