2019 was the year of the Eagle on the gridiron.
First-year coach Grant Thompson took over a Niceville team coming off three straight first-round playoff exits and promptly reeled off the program’s first undefeated season since 2009, riding that momentum all the way to the Region 1-7A championship game. Even for a team with 19 straight postseason trips, it felt like a Cinderella story.
Friday, that magical run was again validated with 10 selections to FloridaHSFootball.com’s Class 7A All-State team, including three First Team selections, Niceville leading a group of 18 area athletes to earn All-State honors.
Those first-teamers, you might have heard of them.
Eagles senior quarterback Will Koch earned the Daily News Large Schools Player of the Year Award this past December after passing for 1,739 yards with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions, all while racking up 596 rushing yards and eight rushing scores.
"Will got better every week," Thompson told the Daily News in December. "He was tremendous almost every game. Whatever we asked him to do, he did, and we ran him a lot.
"He’s an outstanding physical, downhill runner and he runs with meanness. He just had that mature outlook and competitiveness."
Meanwhile senior linebacker Aidan Dark and senior D-lineman Logan Schaeffer shared Daily News Defensive Player of the Year honors, the pair headlining a defense that allowed just 12.8 points per game with three shutouts.
Dark led the Eagles with 107 tackles, adding 16 tackles for a loss, six sacks and five pass deflections, while Schaeffer posted 82 tackles and eight sacks with two fumble recoveries.
Across county lines, Navarre junior Grady Kelly was the only area second-teamer in Class 7A. A defensive lineman, Kelly finished the year with 38 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 17 sacks, including eight in a single game against Lincoln.
Rounding out the list, Niceville guard Ryan Sabin and corner Erik Ziegelmann earned Third Team selections alongside Crestview guard Cade Kootsouradis and running back Taylor Scarborough and Navarre receiver Tyler England and kicker Preston Penton.
Finally, Niceville lineman Kimo Makaneole and Austin Firestone joined linebackers Payton Kerle and Jordan Fowler and defensive back Azareyeh Thomas on the Honorable Mention list. Navarre quarterback Marlon Courtney, O-lineman Preston Brewer and Crestview D-lineman Terelle Holliday also earned Honorable Mention.
Combined with Thursday’s release of the Class 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A All-State teams, the Daily News coverage area had 37 athletes earn All-State honors.