Baylor offensive lineman Barrett Gouger participates in practice at Baylor in this file photo. Gouger, along with teammate Henrique Ribeiro and South Pittsburg's Coltin Blevins and Jajuan Lankford, are finalists for the TSSAA's Mr. Football awards.Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Two players each from Baylor and South Pittsburg have been named finalists for the TSSAA's Mr. Football awards for 2011.
Baylor senior offensive tackle Barrett Gouger is one of three finalists for the state's Division II-AA Lineman of the Year, and teammate Henrique Ribeiro is a Kicker of the Year finalist.
The award for the state's top kicker covers all classifications. All other awards for the top linemen and backs are broken down by classification.
South Pittsburg senior offensive lineman and linebacker Coltin Blevins is a finalist for Class 1A Lineman of the Year, and sophomore Jajuan Lankford is up for Back of the Year.
The 27th annual Mr. Football Awards will be presented to 10 backs and linemen in five classifications on Nov. 28 at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Murfreesboro.
"It's a compliment to our kids and the staff and where our program is," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "Both those young men are very deserving. They're great ambassadors for our school.
"We know it's a statewide vote, so we feel like this is a great compliment for two great kids and our entire program."
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Gouger is a Vanderbilt commitment and three-year starter for the Red Raiders, helping them reach the state title game last season. Top-ranked Baylor continues to run most of its offense behind Gouger this year.
Ribeiro had never played American football before last season, when his only job was to handle kickoff duties. This year the senior is 7-of-10 in field-goal attempts, including good kicks of 51, 52 and 57 yards. He is perfect on extra-point attempts, and 45 of his 47 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.
The 5-11, 225-pound Blevins leads the Pirates with 75 solo tackles, 48 assists, six tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. An offensive starter at guard, Blevins moved to center because of an injury to the Pirates' starter there and has played that position the last four games. He was the Class 1A state championship game's defensive MVP last season.
Lankford was a reserve until an injury to the Pirates' starting running back in the fourth game of the season. In just eight games as the starter, the 5-10, 175-pounder has rushed for 1,680 yards, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry, and 25 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for TDs.
"It's kind of like winning games -- it never gets old," Pirates coach Vic Grider said of having Mr. Football finalists. "As a coach you take a lot of pride in seeing your players get recognized. We've had so many before them, and I think our kids take a lot of pride in being the next in line to be honored.
"Coltin is very deserving. He's a guy that makes our defense go, and even though he's been forced to play a spot on offense that he's not used to, he's played the way a senior, all-state type player should play. As for Jajuan, he's in select company as far as sophomores who are finalists for that award. But his numbers justify it. When we had so many guys hurt, he carried our football team and did everything we asked him to. This is just the beginning of great things for him."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...