By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia Academy’s state runner-up gridiron squad continued a school tradition, and Escambia County High’s team brought a slight revival of a similar tradition at its school, as five Cougars and two Blue Devils were recently named to the 2018 Alabama Sports Writers Association All-State football teams.
The Cougars, who have won or played for an Alabama Independent School Association title in four of the past five years, were recognized with two first-team selections, one second-team listing and two honorable mentions.
Patrick McGhee, one of the most exciting players in EA history, was a first-team selectee at running back, and defensive back Shannon Wheat was a first-team defensive selection. It was the first all-state designation for each player.
Offensive lineman Nolan Linam was a second-team selection, and honorable mention was given to defensive back Daughtry McGhee and linebacker Jason Davis.
“We’ve been blessed with some good kids, and really blessed with some good running backs the past few years,” said EA Coach Hugh Fountain, who has led the Cougars program since 2012. “The test of a program’s success is two things: You’ve got to be consistent and have kids that do what you want them to, and you’ve got to have the players to do it.”
Fountain guessed that EA might have had more players on the all-state squads, or some of his players might have been listed more prominently, except for two factors — the location of the school and the fact that EA fell in the state title game last season.
“As far as All-State goes, what it really comes down to is that the schools closest to the big cities have a reporter that covers them and can fight for them (during the selection process),” he said. “Plus, to the victors go the spoils.”
According to alabamahighschoolfootballhistory.com, the five 2018 selections match a school benchmark that was established two years ago, when EA landed three players — Naval Academy signee Trae Lee, a defensive lineman, and all-purpose players Fred Flavors and Louie Turner — on the ASWA’s 2016 list of the state’s most elite AISA Class AA players.
The Cougars placed four players, including three first-teamers each year, on the 2017, 2015 and 2014 ASWA All-State teams. Flavors was also on the 2015 and 2017 first teams, making him the only EA player ever to earn three successive first-team All-State designations, and Turner was a two-time first-unit choice, in 2016 and 2017.
Joining Flavors and Turner on the 2017 first team was senior linebacker Jamie Welker, while offensive lineman H.T. Fountain and running back Kris Brown joined him as first-teamers in 2015. Garrett Kirk, who was the AISA Class AA Lineman of the Year in 2014, was joined on that year’s first team by Brown and offensive lineman James Fuqua.
The ECHS tradition reached its peak 35 years ago and has enjoyed only sporadic continuation since. This year’s Blue Devils squad, led by one of the best defenses in Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A, posted a 6-4 mark, losing only to playoff teams and posting the school’s first non-losing record since 2010.
Senior lineman Deondre Freeman was a repeat first-team choice in Class 4A, and junior defensive back William Bradley was named to the second team. The two were among the leaders for last season’s dominating Devils defense.
The dual selections marked the first time since 2007 — when defensive lineman Jarrod Jefferson was named to the first team and defensive back Cody Sprinkle was an honorable mention — that two members of an ECHS team were afforded all-state status in the same year.
Freeman became the first player from the Atmore school in six years to see his name appear on an all-state list when he earned a first-team selection in 2017, despite the team’s 2-8 record.
This year’s selection made him the first-ever ECHS player to earn successive first-team honors since ASWA took over sole selection of all-state teams in 2007. Until then, separate teams were selected annually by the Montgomery Advertiser and Birmingham News.
The last time a Blue Devils player earned back-to-back first-team designations was when linebacker Curtis Coleman was so honored by the Montgomery newspaper in 1974 and 1975. Tyler Nero, a defensive lineman at Escambia High, was a first-team selection by ASWA in 2010 and earned honorable mention the next year.
ECHS Principal Dennis Fuqua said the ASWA’s inclusion this year of the two ECHS players list was a “good cap to a good year, a bright spot” and added that both players were deserving of the honor.
“That says a lot about Deondre; he’s one of those guys who is, well, a football player,” said Fuqua of the hard-hitting Freeman, who came into his own over the past two seasons. “He made good use of his last two years. He has sort of re-established a tradition, and I’m proud of him.”
Fuqua said Freeman “could play college ball somewhere,” and expressed excitement at the prospect of watching Bradley, who is called “Trey” on campus, display his skills in the fall.
“Trey is a good defensive player,” said the principal. “I look forward to seeing him next season.”
ECHS’s best-ever all-state showing came in 1983, when Coach Melvin “Buck” Powell was the ASWA Class 3A Coach of the Year and two players — linebacker Anthony Bishop and defensive back Greg Staples — were named to the first team.
Five other Blue Devils earned honorable mention that year: Bernard Grant (defensive back); offensive lineman Charles Staples; quarterback Leroy Knight; and running backs Darron Jenkins and Murray Hill.
Five from 3A, too
Elsewhere in the county, Flomaton High Coach Doug Vickery, who guided the Hurricanes to the AHSAA Class 3A state title in his 13th year at the school, was a near-unanimous selection as the classification’s Coach of the Year.
The Hurricanes had two players — defensive lineman Bailey Bass and quarterback-safety Daquan Johnson, who was also a first-team selection last year — on the ASWA’s 2018 Class 3A first team, and linebacker Dashun Odom was given honorable mention.
T.R. Miller offensive lineman Ricky Samuel, who was also named to the first-team Class 3A squad, was the only other player from an Escambia County school to earn All-State designation this year.