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Wildcats well represented on All Region 1-7A football team

Richmond Hill had 19 players earn Region 1-7A honors including six on the first team, five on second team and eight honorable mention.

Quarterback Ty Goldrick, wide receiver Ravon Grant, running back Zion Gillard, offensive lineman Thomas Zimbalatti and kicker Blake Williams were first team offensive selections while cornerback Brandon McDonald was a first team pick on defense.

Goldrick, Grant and Gillard are seniors. The others are sophomores.

Selections were made by the coaches of region’s five teams which in addition to Richmond Hill includes Colquitt County, Valdosta, Lowndes County and Camden County. Valdosta was the only other team to have five first team selections on offense.

Second team offensive selections were lineman Landen Hurst and wide receiver Nick Bliss. Linemen Dontae Goodner and Gabe Bauman along with cornerback Caleb Easterling were second team on defense.

Honorable mention honors went to tight ends Colton Sanchez and Andrew Matthews, linemen Brody Miller and Cam’ron Jackson and wide receiver Mason Wilcox on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive honorable mention was earned by lineman Brian Ruland, linebacker Lee Johnson and defensive back Mylee Gould.

“When we (coaches) sat in the room to make the selections, we were talking about some of the best football players in the country,” Wildcats Coach Matt LeZotte said. “This is a tribute to our guys and recognition for their ability. “These guys represented our team well and they competed well.”

It was a tough year for the Wildcats who finished 3-7 and missed the state playoffs for the first time since 2016 as they went winless (0-4) in region play in their first year competing in Class 7A.

Playing in what is generally regarded as the state’s toughest region the Wildcats also played the most difficult schedule in school history. Every team they faced made the playoffs.

Unbeaten Ware County (14-0) won the Class 5A state championship, Colquitt County (13-1) was a Final Four team, Baker County, Fl., (9-4) and Coffee County (10-3) made it to the third round and Camden County (8-4) the second before being eliminated.

Richmond Hill’s opponents were 84-37 overall with only Lowndes County (5-6) and Jenkins (4-7) posting losing records. First year Lowndes coach Zach Grage was fired after the school had its first losing season since 1993.

The Wildcats were one of the youngest 7A teams in the state but LeZotte said he felt his team was competitive. Experience and youth showed in the second half of several games.

Richmond Hill, for example, was tied with Camden County (7-7) and Valdosta (0-0) and trailed Lowndes (7-3) at the half. Only against Colquitt (20-7) was it basically out of contention at the midway point.

“I feel our program is right on track for where we thought we would be,” LeZotte said. “Our preparation the last four or five years allowed us to be competitive.

“The next step is to go from being competitive to winning,” LeZotte said. “We’re right on pace, we’re a young team but we found we belong.”

Of the players who gained region mention only Goldrick, Grant, Gillard and Goodner are seniors. Of the remaining 15 players 10 are sophomores which is an encouraging sign.

Goldrick threw for 1,487 yards and 10 touchdowns and finished his career with 3,092 yards passing as he completed 243 of 414 attempts.

Grant led the region in receptions with a school record 64 for 704 yards and four touchdowns. The previous mark was 53 by Sam James in 2017. He also eclipsed James’ career record of 119 as he finished with 121 receptions James, who recently declared for the NFL draft after four years at West Virginia, still holds the yards receiving record with 2,385 and touchdowns with 25. Grant had 1,641 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.

Gillard finished with 862 yards which was second in the region. Williams made all eight extra point attempts and five of 11 field goals while 24 of his 28 kickoffs reached the end zone.

Although a sophomore Zimbalatti has established himself as one of the area’s top linemen as he was also a first team Region 6A pick last year. He is halfway to becoming that rare player to be an all-region pick four years running.

McDonald is also a sophomore and while he was fourth on the team in tackles with 49 he, along with Easterling, gave the Wildcats a pair of lockdown corners in his first year of varsity football.

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