The stars come out for
KMHS football banquet
See more photos in the February 22, 2023 issue of KM Herald
Kings Mountain High School honored one of its best football teams ever Thursday night with a meal and awards night at First Baptist Church.
The 2022 Mountaineers won the Big South 3A Conference and 13 games overall before falling to the state 3A champion East Lincoln Mustangs in the fourth round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
At the close of the meeting, Greg Lloyd’s family announced a new Kenny Lloyd Team Before Self award that will be given annually in memory of Greg’s father Kenny Lloyd. It was presented to Catherine Hicks, wife of former head coach Denny Hicks and one of the Mountaineers’ biggest fans since she moved to Kings Mountain in the early 1980s.
Trophy presentations started with the defense and defensive coordinator Darrel Wilson praised his group which allowed just 14 points per game to claim their fourth conference championship in 16 years.
Wilson said it was considered a rebuilding year but “we just kept pushing each other and the team played for each other.”
Wilson pointed out that the KM defense allowed just 14.6 points per game. “The team made me a better coach,” he said.
Athletic director Matt Bridges presented the best defensive back awards to Jake Lloyd and Bryson Brown.
“We had a special group, top to bottom,” Bridges said.
Brown led the team with six pass interceptions and also had 29 solo tackles. Just a junior, he was a second year starter and All-Conference.
Lloyd was a three-year starter and was All-Conference as well. He registered 69 solo tackles while playing multiple positions and did that shortly after undergoing some medical problems that had him hospitalized in serious condition during the summer.
Head coach Greg Lloyd presented the Jeff Putnam Linebacker Award to Jason Melton. Putnam was an assistant coach for the Mountaineers for several years before his death.
“I never met a more proud Mountaineer than Jeff,” noted Coach Lloyd. “We miss him.”
Melton “was an outstanding linebacker who worked very hard,” Coach Lloyd noted. He had 80 solo tackles and a season average of 6.3 tackles per game. He also recorded five quarterback sacks.
Coach Wilson presented the most improved defensive player award to Antonio Armstrong who registered 64 tackles (4.6 per game) and a very impressive 25 tackles for loss.
“We had a lot of great players on defense,” Coach Wilson noted. “Defense for us starts up front. He transferred in and had to learn the KM way. He’s one of the fastest players coming off the line.”
Wilson presented the Defensive Lineman Award to Jamel Kennedy. “He hustles 100 percent on every play,” Wilson noted. “He plays faster than he runs the forty.”
Wilson presented the Defensive Coach’s Award to versatile junior Zay Smith, who plays many positions on offense, defense and special teams.
“He plays with a lot of passion,” Wilson noted. “He is a flexible player.”
The Defensive MVP Award went to Curtis Simpson, a junior who is being courted by numerous major college teams.
“He will make a name for himself in college,” Wilson said. “He works hard. He got hurt late in the season but led the state in sacks. We’re glad he will be coming back next season.”
Assistant coach Michael Harris presented the special teams award to kicker Jaden Ellis, a third year starter who in ‘22 hit 58 of 62 PAT attempts, three of six field goals and had 23 touchbacks. Over his career he scored 156 points and hit 90 percent of his PATs. He also recorded 50 touchbacks.
Harris also noted that AJ Richardson recorded five blocked kicks and team had 12 overall.
The offensive back awards went to leading rusher Teddy Jeffries, who finished with 1144 yards rushing and 19 TDs and Caleb Holland, a versatile player that also gained close to 1,000 yards.
“We had a very talented group,” noted Coach Bell. “Jeffries can score from anywhere on the field. Holland is small but he’s tough. He ran hard and was a great leader. Give him that ball and he’s going to score.”
Coach Mark Latham presented the wide receiver award to Ja’Qualyn Sanders who caught 45 passes for 762 yards and five TDs.
“We had a great group,” he said. “Sanders plays wide receiver like a linebacker. He breaks tackles. He has an unlimited amount of potential.”
Coach Cruise presented the Fred Plonk Blocking Trophy – the oldest trophy given at KMHS dating back to the early 1950s – to Michael Lubas line comes off the field, we talk and all they wanted to do was run the ball,” noted Coach Cruise. “He’s one of the smartest guys out there and one of the finest young men.”
The most improved player on offense was lineman Alex Jackson, who also drew high compliments from Coach Cruise.
“He is a lot of fun to coach,” Cruise said. “Tenacious is a good word for all of my guys. All of them want to be in the forefront of winning football games.”
Cruise presented the offensive most valuable player award to Isaiah Eskridge, who must love pancakes because Cruise said he had “pancake after pancake” on the football field.
“Our offense wins as the offensive line goes,” Cruise said. “He always plays hard and had more pancakes than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Coach Lloyd presented the Brent Bagwell Offensive Coaches Award to quarterback Lamont Littlejohn. Bagwell was an all-conference lineman at KMHS and NC State and served the Mountaineers for several years before his death as an assistant coach.
“He was gone too soon,” Coach Lloyd said. “He was very instrumental in the progress of our program. He is missed daily and will never be forgotten.”
Lloyd noted that Littlejohn was an All-Conference quarterback and during his time as a starter led the team to a 23-4 overall record.
“He stays calm all the time,” Lloyd said, “and he was calming influence on our team.”
As a junior and senior, Lloyd pointed out that Littlejohn led the Mountaineers on some late-game winning drives in the state playoffs, moving the team 99 yards in the final minute to defeat Franklin his junior year and completing some big passes in the final minute to set up the winning TD against West Charlotte last season.
Littlejohn finished his senior year hitting 155 of 240 passes for 2,488 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Donnie Mace Tough Man of the Year trophy went to senior Jake Lloyd, who was in very critical condition with COVID and pneumonia during the summer of 2022. He spent 11 days in the hospital.
“Football was the furthest thing on our minds,” Coach Lloyd noted. “Through good doctors and the prayers of a lot of people he pulled through. Then he fractured his finger on the first day of seven on sevens but was able to come back and play his senior year.”
The awards presentation ended with Coach Lloyd presenting the most valuable player trophy to the very versatile senior AJ Richardson, who was not just a nightmare for opponents on defense but was an unstoppable running back on short yardage plays in the shadow of the end zone.
“We had a lot of special players,” Lloyd said, “but AJ was really special and is going to do great things in college.”
Richardson was the team’s only four-year starter. His senior year he registered 92 tackles and 32 tackles for loss. He also blocked multiple kicks. During Richardson’s time on the field, the Mountaineers went 43-3 in the Big South Conference and 43-8 overall.
Seniors that came up through the KM Optimist program – Caleb Holland, Jake Lloyd and Dalton Smith – received awards from Lavon Clark.
All Big South 3A awards – Bryson Brown, Michael Lubas, Lamont Littlejohn, Zay Smith, Jake Lloyd, Antonio Armstrong, Teddy Jeffries, Curtis Simpson, Isaiah Eskridge, AJ Richardson.
BSC Defensive Player of the Year, All-Conference and All-State – Curtis Simpson.
All-State and BSC Lineman of the Year – Isaiah Eskridge.
All-State and BSC Defensive Player of the Year – AJ Richardson.
Seniors – Caleb Holland, Jake Lloyd, Lamont Littlejohn, AJ Richardson, Jaden Ellis, Dariyon Black, Michael Lubas, Dalton Smith, Isaiah Eskridge.