Going into the season there were several names that came to mind when I thought about the race for Columbia County Player of the Year.
Greenbrier's Jahvon Hardrick was a no-brainer. Hardrick rushed for just under 1,000 yards as a junior last season and was great during the second half of the season.
Of course, you also had Mark Weidenaar taking over at quarterback for Lakeside. He had missed his entire junior year with an injury, but was sensational for the Panthers as a sophomore.
Greenbrier's Thomas Brown deserved some consideration, too. He is the county's top college prospect on defense and was going to have an expanded role this year as a wide receiver.
Well, just past the midway point in the season, all of those players are enjoying terrific seasons. However, if I had to vote for Player of the Year honors right now, the award would go to Grovetown running back Jamal Cummings.
Cummings hit the ground running (pardon the pun) this year in the area's first game of the season with all eyes on him during a game broadcast on live television. During that game, Cummings overshadowed Greenbrier's Hardrick by rushing for 146 yards on just 16 carries. He also scampered for three touchdowns, including the game-winning score in closing minutes.
The junior followed that up with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries versus Evans. Despite injuring his leg in the game, Cummings returned to ramble 42 yards for the game-clinching score in a 28-14 win.
Cummings has not slowed down all year. On Oct. 7 he raced for 174 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in 28-14 win over Westside. That performance pushed him over 1,000 yards on the season. His numbers through just six games are 135 carries, 1,032 yards, 7.6 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns.
Heck, that is a good season, much less half a season.
I must admit I overlooked Cummings in the pre-season. He should have been someone to watch for Player of the Year. I named him a First Team All-County performer following last season. However, I had him well behind Hardick, Weidenaar and Brown in terms of Player of the Year possibilities. He wasn't even in Columbia County's Super 9 pre-season listing. I definitely would have had him in the top nine if I were doing the list, but he would not have been one of my top four or five choices.
Cummings seems to be firmly entrenched as the front-runner for the county's top honor. On top of all the terrific numbers, he has helped lead Grovetown to a 5-1 mark, including a 3-0 record versus in-county rivals.
I should have looked a closer at what Cummings accomplished his first two seasons at Grovetown. First off, he was a starter as a freshman on the varsity. That alone is impressive, but throw in that he piled up eight rushing touchdowns. Last year, he managed to rush for 637 yards and 10 more scores on just 102 carries. He was simply overshadowed by Warriors' star Seth Hill as a freshman, and then he shared the carries with D.J. Tyson last season.
It's safe to say no one will overlook Cummings from here on out. There is still a long way to go this football season, but Cummings deserves some recognition.
So, who is No. 2? Right now, I would list Mark Weidenaar in that position.
A lot was expected of Weidenaar this year. Maybe the expectations were too high. He technically had never been a starting high school quarterback until this year. As a sophomore, he primarily played wide receiver, but also split time with Ben Wilson at quarterback. Therefore, he is still learning the position, but his ability his easy to see.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior was turning the ball over too much early in the season. In his defense, most of those turnovers came in losses to Thomson and North Augusta, either of which could make a claim as the area's best team.
For the season, Weidenaar is starting to compile some pretty good numbers of his own, with 94 pass completions on 180 attempts, 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had 11 interceptions, but eight of those came in the losses to Thomson and North Augusta.
Weidenaar also has rushed for more than 400 yards with five more scores. Lakeside's 3-4 record should have an asterisk. The Panthers have played the toughest schedule of anyone in the area and has a chance to run the table the rest of the way.