After a pair of excellent individual seasons, Cherokee’s AJ Swann and Creekview’s Mason Hicks are the 2021 Cherokee County Co-Offensive Players of the Year.
Hicks led the Grizzlies to the county’s best record during the regular season at 8-2 and another appearance in the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. For the senior, it was a perfect way to bounce back following his absence from the 2020 season.
“This is a kid who missed his junior year with heart surgery,” Creekview coach Trevor Williams said. “He came back and had an unbelievable year. We saw his teammates and how much they believed in him. He was so calm and collected in big moments. He wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line.”
The connection between Hicks and his teammates was a major reason for the his success. Beginning with summer conditioning, Creekview's players had a near-inseparable bond.
“It started during the summer,” Hicks said. “All the summer workouts, building a connection with my team and pushing through hard workouts really built that bond. It really helped us throughout the year with how close we were. We were playing for each other.”
Hicks threw for 1,644 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions across 11 games, completing 60.7% of his passes with a 12.6-yard average per completion.
Williams said Hicks gave Creekview a chance to score every time he touched the ball.
Growing as a leader was one of Hicks’ goals for his senior year. He said the combination of his coaches and teammates made achieving the goal easy, while Creekview qualified for the playoffs for the third time in its quarterback’s four-year stay.
“I got to play my senior year with the guys I grew up with,” Hicks said. “It was really special, and we had such a tight senior class. The fact that we were as successful as we were only capped it off.”
For Swann, it was another statistically outstanding year at Cherokee. The Vanderbilt-bound quarterback led the county with 2,148 yards through 11 games, along with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Cherokee made the state playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, and Swann had a lot to do with the streak. His talent ensured the Warriors were perennial contenders in Class AAAAAAA.
“To play 7-A football, you need to have a triggerman,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. “We have been on the other end of it where we did not have one, but it is definitely a luxury. The thing with AJ is that he is such a competitor, and you are in every game.”
Cherokee’s 14-13 win over Etowah late in the season is an example of Swann’s competitive spirit. The senior took the Warriors into the fourth quarter down 13-0 and led two touchdown drives as time wound down, both through the air.
Shaw said one of Swann’s defining moments was a sophomore year practice where in which Swann overthrew a dig route and the ball hit the coach right between the eyes. It became the team's go-to story for comedic relief.
Over the course of Swann’s four years at Cherokee, he consistently improved, especially in the areas of his game where he was not as effective. Any time Swann discovered a weakness in his game, he worked tirelessly to fix it, and he certainly did.
“He has improved dramatically,” Shaw said. “He is going to play Division-I football in the SEC, and he is doing it for free. He did not have those options his younger years, but he has put himself in position and worked really hard to earn everything he has achieved.”