This is the first in a four-part series previewing offensive and defensive players to watch, top storylines and top teams in 2015. Coming Wednesday: Defensive players to watch in 2015.
A host of talented players will grace the offenses of football teams around the area in 2015. Some are well-known. Others are only beginning to get their names noticed locally and beyond.
With the football season upon us, it is time to take a closer look at a few of these individuals. This is not necessarily a list of the best offensive players in the area, but a look at those who will likely play the biggest roles in their team’s success this season.
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2014 stats: Passed for 2,153 yards, 28 touchdowns and 4 interceptions; 55 carries for 398 yards and 9 touchdowns
Why to watch: Pass’ name has long been known within the local football season. Even prior to becoming the Tigers’ starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2013, there were high expectations because of his size, athleticism and arm strength.
After committing to Louisville earlier this month, the rising senior has his prospects as a future college star already solidified, leaving him with nothing to worry about but leading his team in his final high school season.
Other players on Carver’s offense could be mentioned as major keys to the team’s success. The running game has always been a focal point for the Tigers, and that won’t change this season. But if they are to return to the state title conversation in 2015, it will rest on the throwing arm of their 6-foot-5 quarterback.
Despite his impressive numbers, Carver, as a team, slipped to 8-3 in 2014, its fewest wins since 2005. Fair or not, the quarterback will always receive a large portion of the responsibility when his team doesn’t live up to expectations.
Earlier this month, Pass talked about putting the team on his back in his encore campaign. Coach Joe Kegler said that as his quarterback goes, so the team will go. If all goes right for the Tigers, that could be a long way.
School: Marion County
2014 stats: 87 carries for 862 yards and 17 touchdowns; 51 receptions for 825 yards and 13 touchdowns
Why to watch: With former Central player Traveon Samuel away in college, Smothers could now be considered the best all-around athlete in the area. Not even including special teams, where he had over 400 return yards and a touchdown, or defense, where he had four interceptions and three touchdowns, Smothers scored more touchdowns than any other player in 2014.
The rising senior is small in stature, standing at just 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, but resembles classic cartoon character “The Tasmanian Devil” in the open field, spinning and juking past potential tacklers.
If possible, the Eagles may need even more out of their star athlete in 2015 as they look to replace the graduated Dustin Eckert, who was a remarkably efficient quarterback for the team.
Smothers will undoubtedly be the focal point of the offense and could produce borderline unbelievable numbers in his final season with the team. If he does, Marion County is sure to be in the conversation for a state title yet again.
2014 stats: (Regular season only) 102 of 199 for 1,826 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 77 carries for 372 yards and 6 touchdowns
Why to watch: To say that Central will enter the 2015 season with some hype surrounding the program is an understatement. The team has such talent across the board that those releasing national rankings have taken notice, despite the fact that top playmaker Traveon Samuel and top running back Kenneth Thomas both graduated.
While Central will undoubtedly still rely on the running game, the passing game has an opportunity to be particularly potent if Webb can continue his progress as a passer. His targets include three wide receivers who have gotten major Division-I attention. Quan Weaver (6-foot-4), Jamal Couch (6-foot-5) and Justyn Ross (6-foot-3) present mismatches across the field that, if utilized, can turn Central’s passing game into one of its biggest strengths.
At times, Webb displayed that ability as a passer last season. In the first half of a regular-season win against Prattville, Webb passed for 201 yards and three touchdowns in arguably his best game of the season.
When the two teams met again in the playoffs, however, the young quarterback struggled with his timing in a season-ending loss.
How Webb progresses and takes charge of the offense in his third season under center will likely play a major part in whether the Red Devils can fulfill the lofty expectations in 2015.
2014 stats: 108 of 207 for 1,298 yards, 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions; 151 carries for 567 yards and 6 touchdowns
Why to watch: Jordan’s improvement as a football team has been slow and steady over the past three years under coach Jim Brown, so much so that it might be difficult for the casual observer to really see how far the team has come.
A closer look, though, will indicate just how close the Red Jackets were to competing for a playoff spot last season. If they are to take that next step this season, their quarterback will be one of the main reasons why.
Kimbrough is a rising junior who showed flashes of what he could do as a freshman in 2013 and began to be one of the main cogs in the Jordan offense a season ago. Now, in his third season, it is reasonable to expect him to take over that side of the ball and be the leader the team needs to get it to the next level.
At 6-feet and 215 pounds, Kimbrough has good size and great athleticism under center. He poses plenty of problems for opposing defenses, and if his game has become more polished as expected, the Red Jackets could be one of the fun surprises of the 2015 season.
For perspective, the team has not made the playoffs since 1996 nor had a winning season since 1993.
Others to watch:
Position: Wide receiver
2014 stats: 23 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns
Why to watch: This is just Paulding’s second season of competitive football after joining the Raiders football team last season. Before that, he had focused solely on basketball.
At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, he has a lot of physical up side. If he can continue to progress in his route running and overall grasp of the offense, he can become a major threat for Shaw quarterback B.J. Knight.
School: Harris County
Position: Running back
2014 stats: 175 carries for 1,012 yards and 7 touchdowns
Why to watch: Blackmon is joining a new team after leading Hardaway in rushing a season ago. At Harris County, he is one player who could fill the void left by TaQuon Marshall and Tae Crowder in the ground game.
It is unclear what his role will be with his new team, but he certainly has the speed and athleticism to succeed in coach Dwight Jones’ offense.
School: Calvary Christian
Position: Running back
2014 stats: 228 carries for 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns
Why to watch: As the main back in Calvary Christian’s offense last season, Santiago led all local rushers with 1,800 yards rushing. As a senior this season, he will once again be the focal point of the Knights’ offense.
The Knights were 9-3 and GICAA state runners-up last year. Another year like that for Santiago, and Calvary Christian should once again be in the mix for a state title.