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All-USA Today State Teams Include 18 Tri-State Players


HUNTINGTON — USA TODAY High School Sports announced the 2016 American Family Insurance All-USA West Virginia Football Team. Players were selected based on their athletic achievements from the 2016-17 season. The teams, first and second teams on offense and defense (including special teams), as “The Nation’s Newspaper” released these lists for every state on Dec. 28.

The Bulldogs of Martinsburg beat the Spring Valley Timberwolves for the AAA Championship (49-7) as all the title games were held at Wheeling (W.Va.) Island Stadium in the West Virginia northern panhandle for the 22nd year in a row. The Bulldogs add to titles won in 2010-11-12-13. Martinsburg was led by USA Today Offensive Player of the Year, Issac Brown, son of a former Marshall defensive back, Todd Brown, who played 1983-87.

The Miners of Mingo Central won the AA title over Fairmont Senior’s Polar Bears, 32-7, led by Kennedy Award winner and Player of the Year Jeremy Dillion. In Class A, No. 2 St. Marys’ Blue Devils upset the No. East Hardy Cougars, 23-8, to win the school’s first state title.

Local Tri-State area players named to the offensive first team are Mingo Central junior quarterback Jeremy Dillon, junior running back Ivan Vaughn of Cabell Midland and four offensive linemen including senior Riley Locklear and sophomore Doug Nester of Spring Valley, Billy Ross of Huntington and Seth Stewart of Point Pleasant. Second team members are Spring Valley back Mason Brubeck and Huntington guard/tackle/defensive end Darnell Wright, just a sophomore as is Nester.

That means two more years to look forward to as Nester and Wright will be battling as offensive and defensive linemen in 2017 and 2018. Wright got the best of Nester as Huntington gave Spring Valley it’s only regular season loss of the year, 17-13. At the end, however, Nester and the Timberwolves got to the championship game while the Highlanders got knocked out by South Charleston in the quarterfinals.

The first team kicker and only special teams selection is Huntington senior Cason Kessinger, who has been invited to walk-on at Marshall for now. Kessinger made 7-of-9 this season, with a long of 53 yards, and put around 75% of his kicks into the end zone. He also punted for the Highlanders, and rewrote the HHS record book for kicks and points.

First team defensive players from local schools include Hurricane senior linebacker Lucas Cooper. Second team members include Huntington’s senior Ryan Mills and Highlander teammate in junior Jadon Hayes, at nose tackle and safety, respectively. They are joined on the second team by Cabell Midland senior safety Drew Keeton.

Local players on the Kentucky All-State USA Today team included junior running back Joe Jackson of Johnson Central and two senior linemen from Belfry, Cole Bentley and Austin Dotson, all on the first team offense. Senior running back Kent Phelps of Paintsville was on the second team. On the Ky. defensive unit, Belfry senior lineman Rayquan Horton was first team.

The Ohio All-State USA Today team had no local players named, but former Marshall linebacker John Spellacy had his son, John, named to the first team All-Ohio offensive line from Cleveland’s Saint Ignatius High School.

WV COACH OF THE YEAR: David Walker, Martinsburg

Walker was the architect of a brilliant Martinsburg (14-0) squad that steamrolled its way to a Class AAA State championship in 2016, capping off a title run with a convincing 49-7 win over Spring Valley in the state final. Under Walker’s leadership, the Bulldogs outscored their opponents by a score of 203-7 in four postseason contests.

Other candidates would include Spring Valley Coach Brad Dingess, who took the Timberwolves to three wins in the AAA playoffs — for a program that had only one win in nearly two decades of struggles and only one win in the first round (until this year) in the postseason. He is the third coach of a Tri-State area team (Midland’s Luke Salmons and Huntington’s Billy Seals were the others) to lose to the Bulldogs during its five titles won run since 2010.


