Last season, Forsyth County had no clear front-runner for the Forsyth County News defensive football player-of-the-year, despite an array of talent.
That’s not the case this season.
West Forsyth senior defensive lineman Eli Huggins is the clear favorite after producing big numbers last season and gaining notoriety this offseason with his verbal commitment to Kansas State.
But Huggins isn’t alone. The county’s leading tackler is back. Arguably its best defensive back is too. A young playmaker, with player-of-the-year pedigree, started to emerge last season. And Lambert has another productive linebacker.
Maybe someone utterly unknown right now, two weeks before the start of the first regular season games, will make a name for himself.
Until they do, here are five players to watch for defensive player-of-the-year honors, in no particular order.
Congrove leads the class of defensive backs returning this season in Forsyth County.
The 5-foot-1, 180-pound senior safety finished last season with 71 tackles, 14 pass break-ups, three tackles for loss and one interception to earn first-team all-Region 6-6A honors and help West go 7-4 and reach the state playoffs for the fifth time in school history.
Why Congrove: He’s a playmaker, simple as that. He can help in the box against the run, he has great instincts in pass defense and he’s also a threat on special teams. Last season, Congrove had 526 kick-off return yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Why not: There’s not a big precedent of defensive backs becoming the FCN’s defensive player-of-the-year. The last six have been either linebackers or defensive linemen.
The biggest name on the list – literally.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive lineman is arguably the highest-profile defensive player in the county after verbally committing to Kansas State over the summer, and he was a force last season. Huggins finished with 80 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery to earn first-team all-Region 6-6A honors.
Why Huggins: When it comes to shear physical prowess, Huggins is in a class of his own. He is a defensive end in a defensive tackle’s body. How does anybody block this guy? Ask Habersham Central last season. Huggins had one of the most prolific performances with 10 tackles, five sacks and one tackle for loss.
Expect Huggins to be supremely motivated to go out on a memorable note as a senior on a West team that seems poised to have a big season.
Why not: With Huggins’ size, it will probably take two or three offensive linemen to keep him out of the backfield. And that’s exactly what teams might do.
If Huggins doesn’t match last season’s production, it might be because opponents dedicate their game plan to stopping him, no matter the cost.
Oh, look, another LaFlamme in consideration for FCN player-of-the-year.
The younger brother of Tyler, who was the FCN’s offensive player-of-the-year in 2014, had a breakout sophomore season in 2015, finishing with 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks to earn first-team all-Region 6-6A honors while South went 11-2, won the region title and reached the state quarterfinals.
Why LaFlamme: The War Eagles have the biggest hole to fill – perhaps in the entire county – in replacing defensive end Cameron Kline, the 2015 FCN defensive player-of-the-year who signed with Harvard. LaFlamme, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior now, seems a perfect candidate to step in to the role in which Kline so flourished last season.
Why not: South has some serious leadership and talent to replace this season on defense. If the new starters don’t skip a beat, LaFlamme could have a big season. If they struggle, LaFlamme’s effectiveness could suffer.
Another year, another productive Longhorns linebacker.
Redmond was one of a few last season, finishing with 72 tackles (27 solo), 10 tackles for loss and two sacks to earn first-team all-Region 6-6A honors and help Lambert finished 8-3 and reach the state playoffs.
Why Redmond: Lambert linebackers have a good track record in the FCN defensive player-of-the-year award. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior could follow in the footsteps of past winners Zach Matthews (2013) and Adison Schimmelpfennig (2014).
Why not: Redmond had a low percentage of solo tackles last season, but that was partly by defensive scheme. Lambert coaches had Redmond and senior Kyle Conner joined at the hip, and so they shared many hits on opponents. Conner has graduated, so Redmond could see his production increase even more.
He is Forsyth County’s tackling machine.
Slott led the county in tackles last season with 117 (81 solo) to go along with seven tackles for loss and two sacks to earn first-team all-Region 6-6A honors and help South to its historic season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior is being recruited by virtually every Ivy League school.
Why Slott: Linebackers with 100-plus tackles always have a good shot for player-of-the-year honors; it’s a statistical milestone that usually doesn’t lie. Plus, he’s an impact tackler from South who seems Ivy League-bound – sounds a lot like Cameron Kline, last year’s winner.
Why not: The county is loaded with talented linebackers this season, from Forsyth Central’s Sebastian Legarra and Jacob Ward to Lambert’s Redmond to West’s Aaron Wagoner to North Forsyth’s Griffin Hughes and on and on. Slott will have plenty of competition.
Others to watch: Sebastian Legarra, Forsyth Central; Marcus Chatelain, Lambert; Hunter Stephens, Forsyth Central; Robert Bishop, North Forsyth; Jackson Brantley, West Forsyth; Julian Mingo, South Forsyth.