ASWA All-State team features seven Greater Valley Area players

Published 12:30 pm Saturday, December 24, 2022

Three Greater Valley Area teams were represented in the ASWA 2022 All-State football teams, and the Chambers Academy Rebels led all schools with five selections.

Each classification in Alabama had a first team and second team as well as an honorable mention list.

LaFayette and Lanett each had one selection.

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Bulldog senior Joshua Bledsoe was named a second team All-State receiver in 2A.

Lanett senior Taysean Darden was named a first team defensive lineman in 2A.

Springwood was not represented because the list only includes 11-man teams.

Chambers Academy’s Jake Owens was named a first team offensive lineman in the Alabama Independent School Association while Ryan Smith was named a first team defensive lineman in the AISA.

Owens is proud to cap off his senior year with an All-State selection.

“It means a lot,” Owens said.

“I’m really glad that I made it. I didn’t really play my junior year. I came into my senior year and worked really hard. It amazes me how well I did this season.”

Smith was also pleased to be honored.

“It means a lot to be on the first team,” Smith said.

“It feels good to have another year to come back and hopefully do more. I feel like I stepped up as a leader on my team. I’m a pass rusher. After the first two games, we had to pull together on defense. We told each other we needed people to step up as leaders with Gavin [Kight] gone. We had to step up for each other. I want to be more of a leader and someone to look up to. I have to show up every day and set an example. For the younger guys, I want them to stay focused and  pay attention and work hard.”

The Rebels had one second team selection with running back Braxton Yerta being named to the team as a senior.

“It means that most of the hard work over the summer paid off,” Yerta said. “It didn’t pay off all the way because we still fell short. It shows that other people saw my work. It feels good getting ready to go somewhere after this year. I wish I would’ve gotten first team, but it’s all right. We had a really good senior offensive line. We ran the ball 95% of the time. Every day in the summer, me and a couple buddies would go work out. We hit the weight room pretty hard. I think the All-Star game helped a lot. I’m glad how my Chambers career ended.”

Sophomore running back Luke Tarver and kicker Noah Hand were each named to the AISA honorable mention team.

Hand is honored to make the All-State team in his first year playing football.

“It’s funny,” Hand said.

“This was my first year ever playing. It was a surprise to me. It felt really good but unexpected at the same time. I greeted it with everything I could, and I was happy to accept the fact that I was getting this praise, but it was definitely a big step up.”

Chambers Academy head coach Jason Allen is  proud of his players being recognized.

“It means that people respect our program, and they know we have good players,” Allen said. “It speaks for what we’ve done over the years. I’m just really proud of our kids and any time they can receive postseason awards. I don’t think that’s as important to them as what we do during the season, but it’s really neat for your players to be recognized for what they accomplished during the season.”

Allen is also pleased to have both of his first team selections be in the trenches.

“Any time you have good players in the trenches, good things usually happen,” Allen said.

“I’m proud of those guys, and I thought we had some really good guys who didn’t get recognized as well. I’m proud of those who were recognized.”

Allen had plenty of good things to say about his selections.

“Jake has really gotten in the weight room the past several years and changed his body,” Allen said.

“He was a physical player for us who dominated the line of scrimmage. We ran behind him a lot. Ryan’s one of the better defensive linemen we’ve had in awhile. He’s athletic and has a lot of size. He moves really well. It was his turn. He played behind two seniors on the defensive line. He learned a lot from them. He really stepped up this year. He’s not just a good run stopper. He’s one of the best pass rushers we’ve had in awhile.”

Allen is also glad to have two of his running backs recognized.

“Braxton and Luke both deserved to be on there,” Allen said.

“Luke helped our team in a lot of areas. Braxton had a great senior year. He had 1,200 rushing yards. Any time you have a 1,000 yard back, that’s an accomplishment. Luke plays as hard as he can every snap. He hates to lose. Every single play is personal to him. He’s one of our biggest leaders as a sophomore.”

Allen was also pleased to be able to find a reliable kicker.

“At the beginning of the year, we didn’t even know who our kicker was going to be,” Allen said.

“Noah made a huge difference. He was extremely accurate on extra points. He did a great job on kickoffs. When we needed some field goals, he was able to connect on them. I’m proud of how far he came after coming out of nowhere. He’ll spend one more year with us.”

Allen is pleased to have a lot of youth to help contribute to his team.

“It excites you as a coach,” Allen said. “We lost some really good players, but we have a lot of good players coming back. I feel really good about where we stand heading into the next couple years. The season will be here again before you know it. The kids will put in a lot of work in the offseason.”

Allen feels like being recognized as an All-State selection gives players confidence for the next season.

“I think it motivates them,” Allen said. “They get a taste of that noteriety that somebody noticed what they accomplished. I think it should motivate them to say that they can do a whole lot more. The guys who didn’t make it are motivated as well. I think it makes your kids more competitive.”