It was a football season to remember in the Ohio Valley.
Five teams from The Times Leader's coverage area qualified for the playoffs and all had impressive defenses, which is the key.
The All Times Leader defensive unit is being announced today, both in print and on The Times Leader's website timesleaderonline.com, while the offensive players will be featured in Sunday's edition.
PICTURED ARE the 2012 All Times Leader linebackers. From left are Michael Ferns (St. Clairsville), Luke Smith (St. Clairsville), D.J. Shoemaker (St. John), Nick Maffe (Bellaire)?and Nick Pelegreen (Harrison Central).
The team is chosen by the Times Leader Sports Staff with the help of area football coaches.
The captains for the defensive unit are Harrison Central's Nick Pelegreen, Martins Ferry's Cody Schau and Shadyside's Chase Kinemond.
Here's a capsule look at the honorees:
NICK PELEGREEN, Harrison Central - This senior was a mainstay on both sides of the ball for the Huskies, but it was his work as a linebacker that caught everyone's eye.
A first-team all-Ohio selection, Pelegreen recorded 121 tackles and became Harrison's all-time leading tackler for a single season as well as his career.
The 6-4 rangy tight end also made his presence felt on offense both as a blocker and pass catcher.
"What can you say that's not already been said?," Huskies' coach Justin Kropka asked. "He's the kind of kid you want to represent your football program. He's the only four-year starter we've ever had. His defensive play really stood out, but he does a lot of things people don't see."
CODY SCHAU, Martins Ferry - The Purple Riders' two-way talent was a consistent 'make things happen' player for Dave Bruney's ball club.
"Cody just had a knack for making big plays on both sides of the ball," Bruney observed. "In the secondary, Cody was very effective. After we lost (injured) Sean McGee, Cody ended up leading us in tackles."
Schau recorded eight pass thefts his senior campaign after making seven INT's as a junior. He possessed great instincts for getting to the ball. "Cody was just as effective on the offensive side," Bruney stressed.
Among the valley's most productive ends, Schau landed 55 receptions, good for 875 yards and nine touchdowns. "Cody was excellent at getting open and was difficult to cover on a regular basis," Bruney added.
CHASE KINEMOND, Shadyside - This unquestioned leader of the Tigers was a standout on both sides of the ball for Mark Holenka's squad.
As a defensive back, Kinemond earned Division VI Eastern District Player of the Year and eventually first-team all-Ohio. He recorded 41 tackles, four interceptions and four pass defenses.
He was also a standout on offense at quarterback. He threw for better than 1,000 yards and was also a talented runner.
"Chase is a solid hitter and packs a lot punch for his size," Holenka said. "He's a talented player on both sides of the ball. His hardwork and dedication have improved to the point where he could have the ability to play either offense or defense at the next level."
MICHAEL FERNS, St. Clairsville - This junior is one of the most ballyhooed players in the area after committing to the University of Michigan during the summer.
The 6-3, 220 pounder didn't disappoint during his junior campaign, logging well over 100 tackles as a linebacker. Offensively, he was one of the Red Devils' most versatile players and could lineup at tight end or fullback. He scored eight touchdowns.
Ferns was a first-team all-Ohio selection and all-Eastern District pick. He was all-OVAC and all-Valley.
"Michael was the heart-and-soul player of our team," said St. C. head coach Brett McLean. "He was the most critiqued player we had. He lost a finger nail, played through a knee injury and still was a mainstay at every position we put him. He's a utility guy who never came off the field."
LUKE SMITH, St. Clairsville - This senior linebacker left all he had and then some on the field each week for the Red Devils.
Playing through a myriad of injuries, bumps and bruises, Smith was the Red Devils' leading tackler with better than 160 tackles. He turned in a brilliant state title game with 11 solo tackles and 13 total stops against Clinton-Massie.
Smith was an all-Eastern District first team selection as well as all-OVAC.
"Luke has a tremendous amount of heart, drive and determination," McLean said. "He was pieced together with tape and braces to make sure he played every game. He made a lot of plays for us. We'll miss him."
