In 2021, three Bartow County football teams reached the state playoffs for the first time in history. Even though the group totaled just one postseason victory, it seems safe to call the year an overall success.
Despite losing a vast majority of its starters from the 2020 state runner-up team, Cartersville showed its collective talent during an undefeated regular season. The Canes (10-1) finished second in the AJC end-of-year poll after falling to eventual Class 5A state champion Warner Robins in the Sweet 16.
Adairsville (8-3) and Cass (5-6) played out a thrilling rivalry matchup, and then both teams proceeded to reach the playoffs. For the Tigers, who dropped a heartbreaker to Oconee County, it marked the fourth postseason berth in five years. For the Colonels, who saw St. Pius X pull away in its playoff loss, it ended a state drought that stretched back to 2006.
Meanwhile, Woodland came up short in a couple of winnable non-region contests, ultimately losing its final nine games following a season-opening rout of Gordon Central.
Things will look different in the county next fall, when half of the teams will debut new coaches. Adairsville promoted defensive coordinator Jon Cudd to replace the retiring Eric Bishop, while Woodland hired Rockmart co-offensive coordinator Brandon Haywood to succeed Tony Plott, who stepped down in November.
Player of the Year: Amari White, Cartersville senior
Despite missing the first two games of the season, White topped 1,000 yards on the ground and scored 12 rushing touchdowns in a stellar senior campaign. Listed at 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, White averaged a whopping 9.1 yards per attempt on his 114 carries en route to earning honorable-mention all-state honors. He only caught seven passes but turned them into 80 yards and two additional scores. White produced several highlight-reel runs throughout the season, often bowling over anybody who got in his way. In Cartersville’s season-ending loss to Warner Robins, he leapt over defenders near the goal line for an impressive score. In total, White finished with 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the now two-time defending state champions.
Offensive Player of the Year: Sacovie White, Cass sophomore
Several players helped Cass end its long postseason drought last fall. White proved to be chief among them. The standout sophomore led Class 5A in receiving for a good chunk of the season. Ultimately, White concluded the regular season with 766 yards receiving and 134 rushing. He had three catches, giving him 58 for the year, for 38 yards in the first-round playoff loss to St. Pius. White, who already holds an offer from Maryland, found the end zone 11 times — nine receiving and two rushing. A contributor in all three phases of the game, White returned kicks and shined at cornerback. Currently, he is starring for the Colonels basketball team.
Athlete of the Year: Chris Roper, Adairsville junior
Adairsville’s Courtney Slocum landed this honor in 2020, and Roper followed right in the steps of his mentor. A three-sport athlete, Roper earned the rare distinction of being a first-team all-region selection on both sides of the ball. As a slotback, he rushed 65 times for 539 yards and caught 27 passes for 333 yards — an average of 9.48 yards per touch on offense. Roper racked up 11 touchdowns, scoring in a variety of ways. He had seven rushing TDs, caught two scoring passes, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and recorded a pick-6. Defensively, he produced 45 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks. On special teams, Roper averaged 36 yards per KO return.
Eli Agnew, Adairsville senior — Agnew did a bit of everything for the Tigers. He took on a bell-cow role, handling 161 carries, which he turned into 974 yards and 16 touchdowns. As a defensive back, Agnew posted 33 tackles and returned his only interception 79 yards for a score. He excelled as a returner, averaging 36 yards on eight kickoff returns, and Agnew even served as the team’s regular punter.
Bobby Campbell, Adairsville sophomore — One of the reasons Agnew and Roper managed to rack up so many yards was due to the work of Campbell and Co. up front throughout the season. Despite his youth, Campbell helped anchor the group, posting an 87.8% grade. A key contributor as a freshman, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound guard is becoming a truly dominant force with 54 pancake blocks this year.
Johnathan Cline, Cartersville junior — The 6-foot-4, 290-pound mountain of a left tackle held down the fort on quarterback Jake Parker’s blind side. He also worked together with the rest of the Canes offensive line to produce one of the top run-blocking units in the state. Cline, who graded out at 80% this season, holds offers from Appalachian State, Central Florida, Charlotte, Memphis and Miami.
