December 24, 2012 10:24:47 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
REFORM, Ala. -- Pickens County High School junior running back Jermarcus Brown calls his team "one big family."
Senior lineman Terrien Steele claims the squad has success because it stays together through the good and the bad times.
Fortunately for the Tornadoes, the good times way outnumbered the bad ones this season.
Brown had 2,570 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns, while Steele had 115 tackles and eight sacks. Their play helped Pickens County (11-3) fall two points shy of reaching the Alabama High School Activities Association's Class 1A state championship game this season.
For their success, Brown is The Dispatch's West Alabama Offensive Player of the Year, while Steele is the West Alabama Defensive Player of the Year.
"We had a great season, even better than I thought we would," Brown said. "We learned if you believe in one another and really respect one another you can go a long way. Losing in the semifinals still hurts. If we keep working as hard as we did this year, we can get next year's championship."
Pickens County lost a 42-41 heartbreaker to Marion County in the semifinals. The Tornadoes advanced one round deeper in the playoffs this season after falling in the third round last season.
"It all started in the summer," Brown said. "When we worked out during the summer, everybody was here. You could tell we were a family. You could tell everyone wanted this badly. This was the best team I have ever played on. It was that type of team because we were a family."
Steele played tackle and anchored the offensive and defensive lines. He credits how his squad handled adversity as being the main reason for a late-season push.
"We worked hard and we listed to our coaches every day," Steele said. "These guys were fun to be around. Through the good times and bad times, we were there for one another. Sports are not always about winning. It can be about what you learn. We really leaned on one another and learned a lot from one another."
For Steele, the learning process began early.
"I think we have one of the best O line and D line coaches in coach (Jermel) Bell," Steele said. "He made us work hard every day. He taught us to go hard all the way to the whistle on every play. He demanded the best for us because we knew we had the potential. I really credit him with learning so much about the position I played."
Brown also is a big fan of the coaching staff and the unique way it helps the squad succeed.
"(The coaches) know the skills of every player," Brown said. "They know what we can do and then they do a great job of putting us in a position to succeed. Sometimes, we will talk about certain plays and coach (Patrick) Plott will let me make some suggestions on what we need to run.
"As a player, that means a lot to you when there is respect like that. I really owe my season to my coaches and to my linemen. They did a great job of blocking every game. After the first couple of plays, I knew what type of game we were going to have."
Pickens County averaged 41.5 points per game this season. Brown had six touchdowns against Brilliant and five touchdowns in two victories against Berry. His production, which included kick return scores and defensive scores, was a welcome sight for Plott and his staff, as Brown was asked to fill the void left by the graduation of De'Marko Hall.
"We asked a lot of Jermarcus," Plott said. "I felt like he was really ready to step up and become a leader. He did that and even more. Despite the success, he came to practice and worked hard every day. That desire and drive is why he is going to be a special player."
Hall, who was a freshman on the Faulkner University football team this past season, had 1,400 yards rushing, 1,200 yards receiving, and 43 all-purpose yards as a high school senior in 2011. His influence on Brown went past numbers.
"(Hall) worked with me every day in practice," Brown said. "Last season, he told me the next year this was going to be my team and he expected me to do the same things he had done. That meant a lot to me. When the season was over, I watched a lot of film of De'Marko. I tried to model my running style after his in a lot of ways."
The research worked. While Hall consistently reminded Brown of the opportunities ahead of him, Brown's mother, Shonda, and grandmother, Della Mae, have filled that void this year.
"When I go and talk to them before a game, they both tell me to put the team first and to be a leader," Brown said. "That is really good advice. It means a lot to me to have their support. I know they are telling me the things that I need to know to help lead this team."
Now Brown has emerged as the go-to man in the backfield. After playing quarterback and receiver on youth league teams, Brown feels like he has found his home.
"I love the running back position because the spotlight is on me when I have the ball," Brown said. "I have great trust in my linemen and they have the same trust in me. When we are all working together, this offense can be special."
For Steele, the influences have been great as well. In addition to Plott, Bell and his teammates, Steele credits his mother, Nekesha, with being the driving influence in his life.
"She has done everything possible for me," Steele said. "I will take so many memories from my time out here. When we play a home game out here, the whole community is involved. I will take so many special memories from playing out here with these guys."
While Steele (along with Brown) is posting big numbers for the Pickens County basketball team, he is focused on finding the right fit to continue his football career.
"Terrien will be a great pickup for somebody next year," said Plott, who also is the school's basketball coach. "He is a complete player. He is also a hard worker and a leader. He sets a standard. Other guys look up to him and really respond to his leadership. He gave us his all and I am proud of him. I am looking forward to seeing what is next."
Steele is in the process of putting together visits. Alabama State University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Western Kentucky University have shown the most interest.
"I have always wanted to play college football," Steele said. "It is exciting to know I am close to realizing this dream. I am thankful for all of the people who have helped me get to this point."
Brown also likes where he is, for now. Next year, at this time, when he is involved in recruiting, he hopes his résumé will includes a state championship.
"We were so close," Brown said. "When you are this close, the hard work becomes that much easier. Next year, I think we will be able to look back and like what we see."
The Dispatch's 2012 All-Area football team for schools in the West Alabama coverage area.
Offensive Player of the Year -- Jermarcus Brown (Jr., RB, Pickens County)
Defensive Player of the Year -- Terrien Steele (Sr., DT, Pickens County)
Coach of the Year -- John Gartman (19--15 in third season at Pickens Academy)
QB -- Josh Lewis (Jr., Pickens Academy)
RB -- Jermarcus Brown (Jr., Pickens County); Jeremy McMullen (So., Aliceville)
WR -- Christopher Crowell (Jr., Aliceville); Joel Robinson (Jr., Aliceville); Rocky Sides (Jr., Sulligent)
OL -- Chase Britt (Sr., Pickens Academy); Hunter Booth (Sr., Pickens Academy); Dennis Finch (Jr., Pickens County); Garrett Guyton (Jr., Sulligent); Taylor McDaniel (Sr., Pickens County)
TE -- Jeremy Denton (So., Lamar County)
Utility -- Dallas Cockerham (Jr., Lamar County)
First Team Defense
DL --Brady Merchant (So., Lamar County); Anfernee Mullins (So., Aliceville); Gerald Sterling (Sr., Aliceville); Terrien Steele (Sr., Pickens County); William Stewart (Sr., Pickens County)
CB -- Devonte Simon (Jr., Pickens County); Landon Williams (Sr., Lamar County)
LB --Raheem Curry (Sr., Pickens County); Jesse Keller (So., Sulligent); Marqueze Marshall (Jr., Aliceville); Tyler Sprouse (Sr., Lamar County); Alex Wheeler (So., Lamar County)
Utility -- Joel Pratt (Sr., Pickens Academy)
Aliceville -- Jakari Garner (So., MLB); S.J. Washington (Jr., FS)
Lamar County -- Tim Harton (Fr., WB); Jordan Ives (So., OL)
Pickens Academy -- Garrett Estes (Sr., FB/CB)
Pickens County -- Justin Barton (So., MLB); Chris Hill (Jr., MLB)
South Lamar -- Holden Fields (Sr., RB/LB); Canaan Fleming (Jr., QB); Marquis Mitchell (Sr., CB)
Sulligent -- Ladaberick Coleman (Sr., QB); Deion Jenkins (Sr., WR); Juwan Metcalf (Sr., RB)
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter