By Angel Verdejo and Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
It's hard to argue the impact Orlando Thomas and Darius McClinton had on the field for District 12-5A champion Copperas Cove.
Thomas was the catalyst in a Bulldawg offense that averaged more than 44 points and 420 yards per game during the regular season. The future Texas Longhorn was arguably the best athlete on the field every Friday night.
"He was just everywhere for us and guys like that, they make such a team impact because they do so many things," Welch said. "That shows character that they do whatever it takes to help the team."
This season, Thomas lined up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back, return specialist and punter.
"He was just a jack-of-all-trades, a big, big part of the team and a great leader," said Welch, who was named Coach of the Year for leading the Bulldawgs to the district title. "Talent will get you so far but leadership will get you a little farther. He saw that, he recognized that and he did it."
McClinton will likely join his teammate in the major college ranks one day - the linebacker is just a junior. But he still made play after play for Cove, which captured its first outright district championship since 2005.
Both even stepped up a level when their team needed it.
Thomas quarterbacked Cove to four scoring drives in the final 13 minutes in a bi-district playoff against Mesquite Horn, while McClinton stopped Horn running back Medgar Coleman inches from the goalline on a two-point conversion that won the Cove's first playoff game in three years.
Opponents felt Thomas and McClinton's impact each week, as did opposing coaches. For that, the two were voted the District 12-5A Offensive and Defensive most valuable players on Tuesday.
"I expect him to see this as a challenge more than just an accolade," Welch said." This is a challenge - now to come back, repeat and to keep that level. Everybody knows you and everybody knows they have to block you."
Others earning district accolades were Shoemaker sophomore linebacker Malik Clemons, who was the district's defensive newcomer of the year and Harker Heights' sophomore running back Marcus Anderson II, the offensive newcomer of the year.
Clemons led a Shoemaker defense that made it a threat again in 12-5A and eventually helped the Grey Wolves snap a 31-game losing streak.
"He was a big part of it. We had a good defense, a senior-led defense but he stood his ground and did his part within that defense and that says a lot about him," Shoemaker coach Channon Hall said.
Anderson, meanwhile, made his mark by helping the Knights overcome injuries and giving them a spark down the stretch.
Anderson carried the ball 71 times for Harker Heights and ran for 436 yards and five touchdowns.
"Everybody had a one-two punch and we felt good with Marvin (Jackson) and Marcus, but then when Marvin went down, we just had a one-punch," Heights coach Mike Mullins said. "But (Anderson) had to carry the load for awhile and he just did a super job. He was just so mentally and physically mature for being a sophomore."
Johnny Jefferson was an all-district first-team unanimous selection at running back but was at his best late in the season when he ran the Grey Wolves' offense out of the wildcat formation, he joined Copperas Cove back Brandon Hamilton and Belton back Donavan Williams in the 12-5A backfield.
Other area first-teamers included Belton wide receivers Derick Bates and Levi Jordan, tight end Durham Smythe and quarterback Peter Shelburne. Harker Heights offensive lineman Camrhon Hughes was a unanimous selection and joined Copperas Cove linemen Isreal Hamm and Foster Brown and Knights center Darius James on the team.
Belton's Darius Ewing and Cove's Chans Colbert made it as first-team fullbacks and Eli Kuhns was named the first-team kicker.
Cove defensive linemen Josh Lyons led the first team defensive selections and he was joined by Ellison defensive end Wesley Washington, James, Belton linebackers Ryan Stinson and Tyler Santellana, Cove linebacker Jalen Gilbert, Heights linebacker Naashon Hughes and Cove safety Chris Rhodes. Also making the first team were Ellison defensive back Sean McBryde, Heights safety Tyrel Stokes, Belton cornerback Kyle Battle, Belton punter Levi Jordan and Belton deep-snapper Michael Gall.