Again, it’s World Cup time, as it was last year when I first summoned the courage to declare my early favorites for 2015 Defensive Player of the Year in Forsyth County.
This year, the timing is more appropriate, for the U.S. women’s national soccer team reached the finals thanks to a stifling defense that didn’t allowed a goal for 513 minutes.
That’s perfection. And although it’s not reasonable to expect the same from Forsyth County defensive standouts this coming season, there are plenty of returning players ready to take their performance to the next level or break out and make a name for themselves.
So here are five players, in no particular order, who I believe are front-runners to win Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2015:
Eli Huggins, West Forsyth
The rising junior linebacker hasn’t been a household name, but his talent has been known at West for quite some time. Two years ago, he started seven games as a freshman for a Wolverines team that made the state playoffs.
Last season, he took a more prominent role and had 53 tackles, three tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one interception and one sack.
Why Huggins: Well, to start, West has had a knack for producing defensive talent in its brief history since the program started in 2007. In that time, four Wolverines have won DPOY – Nathan Teter, Dustin Gayton, Trevor Guthrie and Mo Camara.
Plus, Huggins figures to play an even more prominent role in West’s defense to help offset the loss of Ryan Guthrie’s 72 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Who better than the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Huggins?
Why not: Despite the propensity to produce individual defensive talent, West hasn’t been known as a defensive juggernaut, and it faces a tough task in replacing plenty of senior leaders like Guthrie, Alec Coburn, Hunter Stewart, Kyndall Phillips and David West.
Also, off Huggins’ 53 tackles, only 10 were solo, though that might be proof that West’s scheme last season was designed to highlight Guthrie’s playmaking ability.
Cameron Kline, South Forsyth
It’s somewhat odd to find Kline on this list. He was, after all, a first-team All-County and All-Region 6-AAAAAA selection at tight end last season when he caught 40 passes for 528 yards and three touchdowns.
But Kline was also a force on the defensive line for the War Eagles last season with 34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six sacks and one forced fumble that he returned for a touchdown.
Why Kline: the 6-foot-2, 220-pound outside linebacker already has a scholarship offer from Davidson, but he’s certainly motivated to get more. A big senior season would help.
South has a lot of talent on the defensive side in this rising senior class (Jalen Camp, Grant Umberger, Curtis Roach, etc.) that figures to make it even easier for Kline to get to the quarterback and maybe, just maybe, approach double-digit sacks.
Why not: It’s been awhile since South has produced a county defensive player of the year (though it came close last season with linebacker Robby Johnson). Why? Who knows. Maybe Kline can be the one to break the drought.
But South has lots of questions on offense, like replacing running back Tyler LaFlamme, last season’s offensive player of the year, along with virtually its entire offensive line. If the War Eagles don’t have good answers there, it could be a rough season, hurting Kline’s POY case.
Pierce Nufer, Forsyth Central
The Bulldogs’ first winning season in 13 years was arguably the best story of the 2014 football season in Forsyth. Central was in the hunt for a state playoff appearance until a 35-21 loss to Cambridge on Oct. 31.
Nufer’s emergence on the defensive line was one of the reasons Central went from 2-8 to 6-4 in just one season. He turned into a force off the edge and made 59 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 10 sacks on the county’s top defense.
Why Nufer: While the rising junior might not have the prototypical size of a rushing linebacker, he has great speed on the high school level to help him make up for it. It’s not hard to imagine Nufer approaching double-digit sacks again this season, especially since the Bulldogs return a bevy of experienced players around him on both sides of the ball.
In fact, Central might have the best shot of any school in Forsyth County at making the state playoffs this season. We like our POYs to be winners.
Why not: It’s possible that any of Central’s other talented players might emerge and overshadow Nufer. Linebacker Hunter Stephens returns after making 55 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks last season. Sebastian Legarra is coming off a sophomore season in which he made 73 tackles. Cameron Daube added four sacks as a junior.
Plus, he’ll get plenty of competition from the Bulldogs’ senior leader …
Robbie Repasz, Forsyth Central
As the Bulldogs emerged last season to become a state playoff contender, Repasz emerged as one of the team’s most dynamic playmakers.
The defensive back earned first-team All-County honors and made 51 tackles, six pass break-ups, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He also was a weapon on special teams, where he returned both a kickoff and punt for touchdowns (in the same game, in fact).
Why Repasz: The rising senior is arguably Central’s clear leader. Standout linebacker Victor Pepper graduated. So did solid defensive lineman Logan Tate. Repasz’s mates in the secondary in Ryan Hintz and Justin Vlasz graduated too.
It might turn out to be Repasz’s moment. He proved to be a factor in a variety of ways for the Bulldogs last season. If he can lead Central to its first state playoff appearance since 2001, how could he not win POY?
Why not: Well, teams could just not test Repasz, choosing to throw the ball to the side of the field where he is not. Or, they could kick away from him on special teams, neutralizing his ability to hurt opponents on returns.
More ominous would be if Central can’t find capable replacements for Hintz or Vlasz in the secondary to compliment Repasz.
Matt Walters, Pinecrest Academy
The Paladins were a close runner-up for the best story of the 2014 football season in Forsyth County, as Pinecrest made the state playoffs for the first time since joining the Georgia High School Association.
Walters was a big – actually, massive – part of that, particularly on the defensive line where he was a first-team All-Region 6-A selection and made 43 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks at nose guard.
Why Walters: The rising junior is 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, runs a 4.68 40-yard dash and is a monster in the weight room. He joined Pinecrest’s 1,000-pound club last season – as a sophomore. He benches 320 pounds, power cleans 275 and squats 500.
Not many Class A offensive lines can handle that kind of force. Pinecrest should be in the state playoff mix again, in part because plenty of experience returns on defense. That only figures to help Walters as he continues to emerge on college scouts’ radars.
Why not: Walters would be an unprecedented choice for POY. Pinecrest has never had a POY in football. In fact, the school just had its first athlete win a county POY award this past season in boys soccer player Logan Hamilton. Should Walters win, it’d be an historic selection.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8976 or follow him on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.