Finalists for Best of Preps male athlete award dominated their sports

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Dalton wrestler Cole Hunt

The list of accomplishments by the finalists for this year's Best of Preps Male Athlete of the Year range from statewide dominance of their sports to national recognition.

The six finalists are Dalton's Jahmyr Gibbs and Cole Hunt, North Murray's Ladd McConkey, McCallie's Eric Rivers, Meigs County's Aaron Swafford and Cleveland's JaCobi Wood.

Because of coronavirus concerns, this year's banquet will be held online rather than in a banquet setting. The virtual Best of Preps banquet will be shown on both the Times Free Press Facebook page as well as at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Gibbs, a senior running back and Georgia Tech signee, earned national accolades in addition to the GHSA Class AAAAAA football player of the year honor after rushing for a state-best 2,544 yards and scoring 40 touchdowns. Those totals include a 420-yard, eight-touchdown performance in the Catamounts' season opener against Ringgold. He was named to Sports Illustrated's All-America team and played in the prestigious All-American Bowl in San Antonio. ranked him the nation's No. 2 all-purpose running back and a top-10 recruit in Georgia.

Only a sophomore, Hunt put up one of the most dominating wrestling seasons in Chattanooga-area history. The 106-pounder went 45-0 in capturing a GHSA individual title, pinning each of his opponents along the way, including the championship match that took less than a minute. The nationally ranked wrestler was scored on only once all season.

McConkey, a University of Georgia football signee, played quarterback, receiver, defensive back and return specialist during his time at North Murray. As a senior he accounted for 3,051 all-purpose yards, passing for 1,771 yards and 20 touchdowns, rushing for 924 yards and 10 scores and also returned three of his four interceptions for defensive scores. He also led the Mountaineers basketball team to a 21-win season by averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Rivers helped lead McCallie's football team to the TSSAA Division II-AAA state title. He finished with more than 800 receiving yards during the season, and he compiled 129 yards of total offense and ran for a touchdown in the title game. As the Blue Tornado basketball team's point guard, he averaged 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals.

Swafford, a Naval Academy signee, ran for more than 2,000 yards and threw for another 1,100 to help the Tigers to a 12-win season and TSSAA Class 2A state runner-up finish. He was a three-time state Mr. Football award finalist and three time all-state selection.

Wood, a Belmont University signee and the Class AAA Mr. Basketball award winner, averaged 26 points, 5.5 rebounds, five assists and three steals per game. The versatile point guard scored 50-plus points twice in the first eight games of the season, including 53 points with 11 3-pointers in a win at Cookeville. The top-ranked Blue Raiders did not lose a game with their star in the lineup, but they were not allowed the opportunity to play for a state championship due to the COVID-19 outbreak ending the season just before the state tournament began.

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.