2023 All-County 8-Man team honors best players in the area
Published 1:33 pm Friday, January 5, 2024
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
It was a banner season for 8-man football in Shelby County as both the Evangel Christian Lightning and Cornerstone Christian Chargers had historic seasons.
The Chargers made history with their program’s first AISA state championship as they continued their rapid rise in the 8-man ranks by going undefeated in 8-man play.
Much of that was thanks to dynamic athletes across the field, including quarterback Zeke Adams’ 3,850 all-purpose yards and Noah Schober’s 1,000 yard receiving season.
Evangel continued doing what it does best and won not only the ACSC state championship for the second straight season, but the NHSA national championship as well for the sixth year in a row.
Kemp Swords excelled in his first season as the Lightning quarterback and complemented a lockdown defense as coach Tim Smith’s team extended its win streak to 27 games, the longest active streak in Alabama high school football regardless of divisions and formats.
That made this year’s All-County 8-man football team a difficult one to assemble, but as a result, it contains some of the most talented athletes in recent memory from the AISA and ACSC.
Quarterback: Zeke Adams, junior, Cornerstone. Adams continued his rise as one of the most electrifying athletes in 8-man football as he threw for 1,683 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading his team in rushing yards with 2,167 yards and 34 touchdowns and serving as the team leader in tackles with 102, 95 solo tackles and four interceptions.
Quarterback: Kemp Swords, junior, Evangel. In his first season as the Lightning starter, Swords shined as a dual-threat within Evangel’s offense. He threw for 2,101 yards and 33 touchdowns and also ran for 1,091 yards and 20 touchdowns off 118 carries.
Running Back: Caeleb Austin, senior, Evangel. Austin was dynamic in the backfield and came up with big plays in key moments for the Lightning. He rushed for 852 yards and 17 touchdowns off 68 carries, and on the other end of the field as a corner, he secured four interceptions.
Running Back: Colton Dorough, senior, Evangel. In the fullback spot for Evangel, Dorough plowed his way to 401 yards and four touchdowns off 45 carries, cementing himself as another rushing weapon for the Lightning.
Offensive Lineman: Carson Donovan, senior, Evangel. The 6-foot-4, 278-pound senior wrapped up his four-year career as a starter with another solid season while helping the Lightning succeed both at running and passing the ball.
Offensive Lineman: Landon Alexander, junior, Cornerstone. Alexander has become a dominant two-way force for the Chargers, using his 6-foot-1, 260-pound frame to block for Cornerstone’s potent rushing attack and also racking up 63 tackles, 55 solo tackles and three sacks on the defensive line.
Offensive Lineman: Reed Castleberry, junior, Evangel. The 6-foot-1 junior has come along well as a strong force up front for the Lightning, giving the offense more size and skill to power its way to success.
Receiver: Cade Joiner, junior, Evangel. Joiner was one of Evangel’s top receiving threats all season long as he earned 451 yards and six touchdowns off 24 receptions in just eight games played, and he also added a rushing touchdown as well.
Receiver: Clay Stanton, senior, Evangel. Stanton connected with Swords for seven receiving touchdowns, which highlighted his strong season where he earned 405 receiving yards off 24 receptions, a rushing touchdown, 61 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Receiver: Keaton Keef, junior, Cornerstone. Keef made the most of his 12 receptions in 2023, scoring on 25 percent of them as he racked up 319 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 12 games this season.
Athlete: Drake Dunning, junior, Cornerstone. Dunning impacted the game on both sides of the field in his nine games played, rushing for 249 yards and four touchdowns off 55 carries while also earning 43 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
Defensive Lineman: Malachi Adams, freshman, Cornerstone. Adams burst onto the scene during his freshman season as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive end earned 80 tackles on the year, including 68 solo tackles and three sacks.
Defensive Lineman: Cole Romano, senior, Evangel. Romano excelled at getting into opposing teams’ backfields, with 21 of his 64 total tackles on the season ending in a loss of yardage as well as earning him 12 sacks.
Defensive Lineman: Grady Watkins, senior, Evangel. Watkins was a force on the line for the Lightning, earning 45 tackles as well as 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks to cap off his career at Evangel.
Linebacker: Hayden Black, senior, Evangel. In a season where he was named Mr. Football for the ACSC, Black racked up 86 tackles on the season, including 34 solo tackles, 24 tackles for loss, three interceptions and two sacks.
Linebacker: James Wilson, junior, Cornerstone. Wilson was one of the top tacklers for the state champion Chargers as he took 64 tackles, 57 solo tackles and seven tackles for loss as well as five sacks in his junior season.
Linebacker: Zane Barlow, senior, Evangel. Barlow was a one-man wrecking crew in his final season with the Lightning. Of his 50 tackles in 2023, 41 were solo tackles, and he also earned 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions.
Defensive Back: Zion Thompson, senior, Evangel. Thompson emerged as one of the top lockdown corners in all of 8-man football and limited some of the top offenses around the Southeast with his 11 interceptions. In addition, he led the Lightning in receiving yards with 525 as he scored eight touchdowns off 22 catches.
Defensive Back: Noah Schober, junior, Cornerstone. While Schober was first among all 8-man receivers in the county with 1,070 yards and 16 touchdowns, his defensive prowess also made a big impact for Cornerstone as he secured 81 tackles, 71 solo tackles and four interceptions. To add to that, he also racked up 609 return yards and four special teams touchdowns as well.