One would be hard pressed to find a better crop of Augusta area high school football talent than the Class of '96.
Sure, only one area team, Washington County, brought home a state title in Georgia Class AA. So, on the team level, the 1996 football season can't match what unfolded on a team level last year when Josey and Lincoln County won Georgia state titles and Blackville-Hilda and Batesburg-Leesville won South Carolina state titles.
But the '96 campaign has its own claim to fame.
As many as 30 area seniors will sign with a Division I program on College Football's National Signing Day, Feb. 6, 1997. It was considered a banner year last season when eight Division I signees came from the two-state area.
Topping the list this year are The Augusta Chronicle's Players of the Year - Armark Tolbert of Josey and Aiken's Jamal Reynolds.
Tolbert, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior who played cornerback, wide receiver and quarterback this year for the 11-2 Eagles, is The Chronicle's Georgia Player of the Year for the second straight season. The all-state selection as a junior led Josey to a 15-0 mark and the Class AAA title last season and was again instrumental in the team's success this season, and is rated by several recruiting analysts as one of the nation's top 100 prospects.
The 6-4, 240-pound senior Reynolds, the South Carolina Player of the Year, starred at linebacker and was also one of the area's top fullbacks, leading the Hornets to an 11-3 record and the Class AAAA Division II semifinals.
The Shrine Bowl participant, a candidate for statewide Player of the Year honors this season, is considered one of the top 50 prospects in the nation.
It was also a special season for two area coaches - Greenbrier's Terry Holder and Allendale-Fairfax' Barry Avant.
Holder, who won five state baseball titles at Evans, is the Georgia Coach of the Year after leading first-year Greenbrier to the state playoffs.
Avant, the South Carolina Coach of the Year, took a young Allendale team that opened the season 1-2 all the way to the Class AA championship game, where the Tigers lost to Abbeville.
Under Avant's leadership, the Tigers captivated their small town that had gone 30 years without a champion.
On this day of giving, The Augusta Chronicle hopes to give a little something back to high school football in the area by recognizing the best of the best with our 1996 All-Area teams.
The all-area feature has been expanded this season. In addition to All-Area teams for Georgia and South Carolina, The Chronicle has added an All-Metro Team and Independent All-Area Team.
All-Metro covers Richmond and Columbia County schools and North Augusta. Independent covers area players from Georgia Independent School Association South Carolina Independent School League teams.
The Augusta Chronicle All-Area softball and cross country teams will run in Thursday's editions of The Augusta Chronicle.