The 2019 John Milledge Academy football team set what many thought were impossibly-high standards for the program moving forward.
That season’s iteration put together a perfect year, culminating in a blowout GISA AAA state championship victory.
With a massive group of 20 seniors returning for the 2020 campaign, the Trojans found a way to outperform that stellar ’19 group last fall. John Milledge finished the slightly-shortened schedule with an 11-0 record capped off by a 49-0 title game win over Frederica Academy. The 2020 team was honored Sunday in a banquet held inside the school’s Trojan Center.
“Find a Way” was the team’s slogan throughout the ’20 season due to all the uncertainties they faced while trying for a second-consecutive undefeated run.
“We thought it was very fitting for everything that this team had to overcome to be able to achieve the lofty goals we had set in the beginning of the season,” JMA head coach JT Wall said.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a ton of challenges that initially caused players to have to do individual workouts from home in the spring once school was closed. When on-campus workouts were allowed to begin in the summer, procedures were very different from years past as the coaching staff found ways to mitigate the spread of the contagious virus. As the season drew nearer and began to look more like a certainty rather than a hope, JMA star running back Amaad Foston went down with what became a season-ending injury at practice. That unfortunate occurrence still did not stop the team from reaching all its goals and setting program records as they steamrolled the 11 opponents they faced. The Trojans’ closest margin of victory came in a 31-0 state semifinal defeat of Westfield. It was facts like that that caused longtime voice of the Trojans Greg Stephens to make this statement during Sunday’s banquet.
“In my opinion, the 2020 Trojans were the most complete and dominant Trojan team I have ever seen,” Stephens said to huge applause.
The Trojans in 2020 outscored opponents by an average of 41 points a night and surrendered only 27 points across 11 games. Here are some of the players who played big roles in that dominance and were honored as award recipients Sunday.
He never got to play a down, but there’s no telling what kind of numbers Foston would have put up had he suited up this past season. Coming off back-to-back 2,000-yard campaigns as a sophomore and junior he was poised to pass that mark again before getting hurt. He was given the Trojan Iron Man Award bestowed to the player with the highest point total in the team’s preseason iron man competition. Foston broke his own point record and won the competition for a third year in a row prior to his injury. He is currently at the University of Virginia as an early enrollee student-athlete with the football program.
One player who helped pave the way for Foston the last couple years and his replacements in ’20 was Devin Kitchens, this year’s JMA Offensive Lineman of the Year. As the offensive line anchor at center, he led the team with a 94.7 average blocking grade and 87 pancakes on the year. The Offensive MVP went to quarterback Grayson Hopkins who was able to hurt defenses with his arm and legs. He threw for 18 touchdowns against only two interceptions, and ran for six touchdowns in leading the potent Trojan offense.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, middle linebacker Je’Mazin Roberts was named the team’s Defensive MVP. He led the team with 75 total tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss, and has only played linebacker these last two years. He has verbally committed to play football at The Citadel and is expected to sign there Wednesday. Joining Roberts in receiving defensive honors were Kevin Kitchens and Carson Dyer, the co-Defensive Linemen of the Year. Twin brother to Devin, Kevin, was just as much a problem to offenses as Devin was to defenses. Kevin had 63 total tackles, which is a huge number for a defensive lineman, and 9.5 tackles for loss his senior year. Dyer had 55 total tackles, and made a home in opposing backfields with his team-high 14 tackles for loss.
Junior first-year kicker Tommy Collier was given the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year nod. He hit 94 percent of extra point attempts while finishing perfect on field goals. Collier also did great work placing the ball where coaches wanted on kickoffs.
The “It’s Not About Me” Award went to do-it-all senior Landen Burney. He came to the program as a sophomore expecting to play defensive back and wide receiver. Coaches eventually moved him to the outside linebacker/rover spot on defense primarily, but midway through the 2020 season he was also needed elsewhere. Down a couple of running backs, Burney was asked to play in the offensive backfield, a role he embraced and eventually excelled at once he got comfortable.
A few younger guys were highlighted with scout team awards as Jeremiah Hill, Andrew Mullis, Ameir Glenn, Brody Waddell and Trey Evans all were recognized for their roles in helping the starters prepare during the practice week leading up to games.
There was but one award left to give on the night, the Golden Helmet, which is given to the Team MVP each year. The honor went to senior Patrick McDonel who touched the football in every way imaginable on offense while also serving as a key member of the defense. He averaged 12 yards per touch on offense whether that was throwing, rushing or receiving, and totaled 16 touchdowns. Defensively as a free safety he led the team with six interceptions.
“He’s a fierce competitor, and a great example for these young men to model themselves after,” Wall said of McDonel.
McDonel was one member of the Trojans’ outstanding senior class of 20 guys in 2020, a group that helped JMA football set records in All-Region players (17), GISA All-Stars (12), and All-State recipients (nine). Wall shared a bit more about the special group in closing out Sunday’s ceremony.
“These guys are going to be missed,” he said. “They’ve set the bar very, very high. We don’t want to say that what these guys have done can never be achieved because we’re going to try to beat it, but they’ve really set the bar high.”
Cheerleaders recognized, too
Prior to the football team taking center stage, John Milledge’s varsity spirit and competition cheerleaders were recognized for their hard work this past season. The spirit cheerleaders spent Friday nights helping with the game day atmosphere, and many pulled double duty as some woke up Saturday mornings to prepare for cheer competitions.
This year Trojan competition cheer finished as GISA state runner-up by a narrow margin, continuing the program’s tradition of ending up as champ or runner-up every year for about the past decade. Griffin McMichael received the squad’s Iron Trojan Award for attending the most offseason workouts. Sydney Chambers and Kaela Clark were both given Scholar Athlete awards for their high averages inside the classroom. Lily Mullis was named Most Improved while Brooke Myers and Hallie Beth Rhodes split Best Performer. Four JMA cheerleaders in Rhodes, Clark, Bri Beckham and Mariah Clements earned GISA All-State honors, and the Team MVP went to senior Sydney Chambers.
Head coach Doug Stephens shared that with a talented group of eighth-graders rising to the varsity ranks next year, he’s expecting another strong output in 2021.
“Cheerleading is alive and well here at John Milledge,” Stephens said, “and we’ll get ready to run at a state championship next year.”