THE TIMES' ALL-AREA FOOTBALL TEAM: Frost named Player of the Year; Skinner, Smith and Smothers earn other top honors

Jan. 6—George Redding began to have a feeling about Eli Frost late in the 2021 season.

The then-sophomore dazzled in a few outings down the stretch, showcasing his nascent greatness in helping Fairview reach the Class 5A semifinals for the first time in school history.

Then, the offseason came and went. Frost got bigger, stronger. Redding's belief that he had a special player — just how special, the longtime Aggies coach didn't quite know — galvanized throughout the summer and fall camp.

Still, there were doubts — if you could call them that — to be put at ease prior to Week 0.

"I know the light bulb went off toward the end of last season," Redding recalled. "We had injuries, and he had to carry the load at running back a little bit. I think then our guys were looking at him and thinking, 'He can do this.' The question was, could he hold up, play both sides of the ball and carry it 25 to 30 times? We saw early on that he could do that.

"He got better and better. We'd wear teams down, and he would break more and more tackles. There was a worry about the longevity of that, but he brought it — every game and every play. That was the crazy thing for me. That was where things kind of became clear."

Redding wasn't the only one who took notice.

Opposing coaches certainly did, perhaps losing an extra hour or two of sleep trying to formulate a game plan sufficient enough to slow Frost down — a tall task on any program's best day.

So, too, did numerous would-be tacklers, who instead of earning stops accumulated a healthy amount of grass stains, chasing what surely seemed for many to be a Purple and Gold shadow.

The you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it numbers speak for themselves, as do the well-deserved accolades that followed an incredible junior campaign.

Let's knock those out once again: Frost tallied 2,484 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on 235 carries, averaging a state-best 248.4 yards per game. He eclipsed 300 yards in five games, scored at least four touchdowns in eight matchups and produced 24.5 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks defensively — all despite missing two full games with an elbow injury.

As Frost's season progressed, he began to turn more and more heads with weekly performances that, when stacked, eventually allowed him to break the single-season school marks in rushing yards (1,901) and touchdowns (28) — set by Matt Black in 1994 — as well as Cullman County's single-season rushing record (2,222 yards) previously achieved by West Point's Kobe Smith in 2015.

Add it all up, and it's not surprising Frost claimed All-County (Overall MVP), All-Region (Overall MVP) and All-State (Class 5A First Team Running Back) honors.

None of those accomplishments, however, caused a disturbance in Frost's ultimate goal along the way — winning.

"As we got to certain points, you could hear the talk," Redding said. "We had people keeping track. But what I thought was so impressive was his level-headedness. His focus was always on the game plan and on winning. If we grabbed recognition along the way, great. He wasn't consumed by those kinds of things, though. Neither were the team or the coaches. He did a phenomenal job of handling all that."

As for where Frost ranks on the pantheon of Fairview greats? That's a question that's been posed to Redding over the past few weeks.

"Everybody will ask, who's been your best quarterback, your best running back, your best receiver," said Redding, who admitted it's difficult to answer such queries. "Everybody did something well, and they all have their own stories. Eli is similar in that he does multiple things well. He runs with great power and great speed. He displays great leadership. On the other side of the ball, he's a guy who could lead you in tackles any day of the week.

"He's a special talent. He's one of the best to come through here, to be around, to see play. He's on the short list as one of the great ones, not just at Fairview but in the county. Having said that, I think because of the person he is — hardworking, great kid, treats people right — that he's going to be remembered for things he did outside football, and that his story is going to extend far beyond football."

And here's what some other area coaches had to say about Frost.

"He has to be one of the best (running backs) I've seen. The thing that stands out to me is his desire to score touchdowns. When he gets the ball, he's completely motivated to get in the end zone. That's what's scary about trying to tackle him. He'll twist, turn, drive to get the extra yards. He's strong and fast, and you can definitely tell he lives in the weight room." — Good Hope's Alan Scott

"It comes down to his drive and desire to compete. When you start naming all the good running backs, that's the common thread — the want-to. If people don't notice it when they watch his film, I don't know what they're looking at. He has the speed burst, understands the game, is really good at reading his blocks. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. When people come to watch, who's the player they're going to remember? He's that guy." — West Point's Don Farley

See below for capsules of this year's other top All-Area honorees.

------

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Name: Ryan Skinner

School: Cullman

Class: Senior

Highlights: Completed 103 of 197 passes for 1,491 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Had 108 carries for 525 yards and nine touchdowns. Helped the Bearcats average 28.5 points per contest and reach the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

Coach Speak: "I think he had a remarkable year. What you saw on Friday night was what you saw in practice. He really matured over the course of being in the program. He bought in, and we developed as an offense because of him and his unselfishness. He's a true dual-threat guy who was a leader on and off the field. The thing I'm most proud of, though, is the kind of kid he is." — Oscar Glasscock

------

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Name: LJ Smith

School: Hanceville

Class: Junior

Highlights: Totaled 57 solo tackles, 51 assisted tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, two sacks and a forced fumble. Helped the Bulldogs hold five opponents to 20 points or less. All-County Defensive MVP. Class 4A, All-Region 6 First Team.

