The Daily Leader’s 2023 All-Area Football: MVPs

Published 11:11 am Saturday, January 6, 2024

Xavier Gayten, Brookhaven High

Ahmad Hardy, Lawrence County

Just know that this writer spent a ridiculous amount of time pondering who the 2023 All-Area Most Valuable Player should be. The makeup of this team and who gets what award isn’t something that one takes lightly. It’s meant to spotlight the best of the best in the eight area high schools that The Daily Leader covers.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The best of the best this year is a spot atop the podium that unsurprisingly needs space for two players.

Brookhaven High senior running back Xavier Gayten and Lawrence County senior running back Ahmad Hardy are the 2023 All-Area Co-Most Valuable Players.

Simply put, they’re both just so dang good.

A player that runs with a style like a 2-ton wrecking ball, Hardy carried the ball 200 times in 2023. He rushed for 2,261 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was a first down every time he touched the rock, averaging 11.3 yards per carry for head coach Jesse Anderson and the Cougars (7-6).

The All-Area Co-Offensive MVP with Gayten as a junior, Hardy was picked MAC First Team 4A All-State and was selected for the annual MAC Blackwell All-Star Game.

The latest in a long, proud line of Hardy’s who’ve starred on the track, field and court for Lawrence County over the years, Ahmad ran for 1,041 yards as a sophomore and 1,397 yards as a junior.

He then turned it up to another level as a senior, running for 400 yards and four scores in a 55-37 win over Sumrall.

Hardy has yet to sort out where he’ll play football next season. He has offers from nearly every community college in the state, Louisiana-Monroe, Alcorn State and Southern Miss while also drawing interest from another handful of Division I programs.

Wherever he goes, I expect Hardy to still be a hard hitter on the next level.

Gayten does know where he’ll play next, at Mississippi State, a program he signed with last month.

On the field this season for the Brookhaven High Panthers (7-5), Gayten carries the ball 218 times for 2,055 yards and 25 touchdowns.

The All-Area Co-Offensive MVP with Hardy as a junior, Gayten was picked MAC First Team 5A All-State and was selected for the annual MAC Blackwell All-Star Game.

It’s Gayten’s ability to play at multiple speeds that jumps out at you. He waits patiently for a hole to develop and then it’s like someone holds down the turbo button, mashing it down until he reaches the endzone. He runs away from people who are clearly trying their best to keep up with him.

He averaged 9.4 yards per carry for coach Tucker Peavey as a senior as BHS reached the second round of the 5A playoffs. Like Hardy, running the football is a family tradition for Gayten as his father Willie was a standout in his day.

Mississippi State will have a new offensive look in 2024 under first year head coach Jeff Lebby, but one figures that Gayten is going to find his way onto the field sooner than later in Starkville as he’s an elite player with elite speed.