For virtually the entire existence of the Forsyth County News’ All-County Football Team, the defensive player of the year has come from near the line of scrimmage.
Forsyth Central’s Mark Sibenaller started the tradition, and he was followed by Nathan Teter and Quinton Riley and Zack Matthews and on and on until West Forsyth’s Grant Torgerson last season. The Wolverines linebacker was the 10th FCN Defensive Player of the Year selection, and all 10 have been either defensive linemen or linebackers.
That will be a hard streak to continue this season. The county graduated a lot of talent at those two position groups. Five of last season’s six first- or second-team all-county defensive linemen graduated, led by West’s Eli Huggins. He’s now at Kansas State. All eight of last season’s first- or second-team all-county linebackers graduated, led by South Forsyth’s Max Slott. He’s now at Mercer.
So, perhaps it’s more likely than ever that the top county defensive award this season goes to someone in the secondary. And there’s plenty to choose from.
Here are five players I think could contend for county defensive Player of the Year:
Marcus Chatelain, Lambert
The rising senior defensive back has been among the most productive players the past two seasons, amassing 113 tackles and six interceptions while also helping on offense a bit; last season, he rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns. As a safety, he tracks the ball in the air well and is a strong tackler when helping to defend the run. With the Longhorns needing to replace a bevy of defensive starters, here’s guessing Chatelain becomes even more productive while also increasing his leadership role.
Kenneth Dicks III, Lambert
It’s to forget the rising senior looked like an emerging standout running back two years ago before injuries cut his sophomore season short. Dicks III moved to corner back full-time last season and impressed with 38 tackles including five interceptions and four pass deflections. The rising senior’s notoriety has only increased over the summer with his impressive stats at combines that earned him an invitation to Nike Football’s The Opening.
Ryan LaFlamme, South Forsyth
After emerging as a strong component of South’s state quarterfinals team in 2015, last season was supposed to be LaFlamme’s breakout. Early on it was before a foot injury cost the defensive lineman to miss a month. He eventually returned and finished with 25 tackles, nine quarterback hurries, four sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in eight games. Give the rising senior a full, healthy season, and he should be back to wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Cade Vela, West Forsyth
Vela came to the Wolverines via North Carolina last season and was an immediate starter at cornerback, and a good one, too, finishing with 60 tackles, 14 pass deflections and three interceptions. His gaudy pass deflection total underscores his coverage skills, but he can also deliver the big hit. The Wolverines lost nine starters on defense, so Vela’s experience and production will be paramount for that unit under first-year head coach Shawn Cahill.
Honus Wagner, North Forsyth
The only rising junior on this list, Wagner was among the more versatile defensive players last season. He was a strong safety, where he intercepted a pass and recovered three fumbles, but he also moved to outside linebacker at times, where he made five tackles for loss and had four sacks. He finished with 77 tackles in all as a sophomore. North is another team that took a hit on defense to graduation, so they’ll surely lean on Wagner even more this season.
Others to watch: David Carrillo, West Forsyth; Ian Hunt, South Forsyth; Jackson Leak, Forsyth Central; Landon Sims, South Forsyth
Brian Paglia is sports editor at the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at email@example.com, 770-205-8976 or follow him on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.