All four Talladega County high school soccer programs were represented on the 2019 all-county team, with a pair of rivals splitting one of the top honors.
Sylacauga senior Rodrigo Estavillo and Lincoln senior Nick Pope, standouts Aggies head coach Billy Faircloth said had seen each other plenty on the pitch since seventh grade, were named Co-Player of the Year by Talladega County coaches.
“We (the coaches) had a little debate about it, and I think some valid points were made on both sides,” Faircloth said. “Nick scored 60 goals in the role he played as a striker, and Rod scored 30 goals and gave out 16 assists as a center-midfielder not playing up top.
“I think what both kids brought to their teams was essential to the success of each team, but it was kind of like apples to oranges. They both were stud players who both equally deserved it … Nick was a heckuva soccer player for his career, and I thought Rodrigo was, too.”
Senior defender Dennis Marrs, senior striker Qua Taylor, junior midfielder JD DeLoach and freshman goalkeeper Camden Faircloth joined Estavillo as Sylacauga representatives on the squad.
The Aggies (16-6-1) advanced to the third round of the Class 4A-5A playoffs, where they fell to eventual state champion Briarwood Christian 8-0.
““These guys played their tails off all season,” Faircloth said. “We had to make some adjustments early on, moving Dennis from offense to defense to give us some strength back there and somebody who could possess the ball (in) the back.
“JD, I moved him all over the field from striker to midfield, and he really grew into a solid midfield role. He showed really good skill and control of the ball.
“Qua got better both years, and he came from basketball both years, so it took him a little time to get into game shape, but I think after basketball, his first game back in the county tournament, he scores two goals. He had a really good season.
“Camden, as a freshman having to take the starting role at goalkeeper, I thought he did a really good job this year. Fortunately for him, he had a solid defense in front of him, but he made some key saves in some key region games, in the county tournament and in the playoffs.”
Faircloth said tinkering with the lineup and using Estavillo the way he did helped drive the team and create opportunities for teammates to step up when needed.
“He (Rodrigo) was the general on the field,” Faircloth said. “He was the guy we ran things through. He possessed the ball and made some people double-up on him. That opened up other people such as JD or Qua. Rod’s presence -- I don’t want to hang it on one kid, but take away Rod out of the middle solely, I don’t know where we are offensively this past season.”
For the second season in a row, Faircloth earned Coach of the Year accolades.
“That’s an honor,” he said. “I am humbled by that. For two years, I’ve had teams that put me in that position, and it’s because of those kids.
“I just go out there and do my job, work them and come up with game plans and strategies, but they’re the ones that go out there … These boys play for each other and play for me.”
A trio of Pope’s teammates, Jaylon Hudson, Michael Morris and Grayson Phillips, joined him in representing Lincoln on the all-county team. The Golden Bears (16-7-2) fell to Springville 3-1 in the first round of the 4A-5A playoffs.
Golden Bears head coach Michael Duff said having those four players helped make his job easier because they were great young men with tremendous character.
“We had four guys that helped start the Lincoln soccer program and we consider them to be the founding fathers of Lincoln soccer -- that was Grayson Phillips, Michael Morris, Jaylon Hudson and Nick Pope,” Duff said. “I think Lincoln soccer would be nowhere (near) where it is today without those four young individuals. They were the rock of our team this year and led in a positive way in school, on the field, off the field.”
Childersburg’s Terry Thomas and Jotham Dark, and Talladega’s Oswaldo Mendez and DeAndre Brand rounded out the all-county team.