Special teams truly are special. In a day when so many football games are decided by only a few yards, feet and even inches, teams need every advantage that they can find to give themselves an edge over their opponent. Special teams can flip field position late in the game, put game-winning points on the board, or keep the ball out of the hands of dangerous return men. In Region 4-A, one team has an extremely dangerous special teams player, and they know just how valuable their Americus Times-Recorder Special Teams Player of the Year is to their success.
The Marion County Eagles have won at least a share of three-straight Region 4-A championships over the last three seasons, and it is no coincidence that junior kicker/punter A.J. Wells has been a part of those year-end celebrations. Wells, who is no stranger to postseason awards, earns Special Teams Player of the Year honors after leading his team to yet another Region Championship in his third year starting for the Eagles. Wells’ powerful leg sent many kickoffs out of the back of end zones for touchbacks while also handling field goal, punting and extra point duties this season. In the biggest regular season game of the year for Marion County, Wells nailed a 38-yard field goal to put his team on top of their arch-rival, Dooly County, late in the first half of the game. Wells would account for all of the scoring in the second half of the pivotal contest by splitting the uprights with a 36-yard field goal late in the game to seal the win for Marion County.
As dangerous as Wells is as a kicker, he is also a huge threat to other teams when he lines up to punt. In their opening round playoff game against the storied Charlton County Indians, Wells boomed a mammoth 63-yard punt inside the Indians five-yard line to reverse the field and give his Eagles the momentum in the contest. After stopping the Indian drive, Wells would finish his team’s drive with a 22-yard field goal to give the Eagles the momentum is what ended as a 31-12 Marion County win.
Marion County head coach Mike Swaney knows that his “ace in the hole” provides him with a huge advantage over his very tough Class A opponents.
“He is big for us because most Class A teams don’t have a reliable kicker like this. He has been a really big part of these championships,” the coach said.
In high school football there are not many kickers that can come onto their team their freshman year and be a contributor, but Swaney says he knew that Wells was going to be a difference maker early on.
“It is very rare to come in and do that for four years,” he said. “We knew in the eighth grade though that A.J. was special.”
When asked what set Wells apart from other kickers in the state, Swaney responded, “His work ethic sets him apart. He is a very hard worker and he wants to be good. When you want to be good and you work for it that goes a long way.”
Wells has already proven that he is one of the best kickers/punters in the country after only three seasons of varsity football. The standout football player and athlete has a very bright future ahead of him on the college level, but before that happens Swaney and the rest of the Big Red nation get one more year of the star in the friendly confines of Eagle field. With a special teams difference maker as talented as Wells, there is no reason that the Eagles won’t be flying high next season following their fourth-straight region championship.
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Friday night’s GHSA Class A semifinal match-up between the Marion County Eagles and Hawkinsville Red Devils was supposed to be a nail-biting battle until the final buzzer. The Eagles, however, had other plans, and 40 points later they punched their ticket to the Georgia Dome and the Class A State Championship game against Charlton County next Saturday.
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