Central dominant in championship game captures state tile and caps perfect season
The Central Red Devils dominated the Alabama Class 7A regular season and playoffs as they went undefeated and won their first state championship in a quarter century. No wonder they also dominate the top individual honors on the Ledger-Enquirer’s 2018 All-Bi-City Football Team, selected by Columbus area coaches.
Central has the Player of the Year in senior quarterback Peter Parrish, the Defensive Player of the Year in senior linebacker Xavier Billingsley and the Co-Coach of the Year in Jamey DuBose. The Offensive Player of the Year is Marion County junior quarterback Trice McCannon, and the other Co-Coach of the Year is Phil Marino of Columbus High.
Parrish, who has signed with LSU, completed 113 of 174 passes for 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed for 615 yards and 10 touchdowns on 100 carries.
McCannon was a dual-threat yardage gobbler for Marion County (12-1), which reached the GHSA Class A public-school semifinals, losing at home 31-23 to eventual state champion Clinch County. He completed 89 of 157 passes for 2,002 yards and 21 touchdowns with four interceptions, and he rushed for 1,243 yards and nine touchdowns on 148 carries.
Billingsley led Central’s defense in total tackles with 78, including 39 solo. He also had two sacks, five pressures, one fumble recovery, two pass breakups, five tackles for a loss and one touchdown.
DuBose, in his fifth season at Central, coached the No. 1 Red Devils (14-0) to their first state championship in 25 years with a 52-7 victory over No. 2 Thompson in the Alabama Class 7A title game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. It was Central’s first undefeated and untied season in 74 years.
Marino coached the Blue Devils (7-5) to their first state playoff victory in 44 years and only the second winning season (7-4 in 2015) during his 10 years at the helm. In the first round of the Georgia Class AAAA playoffs, Region 1 third seed Columbus prevailed 35-32 at Region 4 second seed Salem. The Blue Devils then lost 21-0 in the Round of 16 at Region 3 first seed Baldwin.
After being an All-Bi-City first-team selection last year, Parrish said the Player of the Year honor “feels great knowing I accomplished that. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Parrish certainly got better this year.
He is “a little more mature,” DuBose said. “He handled things differently. That comes with knowledge of the game and reps. He was a little more patient. The game has slowed down for him. He’s bigger and stronger, so he’s able to stand in the pocket more and stay strong under the blitz.”
“I definitely feel like I got a lot smarter, a lot better throwing the ball,” he said. “I picked up weight, got faster and stronger, but the main thing is I got a lot smarter with the game, reading the defenses and coverages and making better decisions with the football. I took film a lot more serious.”
DuBose called Parrish a “coachable and very unselfish guy. He wants to do whatever it takes to win. He understands football, but he’s eager to learn. He’s not about his numbers; he’s more about the team.”
Parrish also impressed DuBose with his leadership after transferring from Smiths Station following his freshman season.
“He didn’t grow up with this group,” DuBose said. “Sometimes it’s tough to be accepted, especially as the quarterback.”
As a senior, Parrish was determined for his class to finally reach the state title game after Central lost three straight years in the semifinals to McGill-Toolen.
“The pain they went through and getting knocked out,” Parrish said, “I feel like our class just wanted to actually finish the job.”
He is grateful for the players who “laid the foundation for us. We kind of just finished it off for them, taking over where they left off.”
Being selected as the Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, McCannon said, “shows that your grade doesn’t mean anything; it’s what you do on the field. . . . It’s a big honor, and I thank my teammates and coaches.”
Marion County head coach Chris Kirksey noted McCannon started taking his performance to a higher level in January.
“He just stepped up this year,” Kirksey said. “He worked hard in the weight room.”
Despite his small stature (5-foot-7, 155 pounds) McCannon bench presses 280 pounds and squats 400 pounds.
The increased strength, McCannon said, helped him run through more tackles, and the increased reps during the summer helped him improve his passing.
But because of his small stature, Kirksey said, McCannon projects to be a slot receiver at the Division II level.
