The state's leading rusher and four other Chattanooga-area players who have helped their teams remain alive in the postseason were selected among the finalists for the Tennessee Titans Mr. Football award in their respective classification Tuesday.
All five area finalists are seniors and all but one caught the eye of voters around the state by putting up impressive numbers as running backs.
McMinn County running back Jalen Hunt, a Western Carolina commitment who led the state's rushers with 2,161 yards in the regular season and 24 touchdowns, became the first finalist in program history.
He was joined by McCallie running back B.J. Harris in Division II-AAA, Meigs County running back Will Meadows in 2A and the South Pittsburg 1A duo of running back Hunter Frame and offensive lineman/linebacker Jared Stone.
The winners will be announced Dec. 8 at the Mr. Football banquet at the Titans' Nissan Stadium in Nashville and only regular-season stats were factored in for the voting.
"We were never afraid to give him the ball in any situation," said Cherokees coach Bo Cagle of Hunt. "He rarely ever came off the field. He plays special teams as well as safety and linebacker and that gets forgotten because of what he does on offense. But we knew what he could do anytime he's on the field."
Harris, who has committed to Missouri, rushed for 1,118 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, including at least 100 yards in seven of the Blue Tornado's eight regular-season games. McCallie travels to face top-ranked Brentwood Academy in Friday's D-II AAA semifinal round.
Meadows gives Meigs County a finalist for the award for the fourth consecutive year, joining former quarterback Aaron Swafford who was a three-time finalist. Meadows has flourished after stepping into a leadership role, rushing for 1,235 yards and 20 TDs in eight games to help the Tigers to an undefeated regular season. Second-ranked Meigs County will host unbeaten South Greene in Friday's 2A quarterfinals.
"It says a lot about our program and what we've been able to do lately to have that kind of run," Tigers coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "These guys who've been around have put in a lot of hard work to get us where we are.
"This is a credit to Will because he had a knee injury his sophomore year that slowed him down but he didn't let it stop him. He worked to recover from it and has been a big-time contributor for us these last two seasons. I'm proud of him and for our program."
For the first time since 2011, Class 1A's top-ranked South Pittsburg has two finalists in the same season.
In seven regular-season games, Frame rushed for 1,204 yards — averaging a whopping 15.6 yards per carry — with 23 TDs. Despite never carrying the ball more than 15 times in any regular-season game, he ran for more than 100 yards in all but one game and has had three games with 200-plus yards, including a career-high 295 in the final game of the regular season.
Fellow senior Stone was an all-state offensive lineman last season, and he is grading out at 93% as a blocker with 16 pancakes this year. From his linebacker spot, he is the Pirates' second-leading tackler with 53 solo stops and four for loss.
"Both have worked their way up to be where they are in our lineup and have played a lot of quality snaps, and now they're reaping the benefits of their work," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "Jared is the guy who sets the tone for us up front. He's added some good weight and gotten significantly stronger and is just a hard-nosed, tough and coachable guy who brings it every play.
"We always knew that Hunter could be an exceptional player, but he had some nagging injuries that held him back. What he's averaging every carry is just unheard of. He's got a lot of God-given ability to do things with his feet and speed that most can't, but Hunter also takes a lot of pride in being a complete player. It's easy to see what he does with the ball in his hands, but he's also a really good blocker and is a guy who can play at a high level for a lot of schools."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @Stephen Hargis.