From left, Monroe QB Charles Stafford was named The Herald's John Reynolds Player of the Year for football and Deerfield's Allen Lowe was named Coach of the Year --- both awards chosen by the sports staff --- while Lee County RB/WR Kenneth Hurley won an online vote as the People's Choice Player of the Year. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Charles Truitt said he saw it coming, but even the Monroe coach didn’t expect this.
“When Charles (Stafford) was a freshman, we knew he was special,’’ Truitt said. “We knew he was going to be a special quarterback. But we didn’t know he was going to be this good.’’
Stafford, who threw for 2,564 yards as a sophomore, wasn’t just better this season as a junior, he improved everywhere on the field and made his case over and over to win The Herald’s annual John Reynolds Player of the Year award for football.
He won it with his arm, his savvy and his leadership.
His final numbers speak volumes. Stafford completed 195 of 316 passes (.617 percent) for 3,025 yards and 23 touchdowns, and he also rushed for 312 yards on 68 carries and seven more TDs. He was the Offensive Player of the Year for Region 1-AAAA for the second consecutive year and led Monroe to the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs, where the Tornadoes lost to defending state champion Burke County.
Stafford didn’t just put up head-turning numbers, he was his best down the stretch. In his final five games of the year, which included three big region games and two playoff games, Stafford averaged more than 300 yards a game.
Stafford said he knew he needed to do more this season, and he welcomed the challenge of being one of the team’s primary leaders.
“I was quiet before, but this year I became a lot more vocal,’’ Stafford said. “My teammates were looking to me to be that leader and my coaches wanted me to be that leader. That was one of the big differences in this year. I think I learned a lot and matured a lot on the football field.’’
Truitt noticed right away.
“Even against Cairo, the region champ, Charles threw for more than 300 yards, and he threw for more than (600 yards) in the two playoff games,’’ Truitt said. “He really stepped up at the end of the year, and he would have thrown for a lot more this year, but he sat out most of the second half in some of our games.’’
Truitt said Stafford’s leap in talent was a surprise to even the coaches.
“He just had the will to get better,’’ Truitt said. “Once he showed his improvement, it just snowballed.’’
But what impressed Truitt as much as Stafford’s arm was the way his junior quarterback took over as the leader of the team.
“He made a huge step,’’ Truitt said. “He stepped up and took ownership (of our guys),’’ Truitt said. “He took responsibility for the team. We were looking for him to become that type of leader, and he did it as a junior.
“He was always the first one on the field and the last one off it. He worked hard in the weight room. He worked real hard in the offseason, and he was bigger and stronger this year. He probably put on 10 pounds in the offseason, and it made him stronger. And he was able to make better throws. He could make those throws as a sophomore, but this year when he made that 20-yard out throw he had a lot more zip on the ball.’’
Even as a junior, the Monroe players looked to Stafford to lead.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Charles,’’ said linebacker Anthony Smith, who was the Region 1-AAAA Defensive Player of the Year. “You don’t see a quarterback like him come along that often. He’s not a running quarterback. He’s a pro-style quarterback with a great arm.’’
Truitt said he didn’t think Monroe had ever had a quarterback in school history throw for 3,000 yards in one season — but he is expecting to have one throw for even more next year.
“It’s a real good feeling knowing he is coming back for another season,’’ Truitt said with a smile.
A long list of Division I schools are interested in Stafford, including Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Missouri and other top programs. Stafford, who grew up in Miami and moved to Albany before his freshman year at Monroe, has always been a University of Miami fan, but the Hurricanes were late to arrive on the scene.
Stafford played in the Rising Seniors All-Star Game in Atlanta over the holidays, and after the game a Miami assistant coach approached him
“He told me they were going to be watching me,’’ Stafford said. “I know there will be (tough choices to be made next year), and I don’t know where I might go to college. I want to go out and have a great year as a senior.
Stafford had a dream season, but his most vivid memory is not of some perfect throw in the end zone or throwing for 300 yards in a game.
“When I look back at this season, the thing I remember the most is how much it hurt to lose in the playoffs. I won’t forget how it hurt,’’ Stafford said. “I want to come back and win it next year. The win I remember the most is the Griffin (playoff game). When we got there all their fans were saying, ‘You better get back on the bus Monroe, it’s going to be a long ride home.’
“That just motivated me, and it felt great to win that game. But I want the state title.’’
Now he has another year to get it.
“My motivation next year is to be even better,’’ Stafford said. “I know 3,000 yards is a lot. When (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Billy Glanton) told me, I was surprised I had thrown for 3,000 yards. But next year I want to throw for even more, maybe 4,000. But the main thing I want is a state title. I’m already motivated for that.’’