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High school football: Naim Cheeks, Baxter Wright lead large Gainesville contingent on All-Region in 8-6A
First-year Red Elephants coach Josh Niblett recognized for taking their program to state finals
Gainesville's Naim Cheeks scores against Sprayberry in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs Nov. 11, 2022 at City Park Stadium. Photo by Lee Heard For The Times

Running back Naim Cheeks and quarterback Baxter Wright led 24 Gainesville players, plus head coach Josh Niblett, who were honored on the 2022 All-Region 8-6A team, which was released Monday afternoon.

All of the players honored were instrumental parts of a renaissance season that saw the Red Elephants not only post a 14-1 record and post its first region championship since 2013, but also finish as Class 6A state runner-up in the first year for Niblett and his staff as coaches in the Gainesville program.

Cheeks was named the region’s Player of the Year after running for 1,830 yards and 20 touchdowns on 232 carries, as well as posting 29 receptions out of the backfield for 541 yards and three TDs.

Those numbers combine to give the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior 2,371 yards of total offense and 23 combined TDs for the season, and with his return yardage added in, left him with a team-best 2,405 all-purpose yards.

Wright, meanwhile,  was named the region's co-Offensive Player of the Year after finishing the season 223-of-317 passing for 3,343 yards and 40 touchdown passes, with only four interceptions. The 6-2, 163-pound junior also added 563 yards and nine scores on 102 carries on the ground.

Two other Gainesville players were honored with All-Region superlatives.

Senior Stacey Hopkins Jr. (67 combined tackles and assists, 19 TFLs, 8 sacks, 3 caused fumbles, 1 fumble recovery) being named Defensive Lineman of the Year, fellow senior Darius Cannon named co-Specialist of the Year and another senior, Ethan Couch, earning co-Offensive Lineman of the Year honors.

Among the other Red Elephants honored were receivers Tre Reece and Travien Watson, tight end Sky Niblett and offensive linemen Noe Covarrubias and Alex Payne as part of the first-team offense, while linebacker Jeremiah Telander headed up the Gainesville contingent on the first-team defense, along with defensive lineman Jarrious Harris and defensive backs Elias Ballard and Ja’Quez Sims.

Defensive backs Dre Raven and Cash O’Callaghan, linebacker Luke Cooper, defensive linemen Julius Columbus and Kadin Fossung and punter John White were all named to the second-team defense, while Adarian Cheek, Carmelo Byrd, Samaj Brown and Christian Green were all named honorable mention.

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