TSSAA Mr. Football Award finalists (winners listed first):
• Jajuan Lankford (South Pittsburg)
• Kyle Akin (Trinity Christian)
• Chris Hale (Eagleville)
• Daryl Rollins-Davis (Fulton)
• Xavier Hawkins (Fulton)
• Ke'Shawn Vaughn (Pearl-Cohn)
• Josh Malone (Station Camp)
• Denzel Hardin (Siegel)
• Shawn Prevo (Maryville)
• Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville Webb)
• Cole Heotis (ECS)
• A.J. Long (Friendship Christian)
• D'Andre Ferby (Ensworth)
• Devin Perry (MUS)
• C.J. Sanders (Brentwood Academy)
• Zach Stewart (Coalfield)
• Tyler Bush (Huntingdon)
• Blake Zeman (Marion County)
• Paul Adams (CPA)
• Akeem Cooperwood (Fulton)
• Braylon Young (Alcoa)
• Jack Jones (Oakland)
• Dylan Jackson (Maryville)
• Charles Mosley (Brighton)
• Brant Mitchell (Knoxville Webb)
• Joe Irby (FRA)
• Carter Parkey (BGA)
• Derek Barnett (Brentwood Academy)
• Alex Bars (MBA)
• Michael Sawyers (Ensworth)
• Rafael Gaglianone (Baylor)
• Aaron Medley (Marshall County)
• Gary Wunderlich (MUS)
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The handshake was one of mutual respect. Marion County's Blake Zeman congratulated cross-county rival Jajuan Lankford after the South Pittsburg senior was named the TSSAA Class A Mr. Football back of the year, and in turn Lankford reminded Zeman he also had come up short the first time he was a finalist for the award.
Lankford then wished Zeman luck next season before reaching down to pick up his trophy from a nearby table.
"Blake's a real good player and he'll have a chance to be back up here next year," Lankford said as he clutched the hardware recognizing him as his classification's top runner. "I remember how disappointing it was not to win, and it just made me want to do more to get back here.
"That really drove me, and thanks to my teammates I was able to come back and win it this time."
More than 500 people attended Monday's awards banquet at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, where the TSSAA recognized 33 finalists for their respective classifications' awards.
Lankford is the first South Pittsburg player to be a finalist twice, and he is the program's fifth winner of the state award.
Lankford has rushed for 1,548 yards and 23 touchdowns this year, averaging more than 12 yards per carry against a regular-season schedule that included seven playoff opponents and five teams that were either district champions or state-ranked. He also is the Pirates' career rushing leader with more than 5,200 yards.
He has helped the top-ranked Pirates reach the Class 1A state final for the fifth time in seven years. They will face second-ranked Union City at noon Friday at Tennessee Tech.
Zeman was a finalist for Class A lineman of the year for his play at linebacker. He led the Chattanooga area with 30 tackles for loss and six fumble recoveries to go with 130 total tackles. He ran for 26 TDs and more than 1,600 yards this season.
Coalfield's Zach Stewart, a University of Tennessee commitment, won the Class A Lineman award.
Baylor's Rafael Gaglianone, who was a finalist for kicker of the year last season, won the award Monday.
"It's a great honor just to be here with so many great athletes," Zeman said. "Being here just inspires me to work harder, get back here next year and hopefully win it."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.