“That’s what he wanted to play here, but he’s been forced into that quarterback role for us,” Kirksey said. “He’s the type of kid that does whatever we need. He’s very unselfish, a great team player.”
McCannon said he agreed to play quarterback for the Eagles instead of the slot receiver position he prefers “because the team is a lot bigger than what I want.”
Fort Valley State, Albany State and LaGrange College are among the programs recruiting him, McCannon said.
McCannon’ favorite memory of the season is winning the region championship. The Eagles expect to return all but three starters on offense and two on defense next season, McCannon said, so he expects them to “make it farther than what we did.”
Billingsley wasn’t selected for the All-Bi-City football team last year. He wasn’t even an honorable mention. So to soar to the level of Defensive Player of the Year, he said, “shows all the hard work I put in the past four years has paid off. I’ve always wanted to win an award like this.”
DuBose also used the words “hard work” to describe Billingsley, who shifted from outside linebacker to inside linebacker this year.
“He had to play in the box and got better each and every day,” DuBose said. “I think he found himself a home there. He’s a very smart guy. Playing inside, you’re not just hitting and tackling. You gotta kind of be the quarterback of the defense.”
Billingsley was a leader as well in the weight room and in the film room, the coach said.
“He’s a very coachable person,” DuBose said.
Billingsley thanked the defensive line for giving him the opportunity to shine.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have the season I had,” he said. “They got their hands on the guards and tackles and allowed me to make plays.”
After his sophomore year at Columbus High, Billingsley transferred “for better opportunities at Central,” he said. “My mom moved to Phenix City.”
Although he hasn’t signed with a college yet, Billingsley favors North Alabama over other offers from Western Carolina and Fordham “mainly because of the atmosphere and education,” he said. He is undecided about a major.
His favorite memory of the season is “winning the final game, finally getting over the hump and celebrating.” The championship rally at Garrett-Harrison stadium, Billingsley said, “shows how much the fans love us and how much it means to them.”
And he expects the Red Devils to repeat as state champs.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.
Being selected by your peers, DuBose said, is “an honor that they think that much about you. Any kind of award like this, a lot of people go into it. It goes to our team and each coach. One person can’t make things successful.”
After three straight losses to McGill-Toolen in the state semifinals, DuBose’s favorite memory of this season is “finally getting this thing to the end and watching the celebration of the fans and the kids — the relief on their faces, the enjoyment of finishing the task, the accomplishment they’ve done, the tears that were shared, all the hard work.”
DuBose insists some folks who weren’t on the field this season deserve some credit for the championship.
“A lot of people have been involved in the five years I’ve been here, putting the groundwork down,” he said. “Each class that has been here owns a piece of that trophy and even the fans that have been with us all the way through.”
Next season, the Red Devils expect to return the majority of their starters, so the expectation will be a second straight state championship. DuBose welcomes that standard.
“It’s a revolving door, a reload thing around here now,” he said. “That’s what we’ve gotten it to, the same expectations..”
Marino calls his Co-Coach of the Year selection “a tribute to our whole coaching staff” and the 19 seniors who “stuck with the things we believe in as coaches.”
What they believe in, Marino said, is “hard work and being responsible. Our code around here is, ‘Do your job.’ As long as you worry about what you’re supposed to be doing, we’ll be successful.”
In his 10 years coaching the Blue Devils, this group has been the most dedicated to studying video of opposing teams, Marino said.
“That really helped us when we stepped on the football field,” he said.
Asked for his favorite memory of the season, Marino said the players would say snapping their four-game losing streak against cross-town rival Northside. He also will cherish “just the progress these guys made from day one and watching all that come to fruition.”
Graduation will deplete the starting lineup as the Blue Devils will lose 10 starters on defense and seven on offense. “So we’ve got some work to do,” Marino said.
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2018 ALL-BI-CITY FOOTBALL TEAM
Thanks to Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to nominate athletes. The coaches met to discuss the nominations and voted on the selections.
Top individual honors
Player of the Year: Central senior quarterback Peter Parrish.
Offensive Player of the Year: Marion County junior quarterback Trice McCannon.
