If Calhoun coach Hal Lamb is going to rank his middle linebacker alongside all-time Yellow Jackets great Curt Welch, aka "Captain Crunch," he should at least find the hard-hitting junior a nickname. Welch, the North Georgia defensive player of the Year in 2004 and '05, was known for his knee-jarring tackles, a reputation Kirby also has earned after amassing 125 tackles, including 22 for loss, and four caused fumbles this season. After watching the 6-foot, 200-pounder light up running back after running back in the postseason, Lamb knew he was seeing something special. "He has worked extremely hard," Lamb said. "He's a hard-nosed kid who has a nose for the ball. We've had some great linebackers, and he ranks right up there. Curt Welch was probably the best linebacker we coached, and he's probably right up there with him. We expect big things from him next year. He's your perfect Mike linebacker. He reads well and he loves to hit. He's starting to get some [college] looks, and somebody is going to get a great player."
COACH OF THE YEAR
After several star players graduated from Calhoun's 2009 Class AA state-runner-up team, not much was expected of Lamb's 2010 Yellow Jackets. However, after finishing the regular season undefeated and rolling through four playoff games, including a shocking upset of top-ranked Carver, Calhoun again reached the championship game. Though the Jackets fell short of the title for a third consecutive season, the memories of how they came together will stick with the 14-year coach forever. "I thought it was a very special team because not a lot of people expected us to end up where we did," Lamb said. "It was the most enjoyable group we've had in a long time, because they did what we asked them to do and they got along very well. Our team chemistry took us a long way. It was a great senior group. The younger players learned how to practice, how to behave, how to play the game. ... They learned a lot from them." With a strong group of juniors returning, could next year find the Jackets back at the Georgia Dome? "I think we'll be just as good if not better on defense if we can find a couple of linemen," Lamb said. "Offensively, we have some work to do, but having [kicker] Adam Griffith back is a big plus. We always have kids step up, and I'm sure next year will be no different."
The tackling machine led the Tigers with 138 stops, including 13 for loss and two sacks.
The Georgia-bound super athlete was a shutdown cornerback and scored five offensive touchdowns.
He backed up a breakthrough junior season with 77 tackles, 15 sacks and two fumbles caused.
In nine games, the two-time all-star had 109 tackles, including 21 for loss, and caused four fumbles.
He had 100 solo tackles, including 12 for loss, and ran for 1,100 yards and 22 touchdowns on offense.
He's headed to South Carolina after recording 119 tackles, including 28 for loss and 15 sacks.
The strong safety made four interceptions and added 75 solo tackles, including seven for loss.
Also a state wrestling champion, he totaled 103 tackles, including 13 for loss and four sacks.
The tackle made 100 stops, 18 behind the line of scrimmage, caused three fumbles and recovered three.
Among his 91 tackles, he had 74 solo stops, 10 for loss and seven sacks, and he recovered two fumbles.
The converted running back led the area with six interceptions and added 85 tackles for the Catamounts.
He led the area with an average of 40 yards per punt and kicked seven field goals, one a 48-yarder.
REED ALLEN Calhoun Junior Lineman
WILL BERRY Gordon Lee Senior Lineman
STEFAN BONAPARTE Dalton Senior Lineman
DANIEL COOPER Ringgold Senior Punter
WILL CRANE Heritage Junior Linebacker
GABE FREEMAN Calhoun Junior Linebacker
DEZMOND HARRIS Ringgold Junior Back
CADEN PARKER Calhoun Senior Lineman
JOSH ROBERTSON Ridgeland Senior Linebacker
TREYVON TUCKER NW Whitfield Junior Linebacker
LUKE WOODASON NW Whitfield Senior Back
JACOB YOUNG Calhoun Senior Back
TEAMS OF THE YEAR
1 CALHOUN (14-1)
The Yellow Jackets earned their third consecutive Class AA runnerup trophy after taking mighty Buford to overtime and beating top-ranked Carver in the semis.
2 DADE COUNTY (10-2)
The upstart Wolverines used a deadly ground game to earn a playoff berth and win their first postseason game in 11 years.
3 RIDGELAND (9-2)
The Panthers won their third successive region championship, including the program's first win over Dalton, before falling to Woodward Academy in the playoffs.
Photos by Tim Barber, Allison Carter and Dan Henry. Text by Lindsey Young. Layout by Stacey Wysong.