Devin Henderson, Cass sophomore — Already an elder statesman among Bartow County quarterbacks, Henderson started the 21st game of his career against St. Pius in Cass’ first playoff game since 2006. The dual-threat QB passed for 1,561 yards and 17 touchdowns this season to go with 855 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground. Henderson still seems to be just scratching the surface.
Kevin Henderson, Cass sophomore — The brother of Devin, Kevin Henderson fills a much different role for the Colonels, but he also gets results. As a tight end, Henderson connected with his brother on a couple of Cass’ biggest pass plays of the season. Meanwhile, his work at outside linebacker included 62 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks. The future is looking bright for the young Colonels.
Shadre Hurst, Cartersville senior — Playing opposite Cline as Cartersville’s right tackle, Hurst earned the only first-team all-state nod from the AJC by a local player. He was certainly a worthy choice given his 88% offensive grade on the year. Hurst has received four offers, including Washington State, but wrestling just might be his best sport, as he is expected to contend for the 5A heavyweight crown this season.
Beau Jernigan, Woodland senior — A second-team all-region selection in a league that produced three of the top five teams in the final AJC 5A ranking, Jernigan certainly had his work cut out for him on a weekly basis. He recorded 21 pancake blocks and posted the highest grade of any Wildcats offensive lineman. Woodland’s heavyweight wrestler, Jernigan might see Hurst on the mat in the coming weeks.
Tyler Martin, Cass senior — A 6-foot-5, 240-pound tackle, Martin paced the Cass offensive front in both grade (78%) and pancakes (47). He joined Hurst as the only local first-team all-Region 7-5A selections along the offensive line. While the Colonels were extremely young this year and will return plenty of promising players, Martin will be one of the toughest to replace, if only for his leadership skills.
Jake Parker, Cartersville senior — People, understandably, had questions about how Parker would follow in the footsteps of other legendary Canes quarterbacks. As it turns out, limiting mistakes and utilizing his arm talent over the middle of the field worked just fine. Overall, Parker completed 92 of his 166 passes (55%) for 1,298 yards and 16 touchdowns to go with just three interceptions in 11 games.
Jacob Ray, Cartersville senior — Ray led the Canes in receiving yardage and touchdown catches, totaling 422 yards and five scores. Remarkably, the two-way standout accumulated those stats on just 16 receptions, averaging a stellar 26.4 yards per catch. Defensively, Ray, an HM all-state pick, finished with 49 tackles at safety. Ray is also a left-handed pitcher committed to play baseball and football at Berry.
Evan Sanders, Adairsville junior — Sanders is the epitome of a matchup nightmare for high school cornerbacks. At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, the first-team all-region wide receiver came down with almost anything sophomore quarterback Jonathan Gough threw his way, or he was interfered with while trying. In total, Sanders managed 29 receptions for 463 yards (16 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.
Kace Adams, Cartersville junior — Adams burst on the scene with an impressive junior campaign. He posted 51 tackles, including a dozen against West Forsyth, in just nine games. Adams, who recorded four tackles for loss, led the Canes with three interceptions — all of which came against Lithonia in the opening round of the playoffs. He returned two of them for touchdowns, totaling 78 return yards.
Jake Brasfield, Cartersville senior — A Shorter baseball commit, who will look to lead the Canes on a deep postseason run this spring, Brasfield paced the Cartersville defense with 59 tackles (41 solo). The inside linebacker finished with 2.5 tackles for loss. Despite only recording one sack, he managed to lead the Canes with nine quarterback hurries. Brasfield intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
Jordan Carson, Adairsville senior — The Tigers’ leader in solo tackles (78), Carson finished third on the team in total stops with 97. He recorded two sacks and a pair of tackles for loss in helping Adairsville reach the playoffs. In the postseason game, the defensive back posted 11 total tackles. Carson — who broke up a team-high nine passes — intercepted one pass, forced a fumble and recovered another.