ROBERT VARGO, Martins Ferry - At 6-6, 240, opposing teams couldn't miss the Purple's ever-improving junior who starred defensively at end and was a reliable offensive threat at tight end.
"Robert is a two-year starter with another full varsity reason remaining," Bruney indicated. "For his size, he moves very well. Robert's another of our young men who was a consistent contributor on both sides of the ball."
As a defensive presence, Vargo's best football is likely ahead of him. Offensively, he excelled at tight end where he made 22 catches for 334 yards and a TD.
"Many of Robert's catches resulted in first downs and kept drives alive," Bruney added. "He's also an excellent blocker and possesses great leverage. Robert's an excellent student and has a high academic and athletic IQ."
TYLER ROSE, Harrison Central - This Huskies' senior defensive end caused all sorts of problems for opposing offenses despite being a bit undersized.
Rose - an all-district performer - is 6-3, 205 pounds and recorded 65 tackles and three sacks despite missing two games due to injury.
"Tyler was a two-way starter for three years," Kropka said. "He's a taller, lanky kid that's actually more like a rush end than a 4-4 system defensive end. He's tough enough to take on the tight end and did a nice job of pass rushing for us. He's a tough kid, who played well on both sides of the ball."
KOREY LAFFERRE, Monroe Central - This Seminoles' two-way ace starred in the secondary at cornerback for Jay Circosta's Monroe Countians. "Korey was definitely one of our key defenders in the secondary," Circosta confirmed. "He came through with some big interceptions and tackles. Certainly one of our most valuable players."
Lafferre short-circuited five enemy aerials and also recorded a pair of opposition fumbles.
Offensively, Lafferre made a seamless transition from wideout to quarterback, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards.
"We made the (offensive) switch so Korey could have the ball in his hands and it paid off," Circosta explained.
Lafferre gained 965 yards on ground, good for 17 touchdowns and completed 50-of-126 throws for 817 yards and four additional six-pointers. The 5-10, 165-pound four-year letterman is also playing hoops this winter at the Woodsfield-based school.
IAN BAKER, Shadyside - This Tigers' defensive back was the quarterback of the defense for Holenka's stoptroops this past season.
The diminutive defensive back had 48 tackles, three for loss, three pass breakups, a pick and a fumble recovery. He was also a talented kick and punt returner for the Tigers, who finished the season with a 10-1 record.
"Ian really understands reading schemes and offensive sets," Holenka said. "He's a tough hitter, too, who packs a lot of punch for his size. That goes hand-in-hand when you're an all-Ohio wrestler."
NICK MAFFE, Bellaire - This senior linebacker was the Big Reds' leading tackler with 101 stops, which included 74 solos. He also had eight tackles for lost yardage, broke up three passes, forced two fumbles and recovered a trio of bobbles.
Offensively, he doubled as Bellaire's leading rusher with 527 yards and 10 touchdowns on 94 carries. He scored both touchdowns in the playoff loss.
"It's kind of funny because Nick wasn't even in our plans offensively in the preseason," said Bellaire head coach Jose Davis. "He had a great season for us on both sides of the ball."
DALTON CONROY, Bellaire - He was the Big Reds' secret weapon on special teams as he set a school record with nine field goals in a season. One was a walk-off winner against Harrison Central. All of that eventually earned him first-team all-Ohio.
The 6-0, 240-pound senior also booted 34 of 39 extra-points to finish with 61 points, which was second on the team behind Maffe's 72.
"He was a big weapon for us on special teams," Davis said. "He started as an offensive lineman as a junior, but didn't play a down on offense this year. He did see action at defensive tackle, however."
He kicked off 59 times for 3,031 yards. He averaged 51.4 yards-per-boot and had a long of 65 yards.
On defense, he charted 36 tackles, which included eight solo stops, a quarterback sack and two tackles for minus yardage. He also forced a fumble.
COREY ERNEST, St. Clairsville - This Red Devils' line standout was a two-way mainstay for the state runner-ups.
