Callaway’s Shephard name region’s top player
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
When the Callaway Cavaliers needed someone to step up and make a play, senior Jalin Shephard was usually up to the challenge.
The versatile Shephard made an impact in so many ways, as a wide receiver, defensive back, punter, and team leader.
Thanks in no small part to Shephard’s contributions, Callaway went 12-1 and beat Fitzgerald 22-17 to win the Class AA state championship.
Fittingly, it was Shephard who clinched the victory over Fitzgerland when he intercepted a pass near the goal line as time expired.
Shephard’s impressive body of work during the 2020 season was recognized when he was named the Region 5-AA player of the year.
Callaway was predictably well-represented on the team after winning the region title before making a run at state.
Leading the Callaway contingent is Shephard, a three-year starter who was Callaway’s most explosive wide receiver this season.
Shephard was also a ball-hawking defensive back who had four interceptions in the playoffs, and he was a standout punter.
“Jalin, he didn’t get the five-star accolades like Terry (Godwin) and Tank (Bigsby) and those guys, and they deserve that and they were great players and great athletes, but Jalin is just a great football player,” said Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard. “He is a football player. He can do it all. He was our biggest threat at wide receiver all year, and (he had an) ability to get take-aways at corner.”
Shephard was a starter when Callaway’s season ended in the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019, and he was obviously thrilled to flip that script last year.
“I feel like this should be my third one, but everything happens for a reason,” Shephard said. “I’m just happy to have this one.”
Six Callaway offensive players made the all-region first team, including senior running back Charlie Dixon, who ran for 769 yards with nine touchdowns in four playoff games, and that included a 229-yard effort in the championship game.
For the season, Dixon ran for 1,462 on 215 carries, an average of nearly seven yards per attempt, with 20 touchdowns.
“Coming into the playoffs, my coaches always told me, we’ll go as far as you can take us,” Dixon said. “So at that moment, I knew my team was really depending on me, and I couldn’t let my team down. I see it in their eyes every day. They’re hungry. They want to win, so I couldn’t let them down.”
Another first-team offensive player is quarterback Demetrius Coleman, who started for three seasons and provided steady leadership throughout the playoffs.
In the championship game, Coleman ran for more than 100 yards, and he threw a touchdown pass to Carlos Billingslea.
“He’s been playing it for three years. You know he’s going to make the right decision,” said Callaway offensive coordinator Zach Giddens. “He’s just so competitive. He wants the football, whether it’s throwing it or running it. He wants the football. When he doesn’t get the football, he’s waiting on his opportunity or his chance to get it. I’m so proud of him.”
Billinglsea was also a first-team all-region player, as were offensive linemen Lathan Patterson and Jacob Miles, and tight end Sam Williams.
Among Callaway’s first-team defensive players is linebacker LaQuize Gilbert, who finished with nearly 150 tackles to lead the team, and he had 63 tackles in four playoff games.
Like so many of his teammates, Gilbert was a three-year starter, and he knew the heart-break of losing in the playoffs before getting the chance to celebrate.
“Losing like that two years in a row, it made us even hungrier,” Gilbert said. “We wanted it. Because of Covid we didn’t even know if we’d make it here, and that made it better, too. That gave us more motivation to get this trophy, to get this state championship.”
Two of Gilbert’s fellow linebackers, Austin Thomas and Ladarrious Williams, were also first-team all-region players, as were defensive linemen Trey Stephens and Keshawn Suggs.
Three of Callaway’s dynamic defensive backs, Osiris Rivas, Cameron Smith and Jarvis Parks, also earned first-team honors.
Callaway’s second-team all-region players are Amarion Copeland (running back), Andrew Locke (wide receiver), Kevin Alfero (wide receiver), Adarian Barnes (offensive lineman), Caden Prather (defensive lineman), Kier Jackson (linebacker) and Eli Freeman (snapper).
Earning honorable-mention nods are Caleb Woody (defensive lineman), Kamez Hopson (offensive lineman) and Blake Eubanks (kicker).