Tokyo Gordon, Adairsville senior — A first-team all-region linebacker, Gordon nearly reached 100 total tackles, finishing with 98 stops (69 solo) on the season. The Adairsville homecoming king produced four sacks and recorded seven quarterback hurries. As he did in previous seasons, Gordon made big plays throughout the year, including forcing three fumbles, recovering one fumble and intercepting one pass.
Nasir Grandberry, Cartersville senior — One of the top defensive tackles in Region 7-5A, Grandberry garnered first-team all-region status. He posted 23 tackles and six tackles for loss. He recorded a sack and a forced fumble. He finished with an 86% grade during the regular season. Grandberry also served as a tight end, hauling in a 6-yard touchdown against Woodland on his lone reception of the year.
Ian Lowe, Cass senior — Lowe landed HM all-state status and shared Region 7-5A defensive player of the year honors with Blessed Trinity’s Mavrick Torrico. The standout inside linebacker concluded the regular season with 93 tackles. He managed eight tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and two sacks. He forced a fumble and recovered two, including a scoop and score. Lowe even contributed at running back.
Harlin Morris, Woodland senior — In many respects, Morris was the Wildcats’ best player during the 2021 season. The first-team all-region outside linebacker compiled 45 solo tackles, 41 assists, five tackles for loss and one sack. He forced and recovered one fumble each. Morris also contributed on offense, particularly early in the season, serving as a strong receiving presence down the middle.
Andrew Nguyen, Cass senior — Nguyen saw some offensive snaps but really shined in the secondary, as a steady presence on the back end. During the regular season, the free safety posted 76 tackles, countless of which could be considered touchdown-saving stops. Despite missing a couple of games, Nguyen still produced three interceptions and nine pass breakups. He also forced a fumble.
Devin Pryer, Adairsville senior — Along with Carson, Pryer took a big step forward this season, as the Tigers secondary wound up being one of the team’s strongest units. Thanks in large part to 74 solo stops, Pryer topped the 100-tackle mark this fall. The downhill-charging strong safety, who had a hand in four turnovers and blocked a field goal, formed a formidable duo with Gordon in the middle of the field.
Ben Robinson, Cartersville senior — Robinson could very well be the most improved player in the county this season — his first as a starter. In nine games, the defensive end produced 22 tackles and seven stops behind the line. He spent plenty of time harassing opposing QBs, finishing with four hurries and two sacks. Robinson had a knack for being in the right spot, recovering a team-high three fumbles.
Jaeden Smith, Woodland junior — Smith matched up with some of the best wide receivers not only in the region or in the classification but in the entire state, period. From his cornerback position, Smith recorded 37 tackles (26 solo). He recovered one fumble and forced a pair. Smith managed to intercept three passes, taking one of them back for a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff for a score.
Jack Webb, Woodland sophomore — There was an atypical number of sophomores on the all-county this season, and Webb, who flew under the radar a bit, will be one of the key young players to watch under Haywood. Webb made his living in the backfield of his opposition. He made 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including seven sacks. Webb recorded an additional 30 stops beyond the line.
Phillip Schiltz, Cartersville junior — When punting for a team like the Canes, Schiltz wasn’t called into duty often, but it typically came in close games, including six times against Creekside. The ambidextrous punter seemed to have better success with his left foot this season. Overall, Schiltz punted 14 times, with seven winding up inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 39.6 yards per kick, with a long of 69 yards.
Jaden Akins, Cartersville junior; Grayson Belcher, Adairsville junior; Chase Carson, Woodland junior; Myles Forristall, Cartersville junior; James Foster, Adairsville junior; Todd Gaddy, Cass junior; Jonathan Gough, Adairsville sophomore; T.J. Green, Cass junior; Malachi Jeffries, Cartersville junior; Ricky Le, Cass senior; Isaac Linley, Adairsville senior; Jackson Moss, Adairsville senior; Jakiyon Porter, Woodland junior; Charlie Ray, Adairsville junior; Jeremiah Rhodes, Woodland senior; and Tate Smith, Cartersville senior.