This is the second in a four-part series previewing offensive and defensive players to watch, top storylines and top teams in 2015. Coming Thursday: Top storylines of 2015.
Offensive players usually get the headlines, but a handful of defenders could play major roles in the success of their respective defenses this season.
As with the focus on local offensive players, the following is not necessarily a list of the best defensive players in the area. Instead, it is a look a where certain individuals may have the biggest impacts on their teams.
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2014 stats: Not available
Why to watch: There are a number of players on the Central defense that could be mentioned here. John Broussard and Karon Delince are an impressive tandem in the defensive backfield. Linebackers Markail Benton, Walter Pritchett and Toron Morten are all impact players, as well.
London is so important to watch, though, because he is new to the Central defense, but he could be the piece that helps take it to the next level.
He is a three-star defensive tackle prospect with offers from Louisville, Kentucky, Mississippi State and N.C. State. He was committed to the Cardinals, but re-opened his recruitment and has stated he’d like to earn an offer from Alabama.
As far as his impact on Central in his senior season, he could be a difference-maker for the Red Devils up front, limiting running lanes and opening things up for other pass rushers with his ability to occupy multiple blockers.
He may or may not produce many impressive statistics, but his overall impact may be the domino that helps the other pieces fall into place on that side of the ball.
2014 stats: 95 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 interception and 3 forced fumbles
Why to watch: As was mentioned with quarterback Romello Kimbrough on the offensive side of the ball, Markus Wright is the unquestioned leader for the Red Jackets on defense. He is one of seven returning starters, but is the life of the unit both statistically and vocally.
A lot can be said about Wright — his impressive numbers, his football IQ and his overall IQ, for that matter. He is intelligent, has good size and has already committed to play college ball at Cal. If he is able to help Jordan take the next step as a program this year, though, that will be perhaps his greatest accomplishment in high school.
A 3-7 record is rarely considered a major leap in the right direction, but when you consider where the Red Jackets were as a program three years ago, their record in 2014 should not be taken lightly.
They had the opportunity to win at least two more games last season, which would have given them a 5-5 record and put them on the brink of playoff contention. This year, there is real reason to believe Jordan can take the next step. If it does, Wright will be one of the main reasons why.
2014 stats: 103 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries
Why to watch: Last season’s Pacelli defensive MVP and All-Bi-City defensive player of the year is back for his senior season with the Vikings.
While he was already arguably the team’s top performer on that side of the ball last year, more may be expected of him as a senior because of the loss of guys like defensive tackles Chris Rehak and Marcous Herrera, who played major roles in the success of the team’s defense.
At linebacker, Davis will be the eyes and ears on the field for the Vikings, who are looking to take the next step as a program after back-to-back seven-win seasons. There were opportunities for the Vikings to win two more regular-season games (against Dooly County and Marion County), which would have given them one of the state’s top seeds and put them in better position to make a postseason run.
Progress on the defensive side of the ball could make that difference this year, and Davis will be front and center in that effort.
Others to watch:
The Central defense
2014 stats: N/A
Why to watch: As mentioned in T.J. London’s section above, there are a lot of talented pieces to the Red Devil defense this year. Markail Benton is one of the top-rated linebackers in the country for 2017. John Broussard is committed to Auburn, and Karon Delince has already received multiple offers from SEC programs. Walter Pritchett and Toron Morten are both Division-I caliber players, as well.
But this talent was mostly in place last year, as well, and Central’s defense didn’t quite play up to its expectations. That’s what will be interesting to watch over the course of the season.
Because if the defense does live up to its hype, it could lead the Red Devils all the way to a state championship.
School: Calvary Christian
Position: Defensive back
2014 stats: 28 tackles, 8 interceptions, 1 interception returned for touchdown
Why to watch: As a sophomore last season, Russell intercepted eight passes, more than any other local player. He was helped by the Knights’ strong front seven, of which the top two tacklers graduated this spring.
Will Russell be able to continue his dominant play in the defensive backfield, and how will Calvary Christian replace the production up front?
The answer to those questions will go a long way to indicating whether this defense can help lead the Knights back to the GICAA state title game.
The two-way athletes
2014 stats: N/A
Why to watch: Two-way athletes like Columbus’ Essang Bassey, Pacelli’s DeAndre Bowman and Marion County’s Lorenzo Smothers are all interesting to watch because of the impact they have on both ends of the field.Smothers’ defensive numbers alone last year would have been enough to get him a first-team recognition. The same could likely be said about Bassey and Bowman.
These are the players more known for their impacts on offense, but if they get their hands on the ball defensively — which they did a combined 15 times last year (four interceptions for Smothers, five for Bassey and six for Bowman) — watch out.