Dalton McElyea

Kilgore quarterback Dalton McElyea (front, right) is the winner of the first-ever Buddy Humphrey / Kilgore News Herald Mr. Football award, the News Herald’s player of the year award. McElyea set new school records for touchdown passes and passing yardage in the 2020 season.

Kilgore High School quarterback Dalton McElyea is the Kilgore News Herald’s football player of the year.

McElyea was announced as the winner of the award – now dubbed the Buddy Humphrey / Kilgore News Herald Mr. Football Award – on Thursday night at the KHS football banquet, held at the school’s cafeteria.

McElyea received a standing ovation at the banquet when the award was announced. The trophy was not yet complete – look for it soon, with McElyea’s acceptance photo, in the Kilgore News Herald.

The other two finalists for the award were teammates of McElyea’s at KHS: running back Tray Epps, who now owns the records for rushing yards in a single game (401) and touchdowns in a single game (six), and wide receiver/ defensive back Donovan Adkins, who tied a single-season school record for touchdown catches (13 – he’s tied with Jonathan Thompson, who did so in 1998).

McElyea, now a senior, was a two-year starter at quarterback for coach Mike Wood’s Bulldogs. He helped the Bulldogs to a 10-4 record, three playoff wins, and was also named the District 9-4A offensive player of the year, as a part of the all-district team (see this issue for a story on the all-district team).

He also split the Bulldogs’ team academic award with center Josh Kennel, also a senior.

On the field, McElyea was nothing short of masterful, and now will be the quarterback by which all future KHS signal-callers will be judged. McElyea now owns the records for single-season passing yards, career passing yards, single-season touchdown passes and career touchdown passes.

To be fair, 2020 was not McElyea’s first rodeo. He burst onto the scene a year ago, in fall 2019, helping the Ragin’ Red beat Pine Tree in a triple-overtime classic in which he threw five touchdown passes in a 64-62 Kilgore win.

But the Bulldogs were unspectacularly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Crandall.

Obviously, there was no way that McElyea and his now-senior classmates were going to let anyone remember them like that.

So in 2020, with COVID-19 bearing down on… well, everyone, McElyea grew by leaps and bounds as a player. He never looked to be rattled or shaken, even in Kilgore’s three defeats.

The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaking regular season finale to Lindale, but then hit their stride. They slammed Splendora, 42-0, here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, the first playoff game in Kilgore in 17 years. McElyea went 13-of-14 for 217 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

The following week, in a second-round game against frequent Kilgore playoff opponent El Campo, McElyea helped take the Ricebirds to the woodshed in virtually-new Sheldon ISD Stadium in Houston. With a big crowd looking on, El Campo had little answer for the ‘Dogs. McElyea went 19-of-25 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but the Bulldogs never trailed and pulled a bit of an upset.

In a third-round game against Huffman-Hargrave in Jasper, McElyea wasn’t asked to put the ball in the air a lot – he threw it just 18 times, completed 12 for 112 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but had a couple of key runs and a touchdown and held off a late Hargrave comeback.

In what would be Kilgore’s final game, a fourth-round matchup with Lindale at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, McElyea was fantastic: 17-of-31 for 374 yards and five touchdowns. But it wasn’t to be, and Lindale won the game, ending Kilgore’s season two games before the state championship game.

In all, McElyea finished the 2020 season having completed 179 of 275 passes for 2,689 yards, 27 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.

The passing yardage is a record for a single season: the old record was set in 1998 by Kyle Ferro, 1,980 yards.

McElyea passed for 3,992 yards in two seasons, over 25 games, playoffs included. That is the school’s new career passing yardage record, passing the old one set by Davon Vinson in 1999-2000 (3,378).

McElyea’s 2020 touchdown pass total – 27 – is the new single-season school record for passing touchdowns. The old: yes, by Ferro in 1998, was 19. And he also owns the school record for career touchdown passes: McElyea has 37.

So, McElyea is the latest in a long line of News Herald player of the year award-winners, but he is the first Buddy Humphrey / Kilgore News Herald Mr. Football award-winner. The namesake of the award – Buddy Humphrey – was a multi-sport athlete at KHS in the 1950s. Humphrey exceled in football and took his talents to Waco, where he became the starting quarterback at Baylor University.

While there, he knocked off second-ranked Tennessee in a bowl game, once owned the highest passing yardage in a single season among every NCAA Division I school, and was then drafted by the Los Angeles Rams.

His NFL stops also included the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers before his retirement. He went on to serve as both KHS football coach, principal and purchasing director at Kilgore College before his passing in 1988.

The Buddy Humphrey / Kilgore News Herald Mr. Football Award will now be presented annually as the News Herald’s football player of the year award to one deserving player in the News Herald’s coverage area – Kilgore High School, Sabine High School, Overton High School, West Rusk High School or Leverett’s Chapel.

The award will be presented following the completion of each season from here out – so either December or January, 2022 will be the presentation of the next one.

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