PIKEVILLE — Fresh off the final game of a 6-5 season and finishing third in the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division, nine UPike football players were named among the best in their division, league officials announced Thursday.
Junior quarterback Bowen Smith, junior running back Xondre Willis, and sophomore offensive lineman Thomas Spears were named First Team All Mid-South Appalachian Division. Spears is a Prestonsburg High School graduate.
Senior tight end Braxton Whitmore, sophomore wide receiver Arites Clark, junior running back Willie McCloud, senior defensive back Sean Cook II, junior offensive lineman Stephen Richardson and sophomore offensive lineman Jalen Stone were all named to the Second Team All Mid-South Appalachian Division.
After a shaky first game, Smith settled in and was a steady hand at the quarterback position all season, passing for 1,726 yards and 17 TDs and just four interceptions. He also rushed for five more TDs.
Willis was the catalyst for the rushing game with his second-straight 1,000 yard season at 1,074 yards, the 20th most in the NAIA, and eight TDs. His partner in the backfield, McCloud, was much more than a change-of-pace back for the Bears this season, taking command of drives at times. Serving as the lead kickoff returner as well, McCloud accounted for 1,044 total all-purpose yards on the season.
Spears, Stone and Richardson all combined to provide strong protection for Smith and lanes for the running backs all season as the offensive line only surrendered 19 sacks and allowed Bears runners to rush for 2,472 yards, the 11th most in the country.
Cook made his presence felt throughout the defense with a team-high 61 tackles, often finding running backs and receivers near the line of scrimmage, and team-high tying two interceptions.
Whitmore had a down year by his standards, but still made the most of it with 212 yards, which was enough to move him into fourth place on the UPike all-time receiving list.
Clark is just behind him after his sophomore season as his 337 yards this season moved him into sixth all-time with 1,006 career yards. The sophomore is also already third in career receiving TDs with 16, five this season.