The inaugural All-Neuse News Football Team
Kinston’s Kieren Hooker threw for 2,202 yards and accounted for 30 touchdowns to take the inaugural Neuse News Player of the Year Award. Photo by William ‘Bud’ Hardy / Neuse News
After some delays, here is the All-Neuse News Football Team.
This will not be a perfect list and dissenting dialogue is expected. Here’s to hoping this is a solid representation of the coverage area in terms of the talent on display all season.
One disclaimer: We’re combining public and private schools, believing some players at Arendell Parrott Academy and Bethel Christian Academy could do damage in the Eastern Carolina Conference or Coastal Plains Conference.
Without further delay, here we go:
Player of the Year: Kieren Hooker, Kinston
Stats: 2,202 yards passing, 30 touchdowns (6 rushing)
A team doesn’t finish the regular season undefeated by accident, nor eke out eight victories by eight points or fewer. The senior was a steady hand on offense and was one of the calmest players under pressure, which helped the Vikings to their second best start in school history. Hooker was a problem under center, but didn’t mind using his legs to pick up critical yards. Overall, there was no better candidate to take this inaugural honor.
Coach of the Year: Ryan ‘Diesel’ Gieselman, Kinston
The Vikings certainly had great talent on both sides of the ball, but the coaching staff played a tremendous role in the team’s success. Gieselman had the team focused and ready to execute on the way to a 12-0 start and third-round berth in the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. If the game was close, there was never any panic shown and the team continued to showcase its “Kinston tough” moniker.
Kieren Hooker, Kinston
Ray Darden, Ayden-Grifton and A.J. Dupree, Greene Central
Darden paced the vaunted Chargers rushing attack with 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, also doubling as one of the toughest players to bring down in the Eastern Carolina Conference. Dupree was a gamechanger for the Rams, picking up 1,319 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground, along with throwing for more than 400 yards as an emergency quarterback.
Matthew Huntley, Arendell Parrott; Jacel Jacobs, Kinston and Khari Pitts, Kinston
Jacobs and Pitts made numerous clutch catches for the Vikings and were the scariest tandem for anyone in the ECC to prepare for, combining for 76 receptions, 1,232 yards and 14 touchdowns. For the NCISAA, Huntley was capable of making a big play happen every time he touched the ball and was a security blanket for the Patriots, totaling 32 catches for 835 yards and 12 scores.
Daren Barefoot, Greene Central; Erich Bluhm, South Lenoir; Aaron Pasour, Ayden-Grifton; Chris Russell, North Lenoir and Kaceion Williams, Kinston
It can be difficult to pinpoint the stars of an offensive line, which is why conversing with the coaches has been helpful. This quintet of linemen showed up each week ready to protect their quarterbacks, keep running lanes open for ground attacks and have been keys in an unsung position.
Jared Fields, Greene Central; Michael Johnson, Greene Central; Nautica Jones, Kinston and Terry Williams, Greene Central
A trio of Rams and a Viking highlight this roster, with this being a tough quartet to play against. All four had nine tackles for a loss or more, three had more than 60 tackles (Fields: 70 tackles, 9 TFL; Williams: 65 tackles, 12 TFL; Jones 63.5 tackles, 9 TFL) and Johnson provided nine sacks and 11 TFLs.
Ray Darden, Ayden-Grifton; Brandon Gilbert, Greene Central and Marquise Loftin-Myers, Arendell Parrott
Loftin-Myers was the Big 8 Conference Player of the Year and an All-State selection, flying over the field with 117 tackles (11 for a loss), five sacks and three forced fumbles. Gilbert was sensational in both the run (89 tackles, two sacks) and pass game (three interceptions.) Darden was the Chargers’ leading tackler with 54 (eight for a loss) and two sacks.
Saquan Connor, Greene Central; Shiqwaun Dixon, Kinston; A.J. Dupree, Greene Central and Jacel Jacobs, Kinston
The Rams and Vikings had a very solid no-fly zone for the ECC. For Kinston, Dixon had four interceptions, a touchdown and a blocked PAT while Jacobs was one of the biggest hitters, recording 63.5 tackles, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. On Greene Central’s side, Dupree wasn’t tested as often (42 tackles, two interceptions) and defenses shouldn’t have tried Connor (60 tackles, six interceptions).
Damon Hewitt, North Lenoir
It’s pretty difficult to leave someone who kicked a 50-yard field goal off this spot. The longest field goal I’ve ever seen in my 11 years of covering football is 43 yards and though I missed the senior’s boot on Oct. 19 against Ayden-Grifton, I have seen consistency from Hewitt in other contests.
Michael Webb, Ayden-Grifton
Webb was the true definition of a Swiss army knife for the Chargers. Besides his defensive prowess (which I’ll get to later), the junior had 499 yards offensively and 11 touchdowns, along with a 90-yard kickoff return score. Overall, Webb averaged 26.9 yards per kickoff and 18.4 per punt return.
Zach Vendemia, Arendell Parrott
Vendemia was hurt toward the end of the season, but the senior made strong contributions with 925 yards through the air, 13 touchdowns (compared to only three interceptions) and four rushing scores.
Knowledge Branch, Greene Central and Jayden Carr, South Lenoir
Branch was as good of a spell back as there could be in the ECC with 824 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Rams. Meanwhile, Carr came back from injury with a flurry for the Blue Devils, including a 237-yard, four touchdown explosion against North Lenoir in the Braggin’ Bowl.
Cody Dunk, Bethel Christian; B.J. Luter, Kinston and Syheen Sauls, Jones Senior
Dunk only caught 12 passes, but made the most of them with 342 yards and four touchdowns, adding 547 yards and nine scores on the ground for the Trojans. Luter was a tremendous third option for the Vikings’ passing attack, contributing 346 yards on 19 receptions and three touchdowns. Sauls was the Trojans’ go-to receiver with 25 catches for 445 yards and five scores.
Lemontaye Dixon, Kinston; Zamar Hatch, Ayden-Grifton; Jamari Powell, Kinston; Walker Sutton, Greene Central and Jakobe Waters, Greene Central
Another strong quintet on the line, and it was a challenge figuring out the set. The only time offensive linemen seem to get recognized is if a flag is called on one for holding or a false start, knowing without their contributions, the skill players wouldn’t get numbers.
Shykel Harvey-Grady, Kinston; T.J. Miller, South Lenoir; Chris Russell, North Lenoir and Walt Simmons, Kinston
The Vikings’ linemen made life miserable up front for the opposition, coming up with a combined 97 tackles (16 tackles for a loss), 4.5 sacks and four fumble recoveries. Russell was able to rack up 32 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles, and Miller’s four sacks in an early victory against Jones Senior was a sign of things to come all year.
Savyone Best, Greene Central; Zack Boyd, Bethel Christian and Gabe Braswell, Arendell Parrott
Best handled his business covering the field with 65 tackles, but also added four pass breakups. Boyd helped spearhead the Trojans’ defense with 48 tackles (11 for a loss) and three fumble recoveries. Braswell was nearly as busy as Loftin-Myers with 112 tackles and an All-State selection.
Demetri Holmes, Kinston; Matthew Huntley, Arendell Parrott; Jaden Johnson, Greene Central; Micheal Webb, Ayden-Grifton
Holmes came in late for the Vikings, but more than made up for it with 44 tackles (eight for a loss) and two interceptions. Huntley was a ballhawk, racking up five interceptions defensively for the Patriots. Johnson was another strong member of the Rams’ secondary with 52 tackles and three interceptions, and Webb provided 33 tackles and five picks, one taken 107 yards for a score.
Diego Patino, Kinston
Patino stepped up in a major way, fulfilling a void left by 3-year starter Bailey Blake after she graduated. The sophomore should continue to be a solid player for the Vikings and remain a bastion of consistency.
Terrance Copper, North Lenoir
Copper was always a threat to take it the distance for the Hawks and had a 95-yard touchdown to his resume. The senior was all over the field with a combined 808 yards of total offense and five touchdowns while also playing a strong role defensively (42 tackles, six passes defended).
Reynolds Barringer, Blake Smith, Shy Thompson
Alphonso Boyd, Marlon Cannon, Jeffrey Darden, Jeffrey Gunter, Zamar Hatch, Aaron Pasour
Connor Williams, Josh Sutton
Dejour Brown, Detorian Brown
Mechaelin Davis, James Graham, Josh Holloway, Justin Holloway, Cortez White
Kokou Missebukpo, Kodjo Missebukpo