While the three players from the Chattanooga area who have been named semifinalists in their respective classifications for the state's Mr. Football award are first-time honorees, their high school programs have become factories for producing such recognition.
McCallie quarterback William Riddle was joined by Meigs County athlete Cameron Huckabey and South Pittsburg's De'Andre Kelly as the area's only players to earn recognition as semifinalists for Tennessee's top individual prep football award when the TSSAA released the list Thursday.
It marks the fifth straight year that Meigs County has had a Mr. Football semifinalist, while South Pittsburg has one for the fifth time in a six-year stretch and McCallie has one for the fourth time in five seasons.
Each of those players is one of five semifinalists in his class - Riddle in Division II-AAA, Huckabey in Class 2A and Kelly in 1A - with the list getting cut down to three finalists on Nov. 23 and the winners announced at the annual Tennessee Titans Mr. Football banquet on Dec. 7 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
All three players are seniors, and each helped his team play for a state championship last year and earn a region title this season.
Riddle, a two-year starter who helped McCallie win its second straight state title in 2020, has completed 147 of 218 attempts for an area-best 2,489 passing yards and 34 touchdowns with just three interceptions this year to lead his team to its first unbeaten regular season since 2001. He did not throw an interception through the top-ranked Blue Tornado's first eight games.
"William has led us to a lot of wins, and that's the defining characteristic of a good quarterback," Blue Tornado coach Ralph Potter said. "He's a great leader. I've rarely coached someone who sees the things he does on the field and is able to put the ball where it needs to be with such consistency.
"He's a real student of the game, and the other kids all trust him to be the guy to do what it takes to get you in the end zone."
Riddle's older brother Robert - currently playing for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga - was a Mr. Football finalist for McCallie in 2016.
Meig County's Huckabey has done a little bit of everything to help the state-ranked No. 1 Tigers complete their second straight undefeated regular season and win the program's fifth region title in a row.
He leads the Tigers with 22 catches for 400 yards and five touchdowns this year, and Huckabey is among the area leaders with four interceptions on defense - including one returned for a touchdown - has broken up five passes and has made 17 solo tackles. On special teams, he has averaged 37 yards on kickoff returns and 21 on punt returns - he has returned one of each type of return for a score - and leads the area in punting with an average of 44.3 yards. He has also completed two passes, with one going for a touchdown.
South Pittsburg has played just eight games so far this season, but Kelly has totaled 1,066 yards, with 906 of that coming on the ground, where he has averaged 9.5 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 195-pounder has also returned a kickoff 80 yards for a score and intercepted a pass against Class 6A's top-ranked Oakland.
"DeDe has a great work ethic and is always putting in extra time during the offseason," Pirates co-head coach Wes Stone said of Kelly, who has 41 touchdowns and more than 2,300 rushing yards in his prep career. "He is a joy to coach and comes to work every day.
"I'm really excited for him to have this opportunity. No one deserves it more."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.
2021 Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Semifinalists
DIVISION I, CLASS 1A Seth Birchfield, Cloudland Khalik Ganaway, Peabody De'Andre Kelly, South Pittsburg Marquez Taylor, McKenzie Thomas Wills, McEwen DIVISION I, CLASS 2A Cameron Huckabey, Meigs County Aden Hutcherson, Huntingdon Cameron Miller, MAHS Luke Myers, South Greene Ty Simpson, Westview DIVISION I, CLASS 3A Ranen Blackburn, White House Caden Buckles, Alcoa Jacob Dooley, Waverly Jamarion Dowell, Covington Keaton Harig, Loudon DIVISION I, CLASS 4A Bari'On Brown, Pearl Cohn Shawn Gary, South-Doyle Mason Gudger, Greeneville Jaylen Lewis, Haywood Kaydin Pope, Hardin County DIVISION I, CLASS 5A De'Sean Bishop, Karns Jamarious Brooks, Memphis Central Malaki Dowell, White County Walter Nolen III, Powell Jake McNamara, Page DIVISION I, CLASS 6A Jordan James, Oakland Carson Jones, Maryville Alex Mitchell, Riverdale Destin Wade, Summit Keaten Wade, Summit DIVISION II, CLASS A Kameron Boyd, Jackson Christian Bradford Gaines, DCA Steele Haynes, USJ Na'Kelin McAfee, King's Academy Joshua Strickland, Jr., Nashville Christian DIVISION II, CLASS AA Alexander Broome, Lipscomb Academy Craig Cunningham, Lausanne Langston Patterson, CPA Luther Richesson, Lipscomb Academy Sean Williams, BGA DIVISION II, CLASS AAA Dallan Hayden, Christian Brothers Kenny Minchey, Pope John Paul II Levi Moore, Ensworth Marcel Reed, MBA William Riddle, McCallie KICKER OF THE YEAR Upton Bellenfant, Stewarts Creek Justus Chadwick, Tullahoma George Laster, Brentwood Academy Andrew Southard, Pope John Paul II Josh Turbyville, Knoxville Catholic