Pine Belt Sports has put together a preseason list of the best area football players for the past two seasons.
The rich talent that the area offers leaves no shortage of great players.
So with the high school football season set to begin in less than a month, here are, in no particular order, some of the best players in the area.
PJ Woodland – DB
Woodland is one of four Oak Grove athletes on this year’s list. Woodland literally burst onto the scene after returning a kickoff for a touchdown and coming up with a pick-six in Oak Grove’s game against Greenville Christian last season. As a sophomore last year, Woodland’s number speaks for him as he posted 73 tackles, 13 pass deflections, five interceptions and forced four fumbles.
Tabias Hinton – LB/DE
Hattiesburg’s Tabias Hinton is considered to be one of the top players in Mississippi for the Class of 2023. Hinton is rated the No. 6 overall prospect by 247Sports.com and is rated a three-star athlete, while on3.com rates him as a four-star. Currently, he holds offers from Mississippi State, Michigan, Colorado, West Virginia, Southern Miss, Memphis, Louisiana and Jackson State. Hinton has a high football I.Q., which is complemented by his exceptional speed. Those two qualities helped Hinton rack up 88 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and scored two defensive touchdowns last season. Not to mention, Hinton has also lined up at wide receiver for the Tigers as he stands at 6-foot-3 and stands at 217 pounds.
Drew Maddox – DL
A slew of names from Oak Grove’s roster could land on this list, especially on defense, but Drew Maddox is proving to be a name teams will painfully know. He’s just a sophomore, but with a 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame, the Oak Grove lineman will be wreaking havoc on quarterbacks for the next few years. Last season, Maddox recorded 60 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, along with a fumble recovery. Maddox has already received offers from Texas, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Florida State, Arkansas as well as Akron and Southern Miss.
Tavares Wade – QB/RB
Hattiesburg’s Tavares Wade became the backbone of the Tiger’s offense last season. Wade typically switches between quarterback and running back but took over full-time quarterback duties after Deuce Vance went down to a season-ending injury. Wade is hard to bring back down and a bruiser of a runner. Wade rushed for 914 yards and 15 touchdowns while throwing for 927 yards and five touchdowns.
Noah Classen - LB
Classen is a wizard at shedding blocks as he recorded 118 tackles, 80 of which were solo, along with 12 TFLs and two sacks last year.
Deljay Baily – QB
Deljay Bailey is a new name for the Pine Belt area. Bailey is a transfer from Biloxi and a big get for the Panthers as he is rated a three-star athlete by 247Sports.com. Baily is a mobile quarterback and features a hard-throwing arm. At Biloxi last year, Bailey threw for 1,721 yards and 11 touchdowns and recorded a 64% completion rate while rushing for three touchdowns and 136 yards. Bailey holds offers from Southern Miss, South Alabama and Akron.
JQ Gray – RB
The Oak Grove speedster was electric for the Warriors last year as he put up over 1,300 all-purpose yards. Gray, who is rated a three-star athlete and No. 18 prospect by 247Sports, averaged 7.4 yards per carry and ran 848 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gray also hauled in 40 catches for 548 yards and four touchdowns, which culminated in him being named Pine Belt Sports’ offensive MVP last year. Gray recently committed to Southern Miss but received offers from Arkansas State, Memphis, Tulane and South Alabama.
Damien McNair – RB
Damien McNair was a part of a 1-2 punch running back duo for PCS last year. It’s safe to say McNair will be the backbone of the Bobcats’ run game this season. McNair is a hard runner that can hit the holes and is complimented with sneaky speed. Last season he ran for 864 yards and six touchdowns.
Da’Byron Conerly – ATH
Conerly is the epitome of a multi-tool football player. Last year, Conerly played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and linebacker for the Panthers and he executed at a high level in each position. At quarterback, Conerly was 17-for-26 and threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, he ran for 626 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Defensively he put up 90 tackles and came down with three interceptions.
Jaylen Aborom – WR/DB
For the third straight year, Aborom again lands on the list. Aborom already had a reputation as a ball hawk on defense, but last season he proved he was an equally dangerous wide receiver for Oak Grove. The two-way player has great hands, an impressive vertical jump and explosive speed. Aborom picked up much attention as he is rated a three-star recruit and recently committed to Mississippi State. The senior also picked up offers from Indiana, Colorado State, Southern Miss, Tulane, Memphis, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State and South Alabama. On defense, he recorded 72 tackles, seven pass deflections, four interceptions and scored three touchdowns, while on offense, he hauled in 45 catches for 583 yards and eight touchdowns.