Ridaught: Alachua County seeks first Mr. Football

Hawthorne Jailen Ruth and Buchholz Creed Whittemore
Hawthorne's Jailen Ruth and Buchholz's Creed Whittemore were named the Class 1R and Class 4S Players of the Year, respectively. (Photos by Megan Winslow)
Photos by Megan Winslow

Alachua County has never had a Mr. Football, an award given by the Florida Dairy Farmers since 1992 to the top overall football player in the Sunshine State.

We’ve had winners in some of the other big sports. 

Just this past fall, Santa Fe’s Jalyn Stout repeated as Miss Volleyball after leading the Raiders to their second straight Class 4A state title

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She joined Taylor Williams (2000) and Michelle Staulbaum (2003) of GHS and Marcie Hampton (2002) of P.K. Yonge as past Miss Volleyball winners from Alachua County. 

In 2013, Jessica Thomas of Buchholz won the Miss Basketball award after leading the Lady Bobcats (28-4) to their first state title in school history. 

Thomas averaged 30 points, seven assists and four steals per game during her senior season, including 26 points in the Class 7A state final and 38 in the state semifinals. 

There have been two winners in boys basketball. 

Vernon Maxwell, who was honored by Buchholz last December, won Mr. Basketball during his senior year with the Bobcats in 1984 after averaging 31.6 points per game. 

Orien Greene, who led GHS to back-to-back Class 5A state titles in 1999 and 2000, won the award in 2000. He averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists, 6 steals and 5.5 rebounds per game in 2000 as a senior. 

Photo by C.J. Gish Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore

In 2003, Stacey Stevens won the Miss Softball award after leading Buchholz to its third final four in her four seasons. 

Stevens finished with a 23-4 record, a 0.12 ERA and 323 strikeouts, including 1,007 strikeouts in her career with the Bobcats. 

Trenton’s Darian Ingram did win Miss Softball in 2021, but it’s been 20 years since the county won one. 

Alachua County has never had one in baseball either, although North Marion’s (Citra) Deric Fabian became the first player from Marion County to win the prestigious award in 2021. 

The area did come close. 

Buchholz had two really good pitchers in Ryan Norris and Andrew Miller, who were runner-up for the Mr. Baseball award and the Gatorade player of the year, respectively, in 2003. 

But never before has a football player from the area been recognized. 

With two classification winners this year, could that change? 

Technically, there is a 20% chance of that happening. 

Class 4S Player of the Year Creed Whittemore of Buchholz and Class 1R Player of the Year Jailen Ruth of Hawthorne are among the 10 finalists for the state’s best. 

Game changer and difference maker are accurate descriptions of the pair. 

During the postseason, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville wrote that Whittemore was “playing like an Alachua County Superman.” 

With 2,693 yards and 35 TDs through the air, and 1,285 yards (8.29 yards per carry) and 17 TDs rushing, the dual-threat quarterback was fun to watch. 

“His offensive numbers speak for themselves and the fact that he finished the year with six interceptions in limited defensive playing time, only cements the fact that he was the best player in our classification,” said Buchholz defensive coordinator and recently installed head coach Chuck Bell. 

I’ve compared Whittemore to former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel based on his elusiveness and ability to extend and make big plays. 

The Mississippi State signee was just on another level and the fact that he had six picks on defense, including three in one game in this year’s 4S state playoffs, made him the best player on one of the best teams in the state. 

Hawthorne's Jailen Ruth with a first half tackle against Northview on Saturday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne’s Jailen Ruth with a first half tackle against Northview in the Dec. 10 Class 1R state championship game.

One could say the same thing about Ruth, who finished with 94 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 caused fumbles for the 12-0 and Class 1R state champion Hornets. 

Case in point, when asked to predict the winner of the Hawthorne at Union County (Lake Butler) game on Oct. 14, I picked the host Tigers. 

However, Ruth was injured and was a game-time decision. 

I explained that if Ruth played, I thought Hawthorne would win. 

The Vanderbilt University signee did play, and the Hornets rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit to win

“If you can coach a ‘Jailen Ruth’ in your coaching career, then you truly have been blessed,” said Hawthorne defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins. 

I wouldn’t be shocked if either of them won the award. 

They’re that good. 

In fact, it would be a disservice if at least one of them did not to finish in the top three of the voting. 

Here are the finalists for the 2022 Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Football following balloting by a statewide panel of high school football coaches and prep media representatives. 

Every finalist was the leading vote-getter in his classification, making each one the Player of the Year in his class. The overall winner will be announced on Friday, Jan. 6, following a final round of balloting by coaches and media.

2022 Mr. Football Finalists

Alberto Mendoza, Junior, Quarterback, Miami Columbus, Class 4M Player of the Year

Led his team to a 14-1 record and the state championship by completing 186-of-256 passes for 2,470 yards with 34 TDs and 7 interceptions. Also rushed for 270 yards and 2 TDs.

Creed Whittemore, Senior, Quarterback/Defensive Back, Gainesville Buchholz, Class 4S Player of the Year

Led his team to a 10-3 record and the state Final Four by completing 179-of-305 passes for 2,693 yards with 35 TDs and 7 interceptions. Rushed for 1,285 yards and 17 TDs. Had 6 interceptions on defense. Signed with Mississippi State.

Cedric Baxter, Senior, Running Back, Orlando Edgewater, Class 3M Player of the Year

Helped his team to a 12-1 record and a spot in the regional finals by rushing for 1,375 yards on 174 carries (7.9 avg.) with 13 TDs. Signed with the University of Texas.

Damarcus Creecy, Senior, Quarterback, Daytona Mainland, Class 3S Player of the Year

Led his team to an 11-4 record and a state runnerup finish by completing 232-of-334 passes for 3,169 yards with 31 TDs and 10 interceptions. Also rushed for 513 yards (7.0 avg.) with 2 TDs.

Keyone Jenkins, Senior Quarterback, Miami Central, Class 2M Player of the Year

Led his team to a 14-0 record and the Class 2M state championship by completing 140-of-227 passes (61.7%) for 2,282 yards with 27 TDs and 4 interceptions. Rushed for 351 yards (6.3 avg.) with 9 TDs. Signed with Florida International.

Blake Boda, Senior, Quarterback, Cocoa, Class 2S Player of the Year

Led his team to an 11-3 record and the Class 2S state championship by completing 270-of-414 passes (65.2%) for 4,028 yards with 49 TDs and 11 interceptions. Also rushed for 205 yards and 5 TDs.

Cedric Bailey, Junior, Quarterback, Chaminade-Madonna, Class 1M Player of the Year

Led his team to a 13-0 record and the Class 1M state championship by completing 203-of-289 passes (70.2%) for 3,355 yards with 45 TDs and 5 interceptions. Rushed for 215 yards (9.0 avg.) with 2 TDs.

Olsen Henry, Senior, Wide Receiver/Tight End, First Baptist Academy, Class 1S Player of the Year

Helped his team to a 10-2 record and the Class 1S state title with 65 receptions for 1,253 yards (19.3 avg.) with 14 TDs. Signed with Clemson University.

Jailen Ruth, Senior, Defensive End, Hawthorne, Class 1R Player of the Year

Led his team to a 12-0 record and the Class 1R state championship with 94 tackles (64 solo) and had 27 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 caused fumbles. Signed with Vanderbilt University.

Nehemiah Vann, Senior, Quarterback/Defensive Back, Seven Rivers Christian, Independent Player of the Year

Completed 123-of-241 passes for 1,845 yards with 27 TDs and 2 interceptions. Rushed for 607 yards and 9 TDs.
Had 36 tackles (29 solo) with 2 interceptions.

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