Editor's note: The Ledger-Enquirer is naming the All-Bi-City team in two parts this year. Today, the All-Bi-City team for schools in GHSA Class AAAAA and AHSAA Class 6A and 7A. On Wednesday, it was announced for schools in GHSA Class A, AA, AAA and private schools.
For the three Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City player award winners for GHSA Class AAAAA and AHSAA Class 6A and 7A, it's as much a career award as it is for the individual season. For the coach of the year, though he had already proven successful at other locations, it was recognition of a potential championship run under the duress of a short offseason.
Central's Traveon Samuel was named the All-Bi-City athlete of the year because he fit that mold perfectly.
His numbers weren't as overwhelming as they could have been -- his season was cut short by a fractured fibula in the team's first-round playoff game -- but it was his presence and constant threat to opposing defenses that separated him from the rest.
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Samuel finished the season with 859 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing. He caught 40 passes for 569 yards and five more touchdowns. He added 350 return yards and a touchdown. But his impact on the offense was no more evident than after his injury.
A team that had scored 407 in just a few minutes more than 10 games, already the second most in school history, managed just 20 after his injury. It scored 13 after he scored a touchdown to open the first round, hanging on for a 20-14 win over Murphy. It lost 26-7 to Prattville without him on the field the next week, the only time the Red Devils failed to score at least 20 all season.
Samuel waved off his on-field impact, saying he was most proud of the way he became a leader in the locker room in his senior season.
"I was more of a vocal leader than any other year," he said. "I just knew I had to stop trying to be the cool guy and be a leader."
A lot of Central's success, of course, could be attributed to the coach who took over the job in June. It was a less-than-ideal situation, coming in with a short offseason and a team that was shocked about the exit of its beloved coach, Woodrow Lowe.
That was the job Jamey DuBose had when he came to Central. All the Red Devils did was go 10-2, including a 6-0 region record, and play in the state quarterfinals. They may have gone further if not for Samuel's injury. He was named this season's coach of the year.
DuBose immediately attributes the success to the players and assistant coaches being willing to buy in to his system despite their disappointment about losing their former coach.
"When you have change, sometimes change is good and sometimes change is bad," DuBose said. "But the guys accepted it well either way."
The main message he tried to get across to his new team when he arrived was that no matter how anyone felt about the change, they weren't battling against each other.
"From Day 1, I expressed to them that we were all in this together," DuBose said. "It's not us against us, it's us against other teams. They accepted that."
He noted that a couple of early-season close victories probably helped the situation. One of those was in Week 2 against Harris County, a team that had the Red Devils against the wall all game.
Harris County quarterback TaQuon Marshall was a big reason for the offensive success in that game and all season. His success earned him offensive player of the year honors.
He put up 1,376 yards and 19 touchdowns passing and 1,436 yards and another 12 touchdowns rushing. He added a touchdown reception for good measure.
He attributed much of his success to the success of those around him. Harris County running back Tae Crowder would have been a justifiable pick as the offensive player of the year, as well.
Marshall said that with the help of the offensive line and the way defenses keyed on Crowder, holes were opened for him all season, allowing him to have that kind of success.
"When they'd key on him, I'd try to make some big plays happen," Marshall said. "Everyone always hears about the playmakers, but the guys up front made it happen, and I'm grateful for that."
The defensive player of the year, Carver's Mekhi Brown, recorded 42 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. For Brown, is was just the culmination of three years in which he grew in literal size and also in his commitment to success.
Asked about what he learned and will take with him to Alabama, Brown pointed to the things he's learned off the field.
"I feel like, as a person, I've learned to stick to myself," he said. "Don't be out on the streets or nothing like that. Stay in class, get good grades. On the field, I put my nose down and keep working. If you love something, go for it. I made a decision my freshman year what I wanted to do, and it's just a matter of sticking to it."