My, how the World Cup just always seems to fit right in with my early picks for Forsyth County high school football players of the year.
Last week, I featured five players who I think could win defensive player of the year just as the United States women’s national team reached the World Cup finals on the strength of a suffocating defense.
And now my picks for offensive player of the year are ready after the U.S. women unleash the scoring in a 5-2 victory over Japan.
Here’s one thing to consider about these candidates: all five are returning players (perhaps an obvious point), but three were first-year starters last season. It’s a strong possibility there’s a player just waiting for a chance to break out and make a name of himself.
Otherwise, here are my five early picks for 2015 offensive player of the year, in no particular order:
Jalen Camp South Forsyth
You might think Camp is on the wrong list, that he should’ve been one of my five early picks for Defensive Player of the Year after making three interceptions last season (including two he returned for touchdowns). Camp is, after all, committed to Liberty University to play outside linebacker/safety.
But the 6-foot-2, 210-pound rising senior is also one of the county’s top wide receivers. Last season, he caught 37 passes for 608 yards and seven touchdowns to help the War Eagles return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Why Camp: There probably isn’t a more imposing pass-catcher in the county. Camp has elite strength, good size and speed and great leaping ability after growing up a basketball player before switching to football going into his sophomore year at South.
Why not: It’s probably still up in the air as to who Camp will be catching passes from.
He benefitted from second-year starting quarterback Matt White last season. White is now graduated, and the War Eagles were still letting a competition battle between rising junior Austin Harvey and rising sophomore Davis Shanley play out as of spring practice.
The eventual starter’s play will have a huge impact on Camp’s player of the year candidacy, but if Harvey or Shanley struggle, Camp still has defensive player of the year honors to fall back on.
Shaun Diebel Forsyth Central
No player had a bigger breakout season than Diebel did for the Bulldogs, and it was a big reason Central had its first winning season in 13 years.
The running back rushed for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns on 226 carries for the Bulldogs. He even added a touchdown pass on a trick play in Central’s 41-13 blowout of then-undefeated Riverwood.
Why Diebel: The 5-foot-11 rising senior is one of the more exciting running backs to come through Forsyth County in recent memory. He has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. He is elusive with great vision. He isn’t afraid of contact.
Head coach Shane Williamson came to Central in 2013 hoping to install a spread offense. He switched course last season and committed to a more traditional, run-heavy Wishbone approach, and Diebel was the primary benefactor. Another offseason refining the offense should make Diebel the early favorite for offensive player of the year.
Why not: Diebel isn’t the only impressive running back at Central. Sabrian Howard also got 142 carries last season and finished with 797 yards and six touchdowns. The rising junior should be even better this season.
Or maybe Central struggles to replace graduated starters Hunter Lamm, David Allen and Tyler Dahlberg on the offensive line, cutting down the number of running lanes Diebel had to work with last season.
Tanner Hall Lambert
In a way, it’s almost unfair for Hall to be on this list. He did, after all, win 2014-15 Boys Basketball Player of the Year this past season. Why be so greedy, Tanner?
Well, he’s also one of the county’s top football players, a first-team all-county and all-region selection at wide receiver who caught 26 passes for 501 yards and six touchdowns. And colleges are taking notice: he’s received eight scholarship offers since late March, but verbally committed to Georgia Southern this past Wednesday.
Why Hall: The 6-foot-2, 185-pound rising senior puts those basketball skills to good use. Give him a jump ball on a fade route and chances are he’s going to make the catch. When the Longhorns needed a big passing play last season, they went to Hall, who averaged 19.3 yards per catch.
And if he needs a tiebreaker over another player of the year candidate, Hall made 5 of 8 field goals and 27 of 30 PATs last season.
Why not: No Longhorns player has ever won offensive player of the year since the program started in 2009. Really, Lambert has never been an offensive juggernaut, and more recently it’s been a slow-starter the past few seasons until adjusting just in time to make a run at the state playoffs. Moreover, Lambert’s generally been a run-first team, which doesn’t bode well for player of the year candidacies of wide receivers.
Mitchell Ojeda Pinecrest Academy
Ojeda spent most of 2013 at defensive back, but the Paladins brought him to offense last season.
Ojeda rushed for 744 yards and eight touchdowns at slot back and was a first-team all-region 6-A selection as Pinecrest went 7-4 and reached the state playoffs for the first time since joining the Georgia High School Association.
Why Ojeda: The 6-foot-1, 185-pound rising senior gives Pinecrest a big-play threat on the edge who can score at any time. Ojeda averaged around 9 yards a carry. He can have nights like he did against North Springs (nine carries, 112 yards, TD) or Fellowship Christian (nine carries, 107 yards, TD) or King’s Ridge (14 carries, 129 yards, 2 TDs).
Imagine what he could do with more carries.
Why not: About those carries – Ojeda may just not get enough. That can be a problem in a triple-option offense like Pinecrest runs. The Paladins also return quarterback Ryan McCarthy (809 rushing yards) and fullback Matthew Walters (400-plus yards). Not enough carries, and I’m pretty sure it’s hard to win offensive player of the year.
Grant Torgerson West Forsyth
When former Wolverines running back Trevor O’Brien transferred last summer to Lambert, it left a big question mark for West at the position.
Torgerson stepped in to help provide an answer. The sophomore rushed for 861 yards and five touchdowns on 125 carries to help West go 6-4 and juuuuust miss the state playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Why Torgerson: To start, West has an exceptional history of producing prodigious offenses and in turn offensive playmakers. Five Wolverines (Lance Baker, Ben Emert, Jake Wieczorek, A.J. Erdeley and Hampton McConnell) have won offensive player of the year since the program started in 2007. So Torgerson’s in the right place.
McConnell’s graduation also figures to help Torgerson. Chances are McConnell’s successor isn’t going to have quite the same dual-threat skills as McConnell provided West’s offense, which should mean Torgerson is featured far more prominently this season.
Why not: On the other hand, the question of who will replace McConnell could be a big one. And, really, West is still asking the same question all over the offense. Who will replace Carson Adams, Alan Pearson and Mich Toure on the offensive line? Who will replace Grant Anderskow and Nathan Schmitz at wide receiver? If West struggles to find those answers, there won’t be much Torgerson can do by himself.
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.