HARTSELLE — Now that the season is in the books, Deacon Aldridge thought back on the challenges Hartselle High's football program faced.
The list of adversity is long.
Lofty expectations and pressure in the wake of the program's first state title. Injuries to key players. Every team's best shot on a weekly basis.
There were burdens, but the Tigers never showed any sign of weakness.
Just like the persona of their quarterback: Deacon Aldridge.
Aldridge's poker face is good. Even when things are tough, Aldridge usually maintains his stoic attitude.
That was a plus for Hartselle. Aldridge brushed off any adversity tossed his way and continued what he has done since taking over in 2011 as Hartselle's starting quarterback: Helping make the Tigers one of the state's top football programs.
Even though there were a few bumps — and tough luck — in the regular season, Aldridge helped guide Hartselle deep into the postseason. The Tigers advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals before falling at Muscle Shoals.
Aldridge has been selected as The Daily's Class 4A-6A football player of the year.
"It's hard for me to imagine that there was one player more important to his team than Deacon was to ours," Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. "Everything that we did on offense revolved around him."
Because of injuries to Hartselle's top two running backs late in the season, there were times in key games where the bulk of the Tigers' offensive burden fell on Aldridge's shoulders. The senior quarterback didn't respond with an outpouring of big plays, but steady and efficient — sustaining drives and chewing up clock — was more than enough.
Aldridge finished the season with 1,876 passing yards with 19 touchdowns. The option quarterback also ran for 708 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging about five yards per carry.
"I'm not going to lie. This season was tough," Aldridge said. "Every game felt like a fist fight. There was so much adversity. But us seniors, we just did our best to stay focused and fight through, even when things didn't go our way."
Aldridge's toughness and desire to win is something never could be questioned.
Often beaten, battered and bruised from running an option-style offense, Aldridge built a reputation for playing through injuries. He played the entire 2011 state title game with a broken bone in his foot, earning MVP honors. And this past season, he rarely came after games, even after sustaining several hard hits.
Aldridge finished his high school career 23-5 with a state title in two seasons as Hartselle's starting quarterback.
"I've always tried to be the type of player who leads by example," Aldridge said. "Never show any sign of weakness. That's the type of player I've always tried to be."
QB: Deacon Aldridge, Hartselle, Sr.: The option quarterback accounted for 25 touchdowns. He passed for 1,876 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 708 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging almost five yards per carry.
RB: Josh Walker, Austin, Sr.: Arguably the area's top playmaker. Finished with 1,206 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns. Walker also caught 44 passes for 491 yards and three touchdowns.
RB: Josh Matthews, Decatur, Sr.: Averaged 6.71 yards per carry, finishing with 926 yards and nine touchdowns.
RB: Blake Slayton, Hartselle, Sr.: Averaged 5.9 yards per carry, finishing with 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns, despite missing time with a shoulder injury late in the season. Slayton also caught 22 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown.
WR: Malique Elliott, Austin, Sr.: A big-play threat receiver, Elliott caught 47 passes for 575 yards and seven touchdowns.
WR: Sydney Steele, Hartselle, Sr.: Accounted for 702 yards of offense, catching 43 passes for 588 yards and six touchdowns. Also ran for 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts.
WR: Nick Bell, Priceville, Sr.: Caught 39 passes for 804 yards and 16 touchdowns.
OL: Dylan Thompson, Hartselle, Sr.: Helped pave the way for one of the area's most efficient running games.
OL: Noah Armstrong, Lawrence County, Sr.: A South Alabama commitment, the 6-foot-7 and 300-pound offensive tackle was a big, strong presence on the Red Devils' offensive front.
OL: Skyler Jones, Priceville, Jr.: Emerging as a likely Division I prospect for next season. Was one of the best offensive linemen in the area.
OL: Sean Cole, East Limestone, Sr: Graded 88 percent as an offensive guard and had 27 pancake blocks.
OL: Tyler Sherwood, Austin, Sr: Typcially graded among Austin's leaders, helping the Black Bears become one of the area's top offenses.
K: McKelvy Douthit, Decatur: Kicked four field goals, with a long of 45 yards. Also had 14 touchbacks on kickoffs.
ATH: Terrence Deloney, East Lawrence, Sr.: One of the area's most prolific playmakers. The option quarterback ran for 1,803 yards and 22 touchdowns. He passed for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns.
DB: Tay Hayes, Decatur, Soph.: Had 50 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Was also a valuable asset as a kick returner, averaging 28 yards per return. Hayes returned one kickoff for a touchdown and returned an interception for a score.
DB: Johnnie Anderson, Athens, Jr.: A first-team selection as a sophomore last season, Anderson was one of the team's leaders in interceptions.
DB: Greg Willard, Austin, Sr.: The Jacksonville State commitment finished with 37 tackles, nine pass breakups, one interception and blocked three punts.
LB: Lamont Crittendon, Austin, Sr.: Crittendon, a Murray State commitment, was one of the area's most intense players. He led Austin's defense with 111 tackles.
LB: Trey Hayes, Decatur, Soph.: Led Decatur's defense with 121 tackles with 11 tackles for loss.
LB: Waid Miller, Hartselle, Jr.: Led one of the area's best defenses with 138 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. Also had a sack, two pass breakups and an interception.
LB: Austin Hughes, Decatur, Jr.: Finished with 113 tackles, included 70 solo tackles. Also had 12 tackles for loss, five sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.
DL: Na'Vante Williams, Decatur, Sr.: One of the area's best pass rushers, Williams finished with 79 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, nine sacks, six batted passes and two forced fumbles. Also caught a touchdown pass on offense as a tight end.
DL: Tobias Payne, Austin, Sr.: A big, strong pass rusher, finished with 30 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Also had one interception and one pass breakup.
DL: Thomas Fleischman, Hartselle, Sr.: A spirited player, Fleischman recorded 76 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and a pass breakup.
DL: Blair Sittason, Hartselle, Sr.: Finished with 60 tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups for one of the area's top defenses.
P: P.J. Corlew, Austin, Sr.: Averaged 37.4 yards per punt, with a long of 70 yards.
ATH: Tyler Phillips, Hartselle, Sr.: Finished with 104 tackles, five tackles for loss and five pass breakups as an outside linebacker. Also blocked a punt.
Ardmore: Tyler McCarley, Garrett Miller
Athens: Bolton Patton, Earnest Hendrix
Austin: Chris Sparkman, Kamden Ward, Jock Cohn, Ralph Clay
Brewer: Brenden Deberry, Weston Pritchett
Decatur: Quintin Duper, Zach Erwin, Rex Jarman
East Lawrence: Zachary Nitchen, Malik Garth, Blake Hutto, Joseph Bailey
East Limestone: Torren Haley, Matthew Franks, Wyatt Hazellief, Tristian Matthews, Kennon Moses
Hartselle: Garrett Fowler, Aaron Lamb, Preston Adams
Lawrence County: Gabe Vernon, A.J. Smith, Montel McDaniel
Priceville: Kaleb Barker, Jacob Long
West Limestone: Tyler McCormick, Logan Pugh
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