Mingo Central celebrates the State AA title and a perfect season in what will be the final game for long time head coach Yogi Kinder. (courtesy of

Class AA Mingo Central Coach Yogi Kinder will retire, after a long career in coaching, with a perfect 14-0 mark and state championship with the Miners, a school just consolidated from Matewan (where Kinder also won a title), Burch, Williamson and Gilbert a few years ago.

Class A Coach Jodi Mote brought St Marys its first state championship in 104 years of St. Marys football. The Blue Devils lost the state title two years earlier in triple-overtime and East Hardy has finished second in the state championship game two years in a row.



West Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Brown — son of former Marshall defensive back Todd Brown, who played for the Herd during the first winning seasons in 20 years, finally 6-5 in 1984 as a sophomore —  caught 64 passes for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead Martinsburg to the Class AAA state title. It was the fifth championship in school history for Martinsburg, which downed Spring Valley, 49-7, in the championship game.

Other players deserving mention include two-sports standout in Mingo Central quarterback Jeremy Dillon (a Marshall hoops commitment) and Nicholas County receiver Carter Sebert-Sweeney (17 TDs in 32 catches, an avg. of 26 yards per catch), who also was outstanding on special teams with scores on kickoffs and punts.

In a year of great offensive linemen, Spring Valley’s Riley Locklear (Tennessee commit), Huntington’s Billy Ross (North Carolina commitment) and Point Pleasant’s Seth Stewart (LSU commitment) should also be in that mix when talking about the best offensive player of the year.


Kennedy Award winner Jeremy Dillon of Mingo Central is committed to Marshall University for basketball, but expects to see offers for football in 2017 as a senior. (photo courtesy of

First Team

QB Jeremy Dillon (6-5, 195, Jr.), Mingo Central-AA (Matewan), Kennedy Award winner as Top Player in W.Va.

RB Jacob Northcraft (6-0, 200, Sr.), Musselman-AAA (Inwood)

RB Ivan Vaughn (5-11, 180, So.), Cabell Midland-AAA (Ona)

WR Isaac Brown (6-1, 175, Jr.), Martinsburg-AAA

WR Chris Yachini (6-1, 185, Sr.), Brooke-AAA (Wellsburg)

WR Carter Sebert-Sweeney (5-10, 175, Sr.), Nicholas County-AA (Summersville), Randy Moss Award winner as W.Va. Receiver of the Year

OL Riley Locklear (6-6, 285, Sr.), Spring Valley-AAA (Huntington), Joe Stydahar Award as Top W.Va. Offensive Lineman winner

OL Billy Ross (6-5, 295, Sr.), Huntington-AAA

OL Chris Harris (6-0, 245, Sr.), Capital-AAA (Charleston)

OL Doug Nester (6-6, 285, So.), Spring Valley-AAA (Huntington)

OL Seth Stewart (6-8, 315, Sr.), Point Pleasant-AAA


Jadon Hayes ran for over 1,000 yards and led Huntington in interceptions, and the junior will return to the Highlanders for the 2017 season after being named to the second team All-USA Today West Virginia team this week. (courtesy Huntington High photos)

Second Team

QB Tyson Bagent (6-2, 203, Jr.), Martinsburg-AAA

RB Jordan Page (5-8, 175, Sr.), MorgantownAAA

RB Mason Brubeck (6-1, 193, Sr.), Spring Valley-AAA (Huntington)

WR Curon Cordon (5-7, 155, Jr.), South Charleston-AAA

WR Chase Riley (6-2, 180, Sr.), Lincoln-AA (Shinnston)

WR Darnell Brooks (6-2, 186, Sr.), George Washington-AAA (Charleston)

OL David Robertson (6-1, 250, Sr.), Musselman-AAA

OL Adam Stilley (6-1, 250, Sr.), Martinsburg-AAA

OL Garrett Burnside (6-3, 230, Sr.), Roane County-AA (Spencer)

OL Darnell Wright (6-6, 275, So.), Huntington-AAA

OL Ben Billanti (6-0, 270, Jr.), Riverside-AAA (Belle)


Cason Kessinger chats with Adam Marco on the High School Game of the Week after kicking a 53-yard field goal for the Highlanders. (courtesy


WV SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cason Kessinger, Huntington

K Cason Kessinger (5-11, 160, Sr.), Huntington-AAA Winner of Fulton Walker Award, best Special Teams player in state


WV DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jake Abbott, Fairmont Senior

Abbott was a peerless defender for the Polar Bears (10-3) in 2016, recording 136 total tackles (97 solo) while leading Fairmont Senior to the Class AA State final. Also a two-way standout, he delivered nine touchdowns against just one interception from the quarterback position.