Coach Speak: "LJ was a very important player for us this season. He works extremely hard on the field, in the classroom, in the weight room. He leads by example and turned into a vocal leader for us this season. He has an ability to get to the football. When a kid's on the ground, it's usually because LJ is there. He's very instinctive as well. I couldn't be more proud of him, and I'm glad I have him for another year." — Ryan Brewer

------

COACH OF THE YEAR

Name: David Smothers

School: Addison

Highlights: Led the Bulldogs, who averaged 41.6 points per tilt, to a 9-3 season. Addison advanced to the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 campaigns under Smothers, reaching the second round for the sixth time during his tenure.

Player Speak: "Coach Smothers has your best interests in mind. He is a wonderful coach to play for because he makes sure you try your hardest and do your best. One of the things I like about him is his heart for his players and how he pushes each one of us to be our best, whether it's making sure we have top-notch grades or being the best athlete we can possibly be. He is someone I admire. His drive to help and push others is like no other." — Lucas Crow

------

Editor's Note

The All-Area Football Team, which includes honorable mentions, was chosen myself after reviewing the 2022 season and relying on the helpful input of numerous local football coaches. However, with a limited number of spots available, it's possible some deserving candidates were left out.

See below for The Times' complete All-Area Football Team.

------

Player of the Year

Eli Frost, Fairview

------

Offensive Player of the Year

Ryan Skinner, Cullman

------

Defensive Player of the Year

LJ Smith, Hanceville

------

Coach of the Year

David Smothers, Addison

------

First Team

QB: Colten Whatley, Good Hope

QB: Hunter Hensley, West Point

RB: Brian Berry, Addison

RB: Hank Harrison, Cold Springs

RB: Tyler Owens, Cullman

RB: Brosnan Ward, Hanceville

WR: Jed Wilkins, Addison

WR: Nate Zills, Cullman

WR: Tucker Malin, Good Hope

WR: Kollin Brown, Holly Pond

WR: Parker Marks, West Point

H/TE: Kaleb Jones, Good Hope

H/TE: Christian Couch, Holly Pond

OL: Lucas Crow, Addison

OL: Jared Shelton, Cullman

OL: Carson Jennings, Fairview

OL: Zane Roberts, Fairview

OL: Guillermo Alday, Good Hope

OL: Eli Akin, Hanceville

OL: Alex Salazar, Vinemont

OL: Tai Shurtleff, Vinemont

OL: Aiden Dujoud, West Point

ATH: Zach Campbell, Hanceville

ATH: Sawyer Olinger, Holly Pond

ATH: Jameson Goble, Fairview

DL: Isaiah Treece, Addison

DL: Victor Laurentius, Cold Springs

DL: Ben Washburn, Cullman

DL: Jayden Pineda, Fairview

DL: Russ Wooten, Good Hope

DL: Ayden Thomason, Vinemont

DL: Sylar Philyaw, West Point

LB: Jordan Hubbert, Addison

LB: Patton Elkins, Cullman

LB: Cale Foster, Fairview

LB: Eric Gonzalez, Fairview

LB: Callahan Lindsey, Good Hope

LB: Connor Pitts, Hanceville

LB: JD Cochran, West Point

DB: Briley Holt, Addison

DB: Sawyer Trimble, Cullman

DB: Garrett Hall, Cullman

DB: Cade Yeager, Fairview

DB: Taz Bartlett, Good Hope

DB: Brody Freeman, West Point

K: Kolt Redding, Fairview

P: Evan Johnson, Cullman

------

Honorable Mention

Addison

Brady Gilbreath (DB)

Briley Hayes (QB)

Hayden Holland (H/TE)

Braden Luker (ATH)

Bradley Willette (DL)

------

Cold Springs

Cody Jewell (OL/DL)

Matt Williams (LB)

Josh Winfrey (LB)

------

Cullman

Beckett Calvert (DL)

Drew Carter (OL)

Elijah Hays (LB)

Tanner Gaines (LB)

Jackson Sessions (DB)

Carter Ziegenbein (OL)

------

Fairview

Jake Harper (LB)

Carson Jones (RB)

Bradley Smith (OL)

Barett York (QB/DL)

------

Good Hope

Kmal Bell (WR)

Tyler Cone (WR)

Hank Hudson (DB)

Charlie O'Neil (ATH)

Houston Walton (DL)

------

Hanceville

Braxton Broad (DB)

Marquies Leeth (DB)

------

Holly Pond

Damian Raymond (DB)

Diego Garcia (WR)

------

Vinemont

Jacob Hale (OL)

Isaac Moody (H/TE)

Kyler Pugh (LB)

Diego Rodriguez (RB)

------

West Point

Bryson Phillips (LB)

Garit Roberson (RB)

Eli Sims (WR)

Riley Wayne (DL)