While the Warren County High School football team didn’t break a streak of seasons without a playoff berth, the Pioneers showed vast improvement on the field in 2012.
Warren County won three games, two coming in District 6-AAA competition, after a winless season in 2011. Much of the success this season was a byproduct of a potent Pioneer offense, which opposing district coaches recognized when voting for all-district awards last week.
The Pioneers had five players recognized for successful seasons, including three players who primarily played on offense. Leading the way was junior Lee Carden, who was named the District 6-AAA Offensive Most Valuable Player.
Junior wide receiver D’Andre League and senior defensive end Aaron McKinley were named to the all-district team, while senior cornerback Alex Hillis was an academic all-district selection. Junior running back Cameron Lusk rounded out the Pioneers recognized as he was given honorable mention for a standout season.
Carden’s selection as offensive MVP came as no shock to head coach Tommy Johnson. Coach Johnson watched this season as Carden did a little bit of everything for Warren County in an attempt to put points on the board.
Carden started the season at receiver, but after the team’s top two quarterbacks were injured in the first game coach Johnson asked his top target on the outside to move to signal caller. Carden made the transition look easy when he threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns in his second start to help the Pioneers snap a 15-game losing streak against the Cumberland County Jets.
Carden would continue to take snaps at quarterback the rest of the season, enjoying his best performance against Cookeville when he threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns. For the year, Carden finished 48-of-98 for 829 yards and nine touchdowns. The nine TD tosses were the third most in a single season in Pioneer history.
Carden’s contributions weren’t limited to passing though. The junior finished the season second on the team in rushing with 254 yards and two touchdowns and fourth in receiving with 14 catches for 161 yards and two more scores.
For the year, Carden accounted for 14 touchdowns as he also had an interception return for a touchdown against Coffee County.
It was a performance coach Johnson thought was deserving of District 6-AAA MVP, an award given to Cookeville QB Ryan Eberle, but the third-year head coach was still happy to see Carden recognized.
“If you look at everything Lee did for us, I don’t think there was another player in our district who played a bigger part in his team’s success,” said Johnson. “Lee had a great year.”
League was named to the all-district team for the second straight year following his junior year. After being honored as a special-teams ace as a sophomore, League expanded his game as a junior and became a weapon in the passing game. League finished second on the team in catches with 26 and yards with 400. He tied for the team lead with four touchdown scores.
League seemed to make big plays when the Pioneers played at Nunley Stadium. He caught an 81-yard touchdown against Cumberland County, scored on a 51-yard pass against Tullahoma and hauled in a 63-yard scoring strike against Soddy Daisy.
McKinley was the defensive anchor for coach Johnson during his senior season. McKinley played nearly every snap at defensive end this season, where he totaled 48 tackles and four sacks. McKinley also had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as opposing teams tried to run away from the aggressive end as much as possible.
The honor bestowed on Hillis recognized the senior’s hard work on and off the field. Hillis, a three-year starter at cornerback under coach Johnson, excels in the classroom at Warren County High School as he boasts one of the top GPAs on the Pioneer team.
While Lusk received an honorable-mention nod by coaches, his play was worthy of all-district recognition, coaches believe. Lusk was the district’s top rusher with 810 yards on 110 carries and five touchdowns. Lusk finished the season with a bang as he ran for a career-high 223 yards and two touchdowns against Soddy Daisy.
Carden, League and Lusk will return next year to lead what should be another potent Pioneer offense. McKinley and Hillis will graduate in May.