Other players due consideration has to include Martinsburg’s Tavis Lee, named to the second team All-USA Today All-American team and winner of the Sam Huff Award (named for the NFL HOF member) as the state’s best defender. He led the Bulldogs to only allowing 7.6 points per game and a state title. He had 109 tackles, 11 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.

Also in the mix would be South Charleston’s Derrek Pitts, winner of the Carl Lee Award as the state’s best defensive back — named for the former SC and Marshall defensive back, who played 12 season in the NFL, mostly for the Minnesota Vikings where he was named to the Top 50 Vikings list for the team’s anniversary. Pitts had a great year in the Black Eagles’ 3-3-5 defense, with 56 solo tackles and 34 assists, nine tackles for loss, recovered three fumbles and picked two passes. He is headed to WVU for college football.


Riley Locklear won the award as the best lineman in the state, and will now take his talents to the SEC and play for the Tennessee Volunteers. (photo courtesy Wayne County News)

First Team

DL Tavis Lee (6-3, 215, Jr.), Martinsburg-AAA, Sam Huff Award as Defensive Player of the Year Award

DL Turan Rush (6-1, 245, Sr.), Capital-AAA (Charleston)

DL Darius Stills (6-3, 270, Sr.), Fairmont Senior-AA

DL Dante Stills (6-5, 260, Jr.), Fairmont Senior-AA

LB Jake Abbott (6-1, 210, Sr.), Fairmont Senior-AA

LB Dewayne Grantham (5-10, 185, So.), Martinsburg-AAA

LB Lucas Cooper (5-11, 170, Sr.), Hurricane-AAA

DB Derek Pitts (6-2, 190, Sr.), South Charleston-AAA, Carl Lee Award as Best Defensive Back of the year

DB Zach Torbett  (6-0, 185, Sr.), Wheeling Park-A (Wheeling)

DB Grant Harman (5-11, 190, So.), Martinsburg-AAA

DB Markus Guy (5-10, 163, Sr.), Independence-AA (Coal City)


Billy Ross was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Highlanders, and will next play in the ACC at North Carolina. (courtesy photo from The Herald-Dispatch/Sholton Singer)

Second Team

DL Jack Raitz (5-11, 210, Sr.), Parkersburg-AAA

DL Ryan Mills (6-1, 250, Sr.), Huntington-AAA

DL Jalen Hesen (6-2, 254, Jr.), Martinsburg-AAA

DL Hayden Starcher (5-10, 170, Sr.), University-AAA (Morgantown)

LB Gavin Smoot (6-1, 220, Jr.), Hedgesville-AAA

LB Tanner Williams (6-0, 220, Jr.), George Washington-AAA (Charleston)

LB Brant Freeland (5-11, 212, Sr.), Parkersburg-AAA

DB Jadon Hayes (5-10, 172, Jr.), Huntington-AAA

DB Drew Keeton (6-0, 160, Sr.), Cabell Midland-AAA (Ona)

DB Camron Henderson (5-11, 185, Sr.), Morgantown-AAA

DB Billy Honaker (6-0, 185, Sr.), Greenbrier East-AAA (Lewisburg)

BOLD – Local Players


Darnell Wright (58) and Manny Mercedes (61) pursues the Brook quarterback in the opening win for the Highlanders of Huntington. Wright was good on both the offensive and defensive lines as a sophomore – so good, he was named to the All-USA Today W.Va. team this week. (HI file photo)

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).