Before this season, Malik McGue was a dynamic player who occasionally threatened the defense.
This year, McGue had defenders grasping at straws on nearly every snap.
The Hilltoppers' junior quarterback was chosen as the Elite 11 player of the year by the Johnson City Press on Wednesday. McGue beat out Elizabethton running back Ethan Thomas and Greeneville quarterback Zack Finchum for the honor.
Joining those three players on the team were Greeneville's Trevor Wright, Sullivan South's Dylan Wieger, Dobyns-Bennett's Nick Sensabaugh, Cloudland's Mason Carnett, Tennessee High's Adam Mitchell, David Crockett's Luke Hopson, Unicoi County's Luke Fronckoski, and Elizabethton's Adam Mullins.
Greeneville's Caine Ballard was selected as the coach of the year, edging out Science Hill's Stacy Carter.
Numbers tell a lot of the story for McGue. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound quickster slashed his way to 2,452 yards of total offense and accounted for 28 touchdowns despite missing nearly three full games. He averaged 272.4 yards of offense per game.
As a thrower, McGue completed 53 percent of his passes (85 for 160) and racked up 1,498 yards. He had 14 scoring tosses with only six interceptions.
McGue also led the Big Seven Conference in rushing during the regular season, and finished with 954 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Thanks in a big way to McGue's abilities, the Hilltoppers were able to beat Dobyns-Bennett for the first time since 1994. They also won a first-round playoff game with McGue throwing for 336 yards in a 56-42 decision against Knox Farragut.
Best of all, the Hilltoppers get McGue back for 2014.
Thomas was in beast mode throughout the season for the Cyclones. The 6-1, 215-pound junior led his team to the Three Rivers Conference title while leading the league with 188 yards rushing per game.
Finishing the season with 1,924 yards and 21 touchdowns, Thomas helped his team reach the Class 4A second round. For his career, Thomas' rushing total stands at 4,357 yards.
Greeneville didn't lose a game until the Class 4A state quarterfinals, and Finchum was a big reason for it. The 6-0, 175-pound senior totaled 3,093 yards of offense and accounted for 41 touchdowns.
Finchum connected on 65 percent of his passes (128 for 195) for 2,275 yards. He tossed 29 touchdown passes and had only five interceptions. Also, he was dangerous as a runner, gaining 818 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Wright was right there with Finchum, not only as a receiver but also as arguably the area's best defensive player. The 6-1, 170-pound senior totaled six interceptions on the season, taking two of them back for touchdowns.
As a receiver, Wright hauled in 34 passes for 714 yards and scored eight touchdowns. On special teams, Wright averaged 19.5 yards per punt return with a touchdown and 33.4 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown. He finished the season with 1,153 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns.
As Sullivan South earned 10 wins and battled its way into the second round of the playoffs, Wieger was a statistical monster. He finished with 3,368 yards of offense and accounted for 42 touchdowns.
The 6-2, 200-pound junior threw for 2,300 with 30 touchdowns while rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 scores. He set a school record with six touchdown passes against Johnson County — one week after tying the record with five against Sullivan North.
The 6-1, 285-pound Sensabaugh was a load for offensive lines to handle this season while helping the Indians reach the Class 6A playoffs. Sensabaugh totaled 44 tackles in the regular season with a team-high 11 for loss.
Also, Sensabaugh had three hurries and three sacks for 23 yards in losses. He broke up six passes, picked off a pass, and had a touchdown.
As for Carnett, he was a tackle machine while helping the Highlanders win their first nine games of the season. The 6-0, 215-pound senior was generally regarded as one of the area's best linebackers, and his average of 16 tackles per game back up that argument.
When it came to catching passes, Mitchell was one of the area's best. He averaged 20 yards per reception while finishing with 50 catches for 950 yards.
The 6-3, 190-pound senior totaled 11 touchdowns while helping the Vikings reach the Class 5A playoffs.
If Mitchell wasn't the best receiver in the Big Seven Conference, Hopson was. The 6-3, 160-pound senior was a reception machine, averaging 6.4 grabs per contest.
Hopson finished the regular season with 64 catches for 925 yards and helped the Pioneers reach the Class 5A playoffs — only the second postseason berth in school history.
Little was known about Fronckoski when the season began, but he changed that quickly. The 5-11, 180-pound junior led the Three Rivers Conference with 1,602 yards rushing, and helped the Blue Devils reach the playoffs for the second straight season.
Also, Fronckoski tied for the league lead with 17 touchdowns.
Elizabethton's defense turned out to be much better than expected, and Mullins was a big reason for it. The 6-0, 210-pound senior was among the league leaders in tackles, and finished with over 70.
Mullins also was in the league-leading mix with 13 tackles for loss and four sacks while also totaling 14 hurries and causing two fumbles.
Ballard kept the Greene Devils in the hunt until for a third state title until they lost Friday to No. 1-ranked Knox Fulton.