All-State Specialists…Special being the operative word

I don’t know that players in High School today have the respect for Specialists and Special Teams our football forefathers had. I can tell you Frank Beamer made a fine career, and won a lot of football games, focusing on special teams’ play. Tennessee had a pretty good football coach one time named Robert Reese Neyland who, being a Brigadier General in the United States Army, was, quite appropriately, referred to as General Neyland. I realize many young players reading this have no idea the coach to whom I am referring but the stadium at the University of Tennessee, a school which used to play a little football, is named for him. Anyway, how good of a coach was Neyland? Well, Paul Bear Bryant thought he was pretty good. He once said of Neyland, in one of his auto-biographies, that [e]verybody thought Neyland had a jinx on us. It was no jinx. He was a better coach, and he had better football players – and I couldn’t stand it,… Neyland had seven maxims of football which he believed were the keys to winning games. Over his time as the Head Football Coach at the University of Tennessee, he won 173 games, losing 31, and tying 12 times, with claim to 4 National Championships and 8 conference titles, so he knew something about winning. Anyway, there were Seven Maxims which were to be the cornerstone for any football team’s construction of winning football. Two of the maxims pertained to special teams. Maxim #4 was Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game, (Emphasis Added) and Maxim #6 was Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. Neyland retired in 1951, winning an AP/UPI Consensus National Championship in his last season. What I am telling you, and I believe the selection committee to be also telling you, is these maxims are still relevant in today’s game of football. Really, not much has changed. We selected All-State football players who we believe to be specialists, but, more importantly, we believe are special football players for both the Classes of 2021 & 2020 All-State Football teams. Congratulations to the following:

Class of 2021, The Specialist

Braxton Cannon, 6’0″ 165, duPont Manual High School

First of all, Braxton Cannon was a real threat to make this team at a variety of positions in addition to as a special teams player. Cannon may well have made the team as a receiver too. The selection committee felt Cannon was probably the fastest football player in his Class, and one of the fastest in Kentucky, having been timed at WKU’s Football Camp at a true 4.5 second 40 yard dash. I mean, for a freshman, that is really flying. In only three Varsity games for Class 6A, District 3, duPont Manual High School, Cannon caught 13 passes for 90 yards. He also returned punts and kicks for Coach Scott Carmony’s Crimsons and ran the Jet Sweep from the slot while logging playing time at Safety on the defensive side of the ball. If you really want to appreciate all the ways he impacted games this year, check out his highlights on Hudl as he was having a tremendous freshman season for an undefeated Freshman squad before being called up to the Varsity to finish the year. Once he got to the Varsity, like Eli Blakey, he made the most of his limited opportunities. We felt, looking at his overall body of play, that his biggest impact was as a kick/punt returner. If we were fielding a team, he would have been one of the first kids we would have selected from his class. That was the general consensus around the room.

Ben Schofield, 5’9” 145, McCracken County High School

The Schofield Leg Rocket

I nominated this player too, I am proud to say, and I call him the Schofield Leg Rocket. I also came up with that nickname myself. Now, there are some kickers around Kentucky doing some amazing things. Just this year, at the Middle School State Championship Game, for Boyle County’s runner-up, State Finalist, Middle School football team (who lost the Middle School Championship Game to Corbin 26-9), Boyle had an 8th grader, named Jackson Smith, convert all three of his field goal attempts. The field goals were made from 38, 27, and 51 yards (not a misprint). I wrote about it in an article on this site entitled, And the winners are…published October 31, 2017. I know Boyle is excited about getting a weapon like that on next year’s Varsity team. Good from 51? It’s like finding money in the pocket of your dry-cleaning. Let me paint the scene as to why I nicknamed Ben Schofield, the Schofield Leg Rocket. The nickname stemmed from last year’s Tennessee-Kentucky 8th grade Future Stars Classic. I featured this game in an article dated June 17, 2017 and entitled KPG, almost completely correct and totally wrong simultaneously. In that article, I detailed how Ben, with the game tied in the second half, out of a bad snap, but brilliant placement,…drilled a 32 yard field goal right through the uprights under a furious Tennessee rush for what proved to be the winning margin. In that same game, Ben converted both his PATs. Kentucky won the game, by three points, and The Schofield Leg Rocket accounted for 5 of the team’s 17 points. His field goal proved to be the winning margin and, it is worth a second mention, he nailed it, down the middle, in the face of a furious, and I mean furious, frenetic attempt by Tennessee to block the kick. Tennessee sent all eleven after him. In varsity action this year, as a freshman, Schofield converted 6 field goals in 7 attempts and converted on all 10 of his PATs. Make no mistake about it, Ben Schofield, just like Jaxon Smith who comes up next year at the same position, is very deserving of this recognition.

Class of 2020, The Specialist

JT Benson, 5’10” 175, South Oldham High School

We didn’t have a place kicker or punter in this year’s sophomore class we studied whom we believed were deserving of All-State selection. We well could have missed someone but we weren’t putting anyone on either All-State team because we needed someone for the position. You will notice we didn’t have a Class of 2021 TE. There just wasn’t anyone at that position in 2021 who had an All-State year on the Varsity team. Now there were several who are real threats to make next year’s Sophomore team and one which was close, as a freshman, to make it as a TE. Like Cannon in the freshman class, JT Benson, from South Oldham, is a kid who did make our All-State sophomore team easily, and could have made the team at multiple positions. When discussing Benson, a member of the selection committee, looking over South Oldham’s three super sophomores (Martin, Bednarczyk, and Benson) said [y]ou better beat South Oldham now, with what they have in the sophomore class, Good luck beating them the next two seasons. I told that committee member, yeah, you’re right, but at 11-2, coming off 12-2, not too many seem to be beating them now! Benson was the only player to start for South Oldham on both sides of the ball, corner and RB. He led his team in interceptions, housed two punts, housed two kicks, and is a highly recruited baseball player, on top of everything else, with his baseball talent drawing strong interest from National Powerhouse, University of Louisville. JT was a former Kentucky Future Star of whom I first heard when, as a freshman, he took his first kick he ever returned 95 yards for a score in his first High School football game. The return came against South’s most heated rival, Oldham County, at their place. JT made the All-District team in Class 5A, District 3, as both a corner and a returner. The District Coaches select that team so JT is very well respected by the coaches most familiar with his play. In talking with a former coach of his, I was told what makes JT’s defensive play even more impressive at corner is that he always draws the assignment of covering the opponent’s very best receiver. Benson is South Oldham’s lock-down corner. This is not a situation where his only asset was on the special teams. Even if he doesn’t play corner though, his housing two punts and two kicks this year is really extra-oridinary and worthy of All-State selection on its own. Benson’s play in the defensive backfield easily merited making this team as a corner too, in the committee’s opinion. We put him on the Special Teams for three reasons. First, the selection committee values special teams. Second, Benson was such a difference maker in the punt return and kick return game. Third, because it freed up some space to recognize other deserving sophomore DBs who should be recognized but may not have been as outstanding on special teams as was Benson. Like Cannon in the Class of 2021, If we were fielding a team, Benson would be one of our first kids we would have selected from his class.

Well, these are special team players who made the Classes of 2020 & 2021 All-State Football Teams and why they were selected. Next up, we will highlight some more of the selections to our All-State Football teams, so keep checking the site. Until then, this is Fletcher Long for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding all those playing football at Kroger Field this next week-end to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

About Fletcher Long 1511 Articles
Two-time winner of Kentucky Press Association awards for excellence in writing and reporting news stories while Managing Editor of the Jackson (KY) Times-Voice

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