2019 All-Area Football Team: JJ Pegues leads Oxford to State, securing MVP honors

Published 8:04 am Friday, January 3, 2020

2019 was a standout year for Oxford High School senior JJ Pegues.

Sure, Pegues came into the season with a lot of hype and a lot of attention. That happens all the time with highly touted senior football recruits, but not all of them can handle the hype and certainly very few actually produce at a level to validate it.

Pegues did all of that and even more, all while still being his cheerful, jubilant self. Now, he’s The EAGLE’s 2019 Player of the Year.

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Statistically, his senior year was the Oxford tight end’s best individual season of his Charger career. Pegues totaled 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns for the Chargers. And in the team’s biggest games, Pegues had his best moments – see 142 scrimmage yards, two touchdowns, a tackle for loss and a sack in the team’s state championship win over Oak Grove.

“Obviously, statistically, he had a great year. But he put together the most complete, well-rounded, year that he’s had in his career at Oxford,” said Chargers head coach Chris Cutcliffe. “We put him in a lot of positions, but he played more traditional tight end than he has in the past and did a great job of that.”

Coming into the year, everyone knew Pegues. At the top of any opposition game plan was No. 5 in a Chargers uniform. Yet still, many struggled to slow him down.

It’s the type of conundrum any offensive coach loves to have. At times, Pegues could be used as merely a decoy. But at times, even when everyone in the stadium knew Pegues was getting the ball, the defense still couldn’t bring him down.

“Our philosophy offensively is that we want to spread the ball around. It makes you harder to defend if there’s multiple people that can get the football,” Cutcliffe said. “So, it’s important to us to spread it out. But when you have a great player like JJ, the touches need to go his way. And if you look at statistics, as we got down the stretch the ball tended to go his way more in critical moments.”

Now, Pegues’ Oxford football career is over. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound tight end will be headed to Auburn University following the conclusion of his senior year, with the opportunity to play for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers.

The 2019 All-Area Football team:

QB: John Meagher, Oxford senior

Meagher’s senior year was all anyone could ask for. Leading Oxford to a 14-1 record and their first-ever state championship, Meagher had his most efficient year as a passer. He totaled 1,631 yards through the air to go with 17 touchdowns and added an additional 1,018 yards  and 11 touchdowns rushing.

“When you have a guy that can hurt you in both ways as a quarterback, it’s certainly harder to defend,” Cutcliffe said. “One of the things John did so well is just make plays when things broke down. When it wasn’t there, his ability to scramble and get out of the pocket, turning broken down plays into positive gains, was really impressive.”

RB: Randy Anderson, Lafayette senior

Randy Anderson played quarterback for Lafayette High School this year, but in building an idealized football team, Anderson would be a great compliment at running back next to Meagher. His coach agrees.

“Last year we had two, big strong tailbacks beside him. So, the offense was a lot of read option and power option with Randy and those guys,” said Lafayette coach Michael Fair. “This year, it was more of a quarterback run game. And he’s so durable, I thought that’s what was great about him this year. Once he got healthy, he really carried the load. It was almost like he was a tailback back there catching the snap.”

As a runner this season, Anderson totaled 1,802 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

TE: JJ Pegues, Oxford senior**

WRs: Martavius Rockett and Darius Tolbert, Water Valley seniors

Both starting receivers come from Water Valley High School. Both went about getting on this team in very different ways.

“Martavius, man he’s played receiver for us forever. He was a guy who was our go-to receiver as a ninth grader,” said head coach Brad Embry. “Darius, on the other hand, had never played offense before this year. He ended up being a legitimate threat. Late in the year, defenses were probably more worried about him than Martavius.”

The two combined for over 1,000 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns for the Blue Devils. In his Water Valley career, Rockett accounted for over 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns, all while also playing defensive back.

OL: Austin Wilson and Levi Lott, Lafayette seniors

Building an offensive line is one of the harder portions of a team like this. It’s best to look at the players who have done it the longest and done it well. That’s what Lafayette’s Austin Wilson and Levi Lott bring to the table.

“Both played as 10th graders, and they were kind of puppies out there. But they were thrown into the fire because they were the best we had,” Fair said. “There were a lot of ups and a lot of downs that year, to watch them come out their junior year and this year and have back-to-back stellar years on the offensive line. They’re two of the best I’ve been around.”

Playing for a former offensive lineman themselves, the two were a big catalyst in a Lafayette offense that has to open up holes and run the football to be successful. They spearheaded that running game in the trenches for an offense that rushed for over 3,300 yards and 34 touchdowns.

OL: Jamal Pegues (junior) and Montavious Wilson (senior), Oxford

Where the Lafayette offensive linemen on the team thrived in run blocking, Pegues and Wilson from the Oxford side played a little more balanced line this year.

“Both those guys just did a great job in one-on-one situations and were excellent in pass protection,” Cutcliffe said. “But when you win those one-on-ones at the point of attack, it allows you to get to the second level with other linemen.”

It was this pair of tackles that helped keep Meagher upright for most of the season – not the easiest task with a quarterback who likes to do a lot outside the pocket like Meagher.

OL: Jacorie Woodard, Water Valley senior

For the Blue Devils, their offensive line was simply the leader. Embry described them as the set of players that most embodied what this Water Valley team has become in his tenure with the school. Woodard, a guy that played both tackle and defensive line for the Blue Devils, just brought that everyday work ethic to the field.

Reserve OL: Ty Morgan, Water Valley

Offensive utility: Jacob Truss, Water Valley senior 

There’s no one in the area that perfectly fits an offensive utility spot like Jacob Truss. Last year’s EAGLE Player of the Year passed for 1,456 yards and ran for 907 more, totaling 24 touchdowns for the Blue Devils.

