April 7, 2014 11:12:10 PM
REFORM, Ala. -- For Pickens County High School football players, this night was a long time in the making.
The heartache of a loss in the Alabama High School Activities Association Class 1A North State championship game 17 months ago was replaced with the thrill of winning a state championship 12 months later.
The Tornadoes gathered with friends and family members to celebrate their state championship season at Reform Elementary School at the football program's annual awards banquet Monday night.
Needless to say, the loudest applause of the night took place when each Pickens County football player was presented his championship ring.
"It has all been worth it," Pickens County senior lineman Zev Finch said. "We have waited for this for quite some time. In the end, it was worth the wait."
Former Sulligent High School and University of Alabama walk-on Rashad Johnson was the guest speaker. Johnson followed a similar path of being a lightly-regarded senior college prospect from a rural Alabama high school and turned that into a professional career, as he is now in his sixth season with the Arizona Cardinals.
"I think it is important to be selfish," Anderson told the 42-member state championship squad, as well as the overflow audience. "You can be selfish without hurting others. I mean selfish in making what is the best decision for yourself. As you go through life, you will have to make several choices. Do not let your friends pressure into these decisions. Make your own decisions. Make decisions that will be benefit where you are trying to go in life. Do not make decisions to please others."
Pickens County do-it-all performer Jemarcus Brown dedicated himself to doing even more after the final seconds of that heart-breaking 42-41 loss to Marion County in the 2012 North State title game. Brown followed his stellar junior campaign up by scoring a state-record 51 touchdowns as a senior. In this season's state championship win over Maplesville, Brown set a Super Six record by rushing for 329 yards.
"We were right there my junior year," Brown said. "That was all of the motivation we needed to get back. Everybody lifted that extra weight and stayed after for more film. It was that team attitude we had the entire season that pushed us over the top. It was like going to battle with my brothers each and every Friday night. The ring will be something to help me always remember the good times we had here."
Senior quarterback Devonte Simon and twin brother senior wide receiver Deonte' Simon were also all smiles Monday night. The Simon brothers and Brown teamed up to lead an offensive unit, which averaged just under 45 points per game during a 15-0 campaign.
"We came a long way," Devonte Simon said. "It's great to know we will always be able to come back here and be a part of history."
Brown was named Most Valuable Offensive player as well as Most Valuable Special Teams player. Junior lineman Justin Barton was named Most Valuable Defensive player. The prestigious Captains awards went to lineman Chris Hill, Brown, Devonte Simon and Finch.
In his second stint as head coach at Pickens County, Patrick Plott gave out a lot of hardware as more than a dozen players were recognized for a multitude of awards.
"I could really get used to this," Plott said. "What a special team. What a special group of young men. They deserve everything that has happened along the way. They will now be a part of history and rightfully so."
As the proceedings began to wind down and the trophies on the table had disappeared one by one, the crowd stood as one as three boxes of rings were unveiled from underneath the table. Smiles broke out all across the room.
"Now this is what we came here for," Brown said. "We finally did it."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
1. Freeze may face NCAA penalty COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Southern Miss' Bradley one of six on C-USA team COLLEGE SPORTS