The 2017 football race in the Northwest 1A Conference was two-tiered — you had the Granite Bears and the Cardinals, and then you had everyone else.
Mount Airy racked up a 14-1 season that didn’t end until the Bears lost to Tarboro in the 1AA state championship game on Dec. 9 in Raleigh, while East Surry, which lost 31-21 to the Bears in the regular-season finale, went on to post a 9-5 season and reached the quarterfinals of the 1AA playoffs. Between them, the two programs made up more than half of the 2017 All-Northwest Conference Team that was recently announced, and claimed all of the individual awards as well.
Mount Airy junior wide receiver Donavon Greene was named as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year after a season where he caught 46 passes for 1,138 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals’ Mitchell Edwards earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for a season where he had 104 tackles, four sacks and five fumble recoveries in the regular season alone. Mount Airy kicker Robert Brown, who ended his four-year career as one of the top-five all-time North Carolina high school kickers in many statistical categories, was named as the league’s Specialist of the Year, on the heels of also being tabbed NW1A Player of the Year in soccer. The Bears’ Kelly Holder finished off a season filled with personal accolades. including being tabbed as Carolina Panthers Coach of the Week recently, by being named as the conference’s Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.
Besides Brown, the Bears had a dozen players who were tabbed to the All-Conference team this fall, six on each side of the ball. These players formed the core of a team that won 27 games in the past two seasons and had an 8-2 record in the state playoffs. On offense, Greene was joined by quarterback Ian Holder, running back Johnathon Smith, and linemen Justin Moore, Ryan Edwards, and Zack Smith. Edwards, who rarely left the field during the season, also won All-Conference as a defensive lineman. The other five Bear defenders who were honored also included Holder and Greene as defensive backs, along with linebackers Ben Reales and Grey Tucker, and defensive lineman Tucker Corbin.
Cole Shelton and Grayson Corbin were named honorable mention All-Conference for the Bears on the defensive side of the ball as well.
East Surry matched the Bears with 13 players on the All-Conference team, six on defense and seven on offense. Edwards, who is only a junior, led the Cardinals’ sextet of defensive standouts. He was joined on that side of the ball by seniors Austin Pardue and Conner Sheets, and juniors Dylan Sawyers, Gunner Jones, and Logan Ray. Along with Edwards, Sawyers was chosen as a defensive end. Pardue was tabbed as a defensive back, while Sheetz, Jones and Ray were all linebackers.
The Cardinals scored 529 points during the 2017 season despite injuries that forced Coach Dave Diamont to play musical chairs with the quarterback position for much of the season; East had three different players play there during the campaign. The Cardinals’ ability to light up the scoreboard anyway resulted in seven of the team’s players making All-Conference. Senior Joey Ray, who ran for 1,163 yards during the regular season despite some injuries of his own, led the way. The Cardinal quarterback who saw the most time, sophomore Stephen Gosnell, joined Ray on the team after playing at multiple positions during the season. Senior offensive linemen Morgan East, Nathan Vass and Will Felts all were chosen, as was Logan Ray, who joined Pardue as another Cardinal who made the team on both sides of the ball.
Four Bears named All-State
The staff at NCPreps.com sponsors an All-State team for 1A players every year, and four Bears made this team, which was named on Dec. 23. Greene and Smith took two of the 11 spots on the All-State offense, while Ian Holder made the team as a defensive back. Brown was named as the state’s 1A All-State placekicker.
Brown did everyone one better than that, however. NCPreps also chooses All-State teams for each of the four classifications, and an overall All-State Team for all four classifications. Brown was duly chosen as the state’s best all-around high school placekicker. He and Tarboro linebacker Phillip Willoughby were the only 1A players chosen to the overall All-State Team.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.