Truss is a guy whom Embry and Co. started out as a running back and safety when he moved to town in 2018, eventually transitioning into a full-time quarterback. The senior can do it all.

DE: Travion Prather, Lafayette senior

Outside of Anderson behind center, it was the trenches on both sides of the ball that helped lead Lafayette to nine wins. For Prather, the senior edge recorded 19 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on the year. However, it might be how he complimented the next guy on the list that made that Commodores defensive front so impressive.

DT: Keaton Hunter-McIntosh, Lafayette senior

With Prather on the edge, it was Keaton Hunter-McIntosh as the perfect complement in the middle of the Lafayette defense.

“A lot of defenses will have a lot of defensive ends, like Travion. But what happens when you only have one guy like that, what you do as an offense is just run away from him,” Fair said. “But when you have a guy on the inside like Keaton, that really compliments it. If you’re trying to run away from Travion, you have to run right at Keaton. Both just played with so much effort this year and that separates great defensive lineman from average ones.”

Hunter-McIntosh lead the team in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (20) on the season.

DE: Jeremiah Pomerlee, Oxford senior

Pomerlee simply ate for the Chargers on the defensive line this year. His 25.5 tackles for loss on the year more than doubled that of anyone else on the Oxford defense, and he also led the Chargers in sacks with 10.5.

OLB: Grant Burress, Water Valley senior

Burress led the Blue Devil defense in just about every statistical category. His senior season saw him total 71 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks, all tops for Water Valley.

“Grant is a guy who runs so well for someone of his size,” Embry said. “He gets from sideline to sideline and he’s long. Combine that with his ability to understand gaps and holes. He’s really just learned more how to play linebacker.”

ILB: Kiyon Williams, Oxford senior

Oxford asks a lot from their inside linebacker position. Williams is a player who started his career at defensive end, a position he still played a bit of in obvious passing down situations this season, but transitioned to more of that pivotal role in the middle of the linebacking core.

From that inside linebacker spot, Williams totaled 134 tackles and 10 tackles for loss this season.

ILB: Mario Wilbourn, Lafayette sophomore

Lafayette’s inside linebacker, Mario Wilbourn, is the youngest player on this team as a sophomore. He got off to a slow start,  but finished the season leading Lafayette with 116 total tackles, including 15 for a loss.

“The fun part was to watch him grow as a middle linebacker throughout the year. We opened up with South Panola in the jamboree and Cleveland Central in week one, there were times he looked lost,” Fair said. “But if you put on the playoff game against West Point, wherever the ball was he was right there. He was wise beyond his years late in our season.”

OLB: Tristian Shorter, Oxford junior

The lone Chargers junior on the All-Area defense probably jumped off the metaphorical page more than anyone else this season on the defensive side of the ball.

“He’s one of those guys that just makes big plays. He has a knack for just making plays in big moments. Whether it’s forcing turnovers or a big tackle for loss, he was just always there in the biggest moments in games. Tristian just makes plays.”

As a linebacker, Shorter batted down 10 passes, recovered four fumbles, blocked two punts and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Crosstown Classic.

CB: Byron Pearson, Oxford senior

Cutcliffe noted that Byron Pearson probably played more snaps for Oxford than anyone this season.

The Chargers senior was not only the team’s best shutdown corner, but he also played a good bit of offense and every special teams snap this year for Oxford. He also makes the team as the area’s best kick returner.

CB: Tabias Brown, Lafayette senior

Brown is another player who can do just about everything. The Lafayette senior played both receiver and corner, those reps on offense likely a good reason for Brown’s six defensive interceptions on the year. He also added 61 tackles for Lafayette from the defensive back role.

FS: Damicah Hervey, Water Valley senior

Hervey missed some time this season with a sprained MCL, but it was still impossible for the Water Valley staff to keep the senior off the field. Hervey played less than 100 percent for most of the season, but still showed up when the moments were biggest. A fast, physical safety that can cover a lot of ground, he’s a great guy to have as a last line of defense on defense.

SS: Scott Norphlet, Oxford senior

It’s not exactly normal to have a defensive back who can tackle as well as Scott Norphlet. The Oxford senior lead the team in solo tackles with 90, despite playing safety. Like Pearson, he was also a key special teams contributor.

“A lot of times, at his position, he’s in a scenario where he makes a tackle or nobody does,” Cutcliffe said. “Time after time, Scott stepped up and made that tackle that would prevent a big gain for the offense. Just solo tackles in space, over and over. It’s one of the hardest things in football and Scott was exceptional at doing it.”

Defensive utility: Dude Person, Oxford

Place Kicker: Jack Tannehill, Oxford junior

Having a great kicker in high school is simply a luxury. It’s certainly not the standard.

With Tannehill, he went above and beyond that at times in 2019. He hit 13 of 18 field goals this season, but also attempted a lot of tough ones, hence his season long of 48 yards. He also never missed an extra point, going 40 of 40 on the year.

“A kicker like Jack is an unbelievable weapon to have,” Cutcliffe said. “His ability to punt and pin people inside the 10 or 20-yard line is so big for field position. And as a place kicker, you’re in his range pretty quickly. There’s so many things he does that help us win and he works extremely hard to help us win. Jack is a great leader on our team, too, which is something that probably isn’t said too often about a kicker. But he’s a great leader for our team, probably because of his work ethic.”

Punter: Jack Tannehill, Oxford junior

Kick Returner: Byron Pearson, Oxford senior

Punt Returner: Randy Anderson, Lafayette senior