Defensive Player of the Year: Central senior linebacker Xavier Billingsley.
Co-Coaches of the Year: Jamey DuBose of Central and Phil Marion of Columbus.
Quarterback: Carver senior Jaylen Joyner.
Running back: Marion County senior Travon Mathews, Central senior A’montae Spivey and Northside senior Fred Davis.
Wide receiver: Spencer senior Cory Calhoun, Central junior Eddie “E.J.” Williams, Jordan senior Cam Green and Brookstone senior Chris Edmonds.
Tight end: Carver senior Jarius Thomas.
Offensive line: Central junior Javion Cohen, Harris County senior Chris Hardaway, Chattahoochee County senior Kedrick Harvey, Columbus senior Bayard Taylor and Glenwood senior Nathaniel Trzpuc.
Athlete: Hardaway senior Jaron Early and Harris County junior Tailique Williams.
Kicker: Harris County sophomore Craig Suber.
Defensive line: Hardaway senior Keevaughn Peterson, Spencer senior Robert Murray, Central senior Bernard Miles and Carver senior Dacorrion West.
Linebacker: Jordan senior D’Quandre Sullivan, Columbus senior Joshua Scarbrough, Northside senior John Tucker and Central senior Marquez Henry.
Defensive back: Carver senior A.J. Watts, Hardaway senior Marqui McCullum, Central senior Ray Thornton and Brookstone senior Jeremiah Burgess.
Punter: Brookstone senior Ben Sloan.
Quarterback: Jordan senior Emmanuel Mann.
Running back: Carver junior Khiari McCoy, Spencer senior Tre Lee and Harris County senior Cal’von Harris.
Wide receiver: Marion County senior Josh Rodgers, Carver junior Jacyais Credle, Calvary Christian senior Aaron Christopher and Columbus senior Caleb Bailey.
Tight end: Central senior Kameron Mason.
Offensive line: Spencer junior Julian Battle, Central junior Josh Jones, Brookstone senior William Neal, Hardaway senior Brendan Willeford and Calvary Christian junior Demetri Singleton.
Athlete: Shaw senior Andrew Lacy and Columbus senior Ian Rome.
Kicker: Brookstone junior Wes Pahl.
Defensive line: Spencer senior Kevonta Fanning, Calvary Christian senior Jacob Evangelista, Columbus senior Anthony Bonner and Brookstone junior Branche Sheffield.
Linebacker: Russell County senior Myles Byrom, Hardaway senior Ameon Ellis, Chattahoochee County junior Deandre Masten and Carver senior A’hjoni Crowell.
Defensive back: Chattahoochee County sophomore Carlos Dunovant, Central senior Devonte Mathews, Spencer junior Terrell Gordon and Columbus senior Jordan Geter.
Punter: Central senior Zach Johnson.
Offense: Calvary Christian — Tyler Watkins; Carver — Kameron Venisee; Central — Jonquavious Boykin, Damon Jones and D.J. Rias; Chattahoochee County — Chris Robinson; Columbus — Donovan Carter, Brent Epps, Darius Hill and Tre Peterson; Hardaway — Tahjee Hudson; Harris County — Austyn Curington and Ryan O’Steen; Jordan — Demerius Riggins; Kendrick — Rayshawn Hill; Manchester — Anthony Ferguson; Marion County — Wilfredo Vail-Mendez; Smiths Station — Chad Strickland; Spencer — Malichi Morris and Karlton Williams.
Defense: Calvary Christian — Zach Garcia; Central — Camyen Feagins and Trevon Miller; Chattahoochee County — Devion Dotson, Brandon Thomas and Jontavus Walker; Columbus — Bryce Owens; Glenwood — Randy Bell; Jordan — Traquan Davis; Harris County — Sebastian Russell and Christian Theus; Marion County — Kendrick Hawkins; Pacelli — Brayden Wood; Northside — Tucker Copeland; Russell County — Jalen Mitchell; Shaw — Kevin Maben; Smiths Station — D.J. Moffett.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.