Tagovailoa, Hand, Evans named finalists for state’s top honor

Published 10:59 pm Saturday, December 29, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

In different ways, it’s been a special season for Thompson’s Taulia Tagovailoa, Briarwood’s Mark Hand and Montevallo’s JJ Evans, as each of those talented athletes helped not only lead their teams to the playoffs but put up record-like numbers at their respective schools.

Now, each of those impressive players has been named finalists for either Back or Lineman of the Year by the ASWA, which also makes them finalists for the coveted Mr. Football awarded presented to the state’s top player.

With three players nominated for both Back and Lineman of the Year in each classification, that also makes those three players three of the top 48 players in the state this season, and three of the top six players in their respective classification.

Tagovailoa totaled 3,684 yards passing and 35 touchdowns during his final season with the Warriors, which helped lead his team to its second state championship game in school history.

While Thompson didn’t end up winning the state championship, the historic numbers put up by Tagovailoa and the Warriors the last two years are jaw dropping.

It’s a team that went from 0-10 in 2014 to back-to-back 5-5 seasons, followed by a 12-1 season and an 11-2 season with trips to at least the semifinals in each of those two seasons.

In just his two-year Thompson career, the Alabama commit threw for 7,054 yards and 71 touchdowns completing 548 of his 861 pass attempts with just 13 interceptions.

Evans is also a player with a high ceiling and bright future after a remarkable record-breaking junior season at Montevallo.

Currently with offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Southern Cal, Texas A&M and many other schools after exploding this season, Evans seems to be on everybody’s radar following his breakout season.

After every game this season, people made sure to exclaim that he is the real deal, and with his burning passion to continue to work hard and improve in every facet of the game, it’s unlikely he declines during his senior season with the return of quarterback Malik Inabinette, who loves to target the trustworthy receiver.

After seeing his father pass away several years ago in a drowning accident, a remarkable story you can read more about in this week’s paper and online, Evans works every day to still make his father proud.

During his junior season, Evans posted 100-plus receiving yards in eight of the Bulldogs’ 11 games and posted at least one touchdown in 10 of their 11 games.

His lowest output of the season came in the first round of the playoffs with 73 yards, but in every other game, he had at least 81 yards and one touchdown.

Evans posted four 200-plus yard games, including a stretch at one point where he had 202-plus yards in three of four games. He also had one game with four touchdown receptions and another with five.

Hand is a guy that has been unreal at Briarwood since his sophomore season, and was able to conclude his stellar career with 187 tackles as a senior, including 6.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and three interceptions while scoring three defensive touchdowns.

His impressive talent led to former head coach Fred Yancey saying he was the best linebacker in school history.

It closed a strong three-year career for Hand, who posted 132 tackles as a sophomore and 74 more as a junior to total 395 tackles during that span.

As far as the awards are concerned, Tagovailoa will go up against Hoover’s George Pickens and Lee-Montgomery’s Te’Darrian Murray for 7A Back of the Year, Hand will go up against Vigor’s Fred Austin and Etowah’s Jamin Graham for 5A Lineman of the Year, and Evans will go up against Darrian Meads of Hokes Bluff and Lee Witherspoon of North Jackson for 4A Back of the Year.

The winner of each of Back and Lineman of the Year will be one of the finalists for the coveted Mr. Football award announced on the same day, as will the Super 12 team featuring the 12 best players from across the state regardless of classification.

The awards banquet will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at Montgomery’s Renaissance hotel starting at noon.