The coronavirus changed the game in 2020.

Colby Garey-Wright was still a game-changer for St. Johnsbury.

Making the most of a pandemic football season — 7-on-7 touch instead of traditional 11-on-11 tackle — Garey-Wright and his Hilltoppers teammates won nine of 10 games and claimed the St. J Area regional championship with three straight blowout wins in the playoff bracket.

The athletic, versatile 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior was a difference-maker on both sides of the ball for St. J.

Behind center, he completed 128 of 218 passes for 1,447 yards, 20 touchdowns and three interceptions. As a receiver, Garey-Wright had great hands and instincts while playing at wideout and tight end. He finished third on the team in receptions, hauling in 50 catches for 638 yards and nine TDs. He also picked off three passes playing at linebacker and defensive back while helping lead a stout St. J defensive unit.

“God’s honest truth Colby played the way we expected him to,” St. J coach Rich Alercio said after Garey-Wright’s spectacular individual performance in which he finished with six total touchdowns — throwing four and catching two — while also picking off two passes in St. J’s 42-28 title-game thumping of Spaulding. “He might be the best player in the state heading into next season and he played like it today.”

He was also the best player in the Northeast Kingdom in 2020, and today is The Record’s 7-on-7 Football Player of the Year.

“Colby’s height, speed and athleticism coupled with his football IQ made him a shutdown defender and a threat at multiple offensive positions,” Alercio said. “We were able to play him at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end allowing us to get favorable matchups versus opponents. On defense, we played him at defensive back and linebacker allowing us the flexibility to have him cover a team’s best receiver.

“When we started to move Colby around on offense and defense halfway through the season, our score differential dramatically increased in our favor.”

In the championship game, the Hilltoppers trailed 20-14 with 5 minutes left to play in the first half. But Garey-Wright shifted from receiver to quarterback and the Academy uncorked 28 straight points to stun Spaulding.

It was his second straight playoff game with at least six TDs. The 16-year-old three-sport athlete threw for 296 yards and six scores and caught another in the Academy’s 62-22 semifinal rout at U-32.

“It means a lot to win the title; we all worked so hard for it,” Garey-Wright said. “This was a very different season, but we still had the same goal, and that’s to win the championship.

“I am just proud of the work I put in during the offseason. Hard work pays off. Winning a title and award like this shows that.”

Garey-Wright highlights The Record’s first All-NEK 7-on-7 Football Team, which with a kicker on offense and an extra defender on defense, celebrates eight area standouts on both sides of the ball.

Jack Young of North Country earned the nod at quarterback, the strong and accurate senior tossing more than 40 touchdowns to spearhead a deft Falcons’ attack.

Jaden Hayes of St. J, a workhorse in the trenches in season’s past, lands the honor at running back — the senior possessing good hands as a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Parker Mitchell of Lyndon, Sam Begin of St. J, and Shawn Fearino and Wyatt Descheneau were standouts at receiver.

Mitchell, a special sophomore talent, displayed great speed, hands and big-play ability. Begin, a tall, athletic threat, finished his junior season with 54 catches (second on team) for 676 yards and 12 TDs, including a 62-yarder. Fearino, a shifty and fast senior, finished with 14 receiving TDs for the Falcons while Descheneau, a gifted freshman, was up to 10 touchdowns before an injury ended his season with four games to play.

Zebb Winot, an athletic, big-bodied senior, flashed his talent over the middle of the field to earn tight end honors. He finished with 23 receptions for 236 yards and three scores.

Ben Rodriguez, a sophomore kicker for the Hilltoppers, hit 46 of 48 extra points.

Garey-Wright and Trevor Lussier are among the All-NEK defensive unit. Lussier, a big, physical linebacker, helped anchor the defensive unit for the Vikings, the lone team to beat St. J this season. He was also a standout pass-catcher at tight end.

Kyle Martin, one of the premier defenders around, was a gifted two-way senior standout for North Country. Athletic and tough, he came away with six interceptions while patrolling the middle of the field at strong safety. He also led the Falcons with 21 TDs at wide receiver.

St. J senior Geoffrey Hauver slots in at strong safety — the rangy, dependable defender making life tough downfield for opposing receivers.

Lyndon sophomore Jake Sanville and St. J junior Fritz Hauser earn the nods at free safety. Sanville was an ultra-athletic pass-stopper in the Vikings secondary. Hauser, standing 6 feet, 6 inches, had a team-high five of the Hilltoppers’ 25 interceptions this season. He also had a team-leading 62 catches for 716 yards on offense.

Chevy Bandy and Sebastian Luneborg round out the defensive squad, the pair of athletic juniors giving the Vikings a strong presence on the outside.

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THE RECORD’S 2020 ALL-NEK 7-ON-7 FOOTBALL TEAM

The squad, selected by the Caledonian-Record sports department, is made up of players from the three schools in our coverage area, including Lyndon, North Country and St. Johnsbury. Based on merit but admittedly subjective, we present The Record’s 2020 All-NEK 7-on-7 football team (with a kicker on offense and an extra defender on defense, we celebrate eight players on each side of the ball):

Player of the Year: Colby Garey-Wright, St. Johnsbury, Sr., LB/QB/WR

All-Area Offense

QB Jack Young, North Country, Sr.

RB Jaden Hayes, St. Johnsbury, Sr.

WR Sam Begin, St. Johnsbury, Jr.

WR Shawn Fearino, North Country, Sr.

WR Wyatt Descheneau, North Country, Fr.

WR Parker Mitchell, Lyndon, Soph.

TE Zebb Winot, St. Johnsbury, Sr.

K Ben Rodriguez, St. Johnsbury, Soph.

All-Area Defense

SS Kyle Martin, North Country, Sr.

SS Geoffrey Hauver, St. Johnsbury, Sr.

FS Fritz Hauser, St. Johnsbury, Jr.

FS Jake Sanville, Lyndon, Soph.

LB Trevor Lussier, Lyndon, Jr.

LB Colby Garey-Wright, St. Johnsbury, Jr.

CB Chevy Bandy, Lyndon, Jr.

CB Sebastian Luneborg, Lyndon, Jr.

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