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THE TIMES' ALL-AREA FOOTBALL TEAM: Fairview's Gonzalez named Player of the Year; Wilkins, Sessions and Redding earn other top honors

Jan. 18—There are few things George Redding enjoys more than watching a high school player reach his full potential.

Luckily for the longtime Fairview football coach, that's been a steady — and welcome — trend for his program.

Joining the bountiful crop of Aggies who have accomplished that feat is recent years is senior Eric Gonzalez, whose impact this past season resonated far beyond his productive presence on the field.

In fact, Redding had a hard time knowing where to begin in describing this year's All-County Overall MVP.

"Eric just has a willingness to please his coaches and do well by his teammates," he said. "He's really big about that. I saw tremendous growth in his self-confidence, both in the locker room and outside of it. I think that really led to him becoming a good football player and a good leader. Those two things just set him apart."

Gonzalez's contributions helped the Aggies enjoy another terrific season on the gridiron.

An anchor along the offensive line, the senior's physicality and toughness helped reinforce a dominant unit that paved the way for 3,653 rushing yards and an offense that averaged 33 points per game.

Gonzalez was a heat-seeking missile at his linebacker position, too, where he racked up 31 tackles and two picks — one of which he returned for a touchdown — and created havoc for a stingy group that gave up just 10.6 points per game.

"He takes a lot of pride in being a physical presence," Redding said. "To me, there's a lot more to that than just hitting someone hard. It's the relentless effort, taking pride in the game plan each week and understanding both what he had to do and what we needed him to do. He gave all-out effort and that made him such a threat, both offensively and defensively."

But more than the stats and lunch pail mentality, it's Gonzalez's personality Redding said is his strongest attribute.

"You just immediately notice his long hair and smile," the coach said. "He lights up the room and brings positive energy and makes people want to be around him. Those are the players you want in your program. Those are the ones who make your whole locker room better."

Here's what some coaches had to say about Gonzalez — The Times' 2023 All-Area Player of the Year.

"He's just an outstanding player on both sides of the ball. He's very aggressive, very physical and very athletic. He seemed like a leader and the other kids fed off that. You've got to have those kinds of guys to be successful and I know he's been that for Fairview and coach Redding these past couple of years." — Good Hope's Alan Scott

"We were really impressed with him. He was a leader for their team defensively. We saw that on film and when playing them this past season. I really thought he made one of the biggest jumps in improvement year over year — and he was already pretty good as a junior. He just went that one step further in his growth and understanding of the game. When you have that type of player, it's like having another coach on the field and in the huddle." — West Point's Don Farley

See below for capsules of this year's other top honorees as well as the compete All-Area Football Team.

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Offensive Player of the Year

▶ Name: Jed Wilkins

▶ School: Addison

▶ Class: Junior

▶ Highlights: Completed 51 of 87 passes for 800 yards and six touchdowns, had 1,163 yards and 20 touchdowns on 93 carries and tallied 10 2-point conversions. He also returned four punts for touchdowns.

▶ Coach Speak: "We were fortunate to have a kid like him. He can score from anywhere on the field. He can take a bad play and turn it into a good play. He's a real smart kid, too. As coaches, we might call out a wrong formation or play opposite of what we wanted, but he gets us in the right thing. He's as good or better as the best athletes we saw this season and he's got a lot of great characteristics — not just his abilities, but his instincts and competitiveness. He's a coach's dream and we'd love to have more like him." — Addison's David Smothers

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Defensive Player of the Year

▶ Name: Jackson Sessions

▶ School: Cullman

▶ Class: Senior

▶ Highlights: Had 43 tackles, 35 assists, seven tackles for loss, five pass breakups, a sack and an interception. Allowed just one completion in coverage all season.

▶ Coach Speak: "Jackson was the first person every coach would ask me about before the game. It shows you what kind of player he was. His impact for us defensively and offensively was huge. It's hard to really replace guys like that and you're lucky when you get them. I wish I had more time with him. He can play in the box like a linebacker and in coverage like a corner. You can put him in a spot to take away a team's best play or best player — at least on one side of the field. He's a great player with a bright future." — Cullman's Danny Stiff

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Coach of the Year

▶ Name: George Redding

▶ School: Fairview

▶ Highlights: Led the Aggies to a 9-2 season and their fifth straight playoff berth.

▶ Player Speak: "Coach Redding brings the same intensity to practice he does on Friday nights. He always preaches consistency and he definitely leads by example in doing so. He says, 'Everybody can do something once or twice, but the great ones are the ones that can show up and put the work in every day, even when you don't want to.' He also reminds us that football is just a game and it's going to end for everybody one day, so the lessons he teaches us are much greater than Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m." — Fairview's Cade Yeager

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The Times' All-Area Football Team

QB: Colten Whatley, Good Hope

RB: Braden Luker, Addison

RB: Matt Williams, Cold Springs

RB: Jake Harper, Fairview

RB: Carson Jones, Fairview

WR: Wyatt Buchanan, Cullman

WR: Tyler Cone, Good Hope

WR: Tucker Malin, Good Hope

WR: JT Davis, Hanceville

WR: Parker Marks, West Point

OL: Bobby Williams, Addison

OL: Trey Bailey, Cold Springs

OL: Pierce Bartle, Cullman

OL: Jayden Pineda, Fairview

OL: Eli Akin, Hanceville

OL: Gus McKenney, West Point

H/TE: Nick Holland, Cullman

H/TE: Kyler Pugh, Vinemont

H/TE: Dawson Wilhite, Vinemont

ATH: Josh Winfrey, Cold Springs

ATH: Sawyer Olinger, Holly Pond

ATH: Diego Rodriguez, Vinemont

ATH: Garit Roberson, West Point

K: Garrett Mobley, Cullman

K: Kolt Redding, Fairview

DL: Isaiah Treece, Addison

DL: Reid Bradberry, Cullman

DL: Blake Rickard, Fairview

DL: Eli Clements, Hanceville

DL: Sylar Philyaw, West Point

LB: Hayden Holland, Addison

LB: Jackson Bentley, Cullman

LB: Cale Foster, Fairview

LB: Landon Bagwell, Good Hope

LB: LJ Smith, Hanceville

LB: JD Cochran, West Point

DB: Kaden Dyson, Addison

DB: Kamron Myers, Cullman

DB: Cade Yeager, Fairview

DB: Hank Hudson, Good Hope

DB: Xavier Sellers, Vinemont

P: Jameson Goble, Fairview

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Honorable Mention

Addison: Brye Dollar, Jordan Hubbert, Bradley Willette

Cold Springs: Clayton Terry

Cullman: Ben Conway, Cooper Ogstad, Wyatt Tielking

Fairview: Isaac Elrod, Jace Stevens

Good Hope: Guillermo Alday, Callahan Lindsey

Hanceville: Hunter Black, Marquies Leeth, Jayden Smith

Holly Pond: Diego Arreguin, John Garcia, Boston Gibbs, Jayden Holloway

Vinemont: Rylan McRae, Isaiah Pair

West Point: Jacob Bencze, Hunter Hensley, Eli Sims