Durant head coach Clayton Varnum led seven of his senior athletes to being selected to the First All-Conference Team.

Seven Durant High School football players were selected to the First Team of the Western Conference Federal Division at the beginning of December 2022.

The seven Durant seniors will join the First Team’s offense, including wide receiver Jeremiah Gines, offensive tackle Ajai Brown and center Tanner Pierce. Defensive linemen Ty Merkle and Greg Smith, linebacker Jacob Reed and defensive back Xavier Peavy were selected for the defense. The Federal Division will be coached by coach-of-the-year Mike Gottman from East Bay High School.

This was Gines’ second selection to the All-Conference team but the first time he earned a role on the First Team. However, it is no surprise when looking at his senior season at Durant. This year, Gines broke the school record for receiving touchdowns and overall receptions. In one game, Gines made 11 catches for 244 yards against Gaither High School at the end of October.

Brown, Durant’s offensive tackle, was also selected to the First Team’s offense after his third year playing on varsity. Brown has earned the attention of recruiters of D-I schools.

“He’s really athletic and he’s really physical. He plays the game well,” said Durant head coach Clayton Varnum.

Pierce also plays the game well, despite 2022 being his first season on varsity. Pierce has been acknowledged by other schools as one of Durant’s strongest players. Varnum said the center was a “nightmare” for the teams that had to face him.

Merkle completed his second year on Durant’s football team this year and was selected for the All-Conference team after a standout year. Merkle is also a part of the baseball team but joined the football team in his junior year. He made key aggressive tackles in games and has earned the respect of coaches, teammates and opponents.

Smith has played for Durant’s program for four years and started on defense for the last two.

“He’s really the epitome of what we want Durant kids to be. He’s a good student, … works hard at practice, works hard in the weight room and, this year, statistically, really stood out,” said Varnum.

Reed was selected to the All-Conference team for the third time, but this was his first time making the First Team. The linebacker broke the school record for all time tackles and has been a four-year starter for Durant. Reed also was selected to the First Team in one of the most competitive categories for the All-Conference team.

Peavy was Durant’s seventh player to make the All-Conference team this year. The basketball and football athlete made key tackles during games and maintained great defense against runs by opponents.

Durant’s seven selections to the All-Conference First Team came after an 8-3 regular season record and 3-0 record against division opponents. Varnum’s leadership has built a team focused on class, sportsmanship and well-rounded skills to make them better students and athletes at Durant High School.

For more information about Durant’s football team and its athletic department, visit www.durantboosters.com.

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Lily Belcher is a writer for the Osprey Observer. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey Observer since completing her internship. Lily is majoring in mass communications at the University of South Florida and is a staff writer for the university’s paper, The Oracle. She enjoys writing about local nonprofit organizations and community role models who have made an impact on her hometown.