Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
As the sports editor of Johnstonian News, I got the chance to put together the first ever All-County Football Team for the newly formed news organization. In my short time as Johnstonian News sports editor, this is my proudest moment yet. I believe this is something that can be a great annual tradition that is special to Johnston County.
Now to explain the process of putting the teams together. Because I have been here for only a month, I did not get a chance to see any of the teams play, so I asked the every head coach in the county for nominations. Then it was up to me to organize them and put together the teams.
I wanted to do the top 50 players in the county, but didn't know if I would get more than that or fewer. I got exactly 50 nominations. With about 300 to 400 varsity football players in Johnston County, that makes the All-County Team about the top 15 percent of players in the county.
Next, I set out to do a All-County Team photo, something that is not common because it's hard to get 50 people in one place at one time, but I got 26 of the 50 for the team photo.
To go a little further, I want to explain my process of choosing awards and to give glory to the candidates who were close, but were not chosen.
COACH OF THE YEAR
I chose Princeton's Travis Gaster over Cleveland's Scott Riley because Gaster made history at one of the oldest schools in the county. Riley did an excellent job piloting the Rams to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association's 3-AA Eastern championship game - where they came up short, 37-33, to Southeast Guilford - and he's built a great program that has five straight seasons off at least eight wins apiece.
But Gaster took over a Princeton program four years ago that had lost most of the pieces off of a 12-win team the season before and rebuilt it. In his fourth year, the same players he had as freshman had grown into a team that was a No. 2 seed in the NCHSAA 1-AA playoffs, had the first undefeated regular season in school history and first undefeated conference title since 1976. Both are great coaches with great programs that will continue to go up.
South Johnston's Matthew Riggsbee also deserves recognition for leading the Trojans to their third straight season of at least six wins.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Cleveland junior quarterback Darius Ocean was the no-brainer choice. Most total yards and touchdowns of anyone in the county - completing 238 of 362 pass attempts for 66-percent accuracy for 3,757 yards and 36 touchdowns to go with 158 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs. What a special season for the second-year starter, who, as a junior, could take home this honor again next year.
Consideration was given to Princeton's Lamarr Wilkens with more than 2,300 yards rushing and 30 rushing touchdowns. He was a monster, and the easy choice for running back of the year. I also considered Corinth Holders offensive lineman Jacob Monk. He was one of the best offensive linemen in the state and had a great career, which made the Duke University signee the easy choice for offensive lineman of the year.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Smithfield-Selma's John Chopski was the choice, but it wasn't easy. I had plenty of debate with people in the newsroom. This was the hardest decision to make, and ultimately it came down to four players: Chopski, Clayton's Savion Jackson, Cleveland's Jaylen Vinson and Jacquez Durham.
All had really great seasons, the numbers were close, but what struck me was the difference in talent around the players. Jackson had two other All-County first-teamers on the defensive line with him along with three more players on the second-team defense. Durham and Vinson had each other plus four others on the first team. Chopski had just two other players make the second team from his defense.
Chopski showed a lot of heart making 151 tackles in 11 games, and ultimately earned the award.
I hope this team creates nice, healthy conversations and debates. I also hope this becomes an honor that every player wants to earn and gets the guys who did miss it pumped up and ready for next year.
Kai Jones is the Johnstonian News' sports editor. Reach him at 252-265-7824 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMJKaiJones.