FARMINGTON — Six local football players received All-State honors when the New Mexico High School Coaches Association released the rosters last week.
In Class 4A, Shiprock's Tyris Newton and Rhakeem Anagale made the All-State first-team rosters. Farmington's Justin Williams and Kody Becenti, along with Aztec's Sebastian McNeal and Riley Barber, received second-team nods in 5A.
McNeal made it as a wide receiver after amassing 1,010 receiving yards in his junior year, a total that was second in all of 5A. Ahead of McNeal by only one yard was his Tigers teammate, Justin Black, who Aztec coach Matthew Steinfeldt said also deserved heavy All-State consideration. Black did not receive All-State honors.
"One thing I heard in district meetings with other coaches was that (McNeal) really showed up for us later in the season when we went on our 5-0 run in the district," Steinfeldt said. "(McNeal) played a significant role in what we were able to do at the end of the year. They were both excellent candidates, obviously."
Barber finished his senior season as one of the most reliable kickers in 5A, applying the skills that have made him a successful soccer player to the gridiron. Steinfelt said Barber's dependability was an enormous luxury for the team last season.
"I don't know if we've ever used a kicker as often as we did this year," said Steinfeldt, who will enter his sixth year as Aztec's front man next year. "He had extremely big range for a high-school kicker. And not only that, he kicked almost all of his kickoffs into the end zone to really limit those return yards."
One of Barber's season highlights was a key 23-yard field goal in a district battle against Farmington. Though the kick wasn't a game winner, it still proved to be crucial, as the Tigers ended up winning the game by three points.
Williams, a junior punter for Farmington, was another one of District 1-5A's special-teams stalwarts and an underrated part of a Scorpions team that made it to the 5A state quarterfinals.
"That's a deal that often gets overlooked," Farmington coach Jeff Dalton said, of punting. "He really got us out of a bind in a lot of situations. He had some 60-plus-yard punts that reversed the field in some crucial positions for us."
The same strong leadership qualities that made Becenti a great quarterback for FHS also earned him a spot on the 5A second-team defense, according to Dalton.
"He's a great leader," Dalton said. "As good as he is at QB, I think he got overlooked at safety all year."
Dalton limited Becenti's defensive reps early in the season, but said the senior really came on for Farmington during the district schedule as a versatile defender and forceful hitter.
"When we went to our dime package against passing teams, he was huge," Dalton said. "We'd put him right in the middle as kind of an extra pass-support guy. And he was a good run-support guy that could get in there and stop plays at the line of scrimmage."
Newton, a Shiprock sophomore, made it onto the All-State first team because of his contributions to a Chieftains offense that averaged 29 points per game. He caught seven touchdowns and served as one of the team's top receiving threats.
"He was a big spark plug for us," Shiprock coach Eric Stovall said. "A reliable receiver across the middle with big, soft hands who can catch the ball and make space. He did an effective job with yards after the catch as well."
Like Becenti, Anagale was the quarterback for his team but the junior became a defensive All-State player. Anagale was named the 4A first-team returner, a role he consistently excelled at, according to Stovall.
"He did a really good job in the return game, averaging over 10 yards a return," Stovall said. "He was always putting us on the short side of the field where we then had great opportunities to score."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.