The FCN sports staff of Michael Foster and Brian Paglia picks the best players, coaches, teams and more of the first half of the high school football season in Forsyth County.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Michael Foster, Sports writer: If we were handing out a Newcomer of the Year award, Kiernen Hamilton would take it too. The junior signal caller, formerly of New York state, came from playing prep football at much smaller programs but has settled into his starting role at West. Hamilton has completed 72 of 116 passes for 1,292 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also ranks top-10 in the entire state, through all classifications, in passing yards. In the FCN preseason primer we called replacing last year’s quarterback, Hampton McConnell, the “elephant in the room.” Now Hamilton is the big man on campus.
Brian Paglia, Sports Editor: I was suspicious (in a good way) when I learned Kiernen Hamilton had moved from New York into West Forsyth’s district over the summer, especially after I watched his highlight footage. Giving the Wolverines a talented quarterback is usually bad news for opponents. The junior has burst onto the scene, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,292 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s my pick so far, but South Forsyth junior Davis Shanley isn’t too far behind, he's just doing it in a more balanced way (10 passing TDs, five rushing).
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Foster: Last season as a junior, Cameron Kline had seven sacks. This season, in one game, he almost matched that. Against Centennial, Kline had nine tackles, five sacks, two tackles for a loss and forced a fumble. Against Habersham a week later, he tallied two more sacks, forced a fumble and returned another fumble for a touchdown. In total, he has 13—that’s right, the senior, who plays a 10-game schedule, is on pace to break Michael Strahan’s NFL sack record for a single season (22.5). No pressure, Kline. As a productive tight end as well, Kline might just be the best player in Forsyth County.
Paglia: It has to be Kline. He has a five-sack game (Centennial), a four-sack game (Chattahoochee), a two-sack game (Habersham) and 13 in all through five games. He’s on pace for 26 sacks by the end of the regular season. That is absolutely ridiculous. No, I don’t think he’ll reach that number, because the competition gets much tougher for the War Eagles in the second half, but it’s become his award to lose at this point. He does, though, have a worthy challenger in West Forsyth defensive end Eli Huggins who has eight sacks.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Foster: Heading into the season, South coach Jeff Arnette was tight lipped about his feelings toward his team. He’d be the first to let you know the team was just 0-0, and that speculation could wait—his team had work to do. In preseason practices, half the time Arnette gave off the vibe he didn’t know what he had, and the other half of the time he’d look as content as could be. His grounded, realistic persona has stayed true as South, which replaced eight starters on offense and six on defense, is off to a 5-0 start anyway.
Paglia: Forsyth County football coaches are doing some impressive work this season. Todd Winter has Pinecrest Academy rated No. 1 in the GHSA’s Class A Power Poll. Jeff Arnette has South undefeated. Adam Clack has West Forsyth on the upswing after a challenging early schedule. For now, though, I’ll go with Lambert’s Louis Daniel, whose team is on a four-game winning streak, is tied with South for first place in Region 6-AAAAAA and has the most notable win of the season, a 17-14 victory at two-time defending region champion Alpharetta.
Foster: South had to replace Matthew White at QB, Tyler LaFlamme at RB and a slew of players on defense. Davis Shanley and Sam Outlaw don’t look like bad replacements. Shanley has shined at QB this year, combining a clear grasp of South’s wide-open offense with a pair of elusive feet—he might be the most fun player to watch. Having a D-I commit in Jalen Camp at WR and S helps, along with a D-I prospect in Kline at TE and DE. How about a shout out to the short but sweet hands and legs of speedster Ronnie Chambliss. Maybe the smallest starter in the county, he’s a big time threat at WR opposite of Camp.
Paglia: Part of me wants to flip a coin between Lambert, South and West, but it’s hard not to reward South’s 5-0 start. Sure, as we’ve written before, the competition hasn’t been the toughest, but the War Eagles have dominated in the way you’d expect an elite team to do. Their offense has looked incredibly balanced and versatile. Their defense, led by Kline, has been smothering. Kicker Alex Barbir is a special teams weapon. And to think, South had so many starters to replace off last season’s team that made the state playoffs. So far, this one looks even better.
BIGGEST SECOND-HALF STORYLINE
Foster: At 5-0 and 4-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA, South is in the driver’s seat , but that doesn’t mean a couple of neighbors aren’t begging to take the wheel. After some humble beginnings against top-ranked non-region foes, Lambert and West got back on track and now look like they’ve found the fast-lane. Lambert is neck-in-neck with the War Eagles where it matters, and after a big win against Northview last week, West is the only other team with a region mark above .500. South and West almost look like carbon copies of one another, while Lambert is sizzling hot on the ground with the three-headed backfield of Harrison Pomfret, Ken Dicks and emerging star Brian Wright.
Paglia: Forsyth Central is puzzling to me. I saw so much potential in the Bulldogs before the season began, what with ending a 13-year drought of winning seasons last year, and Central flashed that potential during a 2-0 start and a close 14-13 loss to then-No. 8 ranked Kell. But Central’s blowout loss to Riverwood last week was discouraging; even head coach Shane Williamson said there was nothing positive for his team to take from the performance. The biggest factor could be injuries, particularly to running back Shaun Diebel. If he’s not healthy, though, can Central still make a second-half push for the playoffs?