The 6-3, 260 pounder was a two-way tackle. He was the team's run clogger and he was the guy St. C. opted to run behind on the offensive side of the ball. He had 89 tackles on defense.
Ernest was a first-team all-Eastern District performer.
"Corey was our anchor," McLean said. "When we needed the run stopped, he was the guy we moved around. He was able to shut teams down because he took up a lot of space and clogged things up."
JAY GOSSETT, St. Clairsville - This senior was one of the most quiet kids on the team, but his play spoke loudly this season.
A two-way end, Gossett caused all sorts of problems for teams along the defensive front. He was a mainstay in the backfield as a pass rusher. He made better than 100 tackles and had a huge game against Johnstown-Monroe in the regional final. As an offensive player, Gossett was also sure-handed at tight end and made several big plays, including the game-sealing TD against the Johnnies.
"Big-play Jay was the silent assassin for us," McLean said. "He led the team in sacks, made big plays in big games and earned his nickname as 'big-play.'"
CODY CALDWELL, River - This versatile Pilot was a standout on both sides of the ball for Coach Mike Flannery's team.
The 6-2 senior was the quarterback on both sides of the ball. In the defensive backfield, Caldwell was a standout with several interceptions and better than 50 tackles. On the offensive side, he passed for 1,314 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Cody gave us the confidence to basically call anything in the playbook," Flannery said. "He was a three-year starter. Anytime you have a player who excels in other sports like Cody, it brings a lot to the huddle and guys on this team."
COLTON PRITCHARD, Barnesville - This Shamrock senior did just about everything this season.
He carried the leather 95 times for 464 yards and scored five touchdowns. He also caught 16 passes for 312 yards and another two six-pointers, while completing 4 of 10 passes for 78 yards. He tossed one TD and two INTs.
Defensively, he charted 35 tackles and picked off a pass from his defensive back slot.
"Colton is just an all-around good football player and leader," Barnesville head coach Matt Johnson assessed. "He had over 1,000 yards of total offense for us this season."
COLTON McKIVITZ, Union Local - Returning to the Jets' program after a year at East Richland Christian, the 6-6, 250-pounder played a huge role on both sides of the ball.
"We were glad to get him back," former Union Local head coach Mark Cisar said. "He played here in 7th and 8th grade, so we knew what he was capable of.
"He was very steady for us on offense and was a force at defensive end," Cisar added. "He got better and better as the season went on, and he has a very good chance to play college football."
DJ SHOEMAKER, St. John Central - A transfer from Shadyside, Shoemaker proved to be a very versatile performer for the Irish in his senior campaign.
The 6-3, 220-pounder started the season at tailback, but was moved to quarterback to better utilize his talents. He was also a stud linebacker.
"D.J. definitely brought a winning attitude to our program," first-year St. John Central head coach Jason Merryman offered. "The other kids fed off of that, and as the season progressed, he showed the team a lot, and likewise. It proved to be a good combination."
Shoemaker led the Irish with 117 tackles despite missing some time with injuries. He also recorded nine quarterback sacks and had 13 tackles for lost yardage.
KYLE GROVES, Beallsville - This 6-0, 200-pounder missed the first three games of the season due to illness, but when he returned he made an immediate impact.
"He really shored up our offensive and defensive lines when he came back," first-year Beallsville head coach Paul Kanzigg said. "His presence made a difference in our play. He really stepped up his play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In the games that he played, he was usually our leading tackler."
Groves was a 3-year starter at center and a team captain this season. He returned two interceptions for TDs.
SHANE DUNCAN, Buckeye Local - This senior two-way standout led the Panthers in tackles with 58, of which 47 were solo stops from his outside linebacker spot. He also recorded three interceptions and recovered a fumble.
On offense, he moved into second place in school history for receptions in a season with 20, which went for 505 yards and four touchdowns.
"Shane is a very, very good kid and leader," Buckeye Local first-year head coach Phil Pest said. "He was probably the best kid on the team - if he went out, you'd miss him."
Duncan was a 3-year letterman and team captain this season.
"He was a really solid kid and it will be hard to replace him."