It is the time of the year when high school seniors take off their football jerseys for the final time, a playoff loss not only signaling the end of a season but of a career, the realization that never again will they run on the field for the thrill of playing on Friday nights.
Years of hard work and sacrifice, of the joys of victory and heartbreak of losses, of the camaraderie and spirit that drives teenagers to play sports, now part of the past.
Perhaps more than any other season in WNC history, this has been a year of triumph and achievement for football, a span of five months in which career numbers fell in record fashion, outstanding records posted for future stars to chase.
A look back at the players who set those marks and left indelible memories of excellence on the field:
Trey Robinson, Mountain Heritage
Statistically, the Cougars’ quarterback is the best player to ever touch a pigskin in the mountains, and the son of Mountain Heritage coach Joey Robinson has posted numbers that may never be approached.
Consider this – a freshman phenom could star for four years, averaging 2,100 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns per season, and he wouldn’t come close to setting the marks Robinson has established.
His rushing yards (8,532) are over 1,500 more than WNC’s No. 2 on the career list (Owen’s Jager Gardner, 6,955 yards).
His total offense (12,913 yards) surpasses all-time runner up Mitchell’s Ben Young (11,235) by more than 16 football fields.
Career touchdown responsibility? Robinson’s 170 is ahead of Young’s by 27. His 109 rushing scores is 18 ahead of Brevard’s Manny Deshauteurs (91).
The 45 100-yard rushing games is not only WNC’s best, it is the second most in the history of the state.
In fact, all those numbers above rank among the top 10 in the history of high school football in the state – Robinson is third in total offense, fourth in TD responsibility, fifth in rushing scores, sixth in rushing yardage.
Robinson is not only the best ever in WNC, he is in the conversation among the best ever in the state.
And what he and his dad will both tell you is the most important stat of all – a 41-12 record as the Cougars’ starting quarterback.
The program won Western Highlands 2-A Conference titles each of the past three seasons.
Robinson’s 3,155 yards rushing this season is the second-best total in local history, trailing only Hendersonville’s Vincent Neclos (3,380 yards in 1998).
Ben Young, Mitchell
Playing one county over from his childhood friend and Little League teammate, the Mitchell quarterback ranks only behind Robinson statistically as one of the top players ever in WNC.
His total offense (11,235) and TD responsibility (143) are both second in WNC history and seventh in the state record book.
Young passed for 7,972 yards and 86 TDs in four seasons, and only Erwin’s Damien Ferguson (9,179 yards, 88 scores) has done it better in the area.
Young played in 58 career games, all as a starting quarterback, and that ranks No. 1 in WNC and third in the history of the state in games played.
And while official records aren’t kept for this stat, it is likely the best-ever in WNC. A 47-11 mark as a starter, the best record of any local team over the past four seasons.
Taking over the offense for a program that was 2-21 the previous two years, Young led the Mountaineers to three straight Western Regional finals, the 2015 state title game and a 10-4 playoff record.
Tykel Landrum, Hendersonville
Anyone who saw Carl Pickens star at Murphy High in the mid-1980s would argue with the designation of anyone else as the area’s best ever at wide receiver, but the Bearcats’ wideout has produced numbers that make him No. 1 all-time in WNC in three categories.
His career receptions (253), receiving yards (4,558) and receiving TDs (46) are unsurpassed among local pass catchers.
He had three seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving and caught at least 64 passes in each of those years.
Landrum also ranks in the state’s top 10 all-time in each category - fourth in yardage, tied for fifth in TDs and sixth in receptions.
And his all-around play makes him one of the most versatile ever to don the pads in the mountains.
Counting his play as a runner, kick returner and defender, Landrum had 57 career touchdowns and 7,124 total yards. He finished with more than 300 tackles and 27 interceptions.
And the Bearcats posted a 34-19 record the four years No. 7 was on the field.
When Robinson, Young and Landrum walked off the high-school gridiron for the final time, they took with them a combined 31,272 total yards and 370 touchdowns.
Hard to imagine any season of high school football in WNC in which three careers of that magnitude concluded.
Other notable seniors:
Tye Mintz, Cherokee:
The Braves’ quarterback is still playing as he nears 10,000 total yards for his career and tries to lead his team to the first state title in school history.
Playing his best when he is needed the most, Mintz has 966 total yards (649 rushing) and accounted for 15 touchdowns in three playoff games.
With 9,880 of total offense, he is close to becoming just the fourth WNC player to surpass 10,000 for his career.
Mintz’s TD responsibility total of 106 is third best in area history behind Robinson and Young.
The Braves (13-1) will play for the state 1A title Saturday in Raleigh, a noon start vs. North Duplin (14-0).
Alex “Bud” Williford, Hendersonville:
Back-to-back passing seasons of more than 3,000 yards and over 30 touchdowns left this Bearcats’ quarterback with some impressive numbers.
Williford threw for 6,800 yards and 70 touchdowns and also rushed for 1,002 yards and 24 scores in his career.
His 94 combined scores left him sixth all-time in TD responsibility in WNC.
Joey Curry, Murphy:
How’s this for efficiency? In three years with the Bulldogs, Curry threw for 56 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Highlighted by a 28-4 record the past two seasons, with eight playoff wins and the state title last year, Curry’s career numbers include 6,124 yards of total offense, with 5,229 passing yards.
Isaiah Poore, Erwin:
The Warriors’ running back had 4,219 total yards over four seasons and found the end zone 54 times.
He rushed for 3,035 yards and also caught 76 passes for 838 yards.
Ethan Shook, Brevard:
The Blue Devils’ hard-hitting middle linebacker led WNC tackles this season (149) and finished with 312 stops over the last two years.
Brock Kloeppel, Franklin:
The Panthers’ workhorse running back carried the ball a whopping 538 times the past two seasons, and finished with 4,364 total yards (3,390 rushing) and 60 TDs (53 on the ground).
Nick Lisenbee, North Buncombe:
The Black Hawks’ tailback wrapped up his career with 3,007 rushing yards (on 577 carries) and scored 32 touchdowns.