Davis Shanley had never played a varsity snap before last season but managed to have a breakout season for the ages. The South Forsyth quarterback accounted for 32 touchdowns while leading the War Eagles to their best season in school history to be named the Forsyth County News’ Offensive Player of the Year.
He returns for his senior season after a notable summer. He led South in some high-profile 7-on-7 passing tournaments, including an appearance in the USA Football 7-on-7 national tournament in Hoover, Alabama. He verbally committed to Western Kentucky, one of the best spots in Division I college football for a quarterback. He seems poised to prove last season for himself and the War Eagles was no fluke.
But history says he won’t win player-of-the-year honors again.
Since the FCN sports department has selected high school football players of the year, no one has ever repeated as winner, offense or defense.
Can Shanley change that? Or will history repeat itself?
Here are five players to watch this upcoming season:
KIERNEN HAMILTON // West Forsyth
Hamilton had the Wolverines in a New York state of mind.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior moved in from up north and made an instant impact, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,563 yards and 29 touchdowns to help West go 7-4 and get back to the state playoffs. Hamilton was second-team all-county and all-region.
Why Hamilton: Hamilton’s move from New York is a bigger deal than it seems. He arrived in June and had to compete for the starting position up until West’s scrimmage. He of course won the job, but it meant he had to operate an offense not perfectly suited to his skill set – and yet he still had an impressive season.
So now with an entire offseason for West’s coaches to tailor its offense around Hamilton, he could be poised for even bigger things. Plus, it helps throwing to the likes of Ben Bresnahan (6-4, 220) and Zach Burns (5-10, 170), who combined for 78 catches and 974 yards last season.
Why not: Hamilton won’t be able to take a week off this season. West has an ambitious non-region schedule, including the returning Class 2A state champion, Pace Academy (now in Class 3A). He’ll face other strong defenses in Dacula, Hillgrove and Newnan.
SIMON HOLCOMB // North Forsyth
Holcomb is the definition of an exciting high school football player.
The senior wide receiver did a little bit of everything for the Raiders last season, rushing for 678 yards and four touchdowns, catching 37 passes for 588 yards and five touchdowns and returning kickoffs. Holcomb was a first-team all-county and all-region selection event as North struggled, going 2-8.
Why Holcomb: First-year head coach Robert Craft has transformed North’s offense from last season’s Double Wing to the spread, so here’s guessing the Raiders’ offense improves on its 19.8 points a game of last season.
Holcomb could see his catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns all go up in the Raiders’ new up-tempo system. If it leads to more wins, too, it would help Holcomb’s player-of-the-year case.
Why not: It’s hard to imagine North making a drastic jump from last season’s 2-8 struggles, particularly with how many starters the Raiders are replacing in Craft’s first year. On offense, there’s a new quarterback, several new offensive linemen and newcomers to the wide receiver position. If North encounters growing pains in all the transition, Holcomb’s production could suffer.
SABRIAN HOWARD // Forsyth Central
Why Howard: First, Howard is no longer sharing carries with standout Shaun Diebel. The two were a productive duo the past two seasons, but Diebel graduated, so Howard can become the workhorse running back for Central.
Also, Frank Hepler’s offenses have a history of producing prolific offensive players. In his six seasons at West Forsyth, the Wolverines had five players named Offensive Player of the Year.
Why not: Howard can become the workhorse running back for Central, but Hepler has also talked about instilling more balance in the Bulldogs’ offense this season, which could mean Howard’s potential increase in carries won’t be all that much. And there’s the question of how well Central transitions up two classifications in competition to Class 7A.
RYAN MCCARTHY // Pinecrest Academy
Three years we’ve done this feature – three times McCarthy’s been included.
The Citadel commit had his best season ever in 2015, rushing for a school-record 1,284 yards and 22 touchdowns while also passing for 495 yards and three touchdowns to help Pinecrest go 10-2, win the Region 6-1A championship and reach the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Why McCarthy: The secret is out – last season, McCarthy played the majority of the season with a torn meniscus. And he still broke the school record in rushing yards while also playing linebacker at an all-state level. So imagine what McCarthy could do mostly healthy for a full season.
Plus, McCarthy showed improvement as a passer last season, cutting his interceptions down from eight in 2015 to just one.
Why not: McCarthy still has room to improve as a passer. He completed just 38 percent of his passes last season.
DAVIS SHANLEY // South Forsyth
Shanley is the front-runner for the award, no debate.
The War Eagles’ quarterback was our pick last season after completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,348 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 623 yards and eight touchdowns as South went 11-2, won the Region 6-6A championship and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs.
Why Shanley: The 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior has the most exciting skill set at his position in the county – and maybe even in the state. He’s an accurate passer, fast runner and dangerous (for defenses) improviser.
It helps, too, that offensive linemen Jordan Nelson, Dylan Nissley and Jack Winkie return this season
Why not: Much like last season, South has big shoes to fill at running back (Stanley Epeagba, Sam Outlaw), tight end (Cameron Kline) and wide receiver (Jalen Camp, Ronnie Chambliss). Can the likes of running back Jake Nicholas, tight end Ryan Pontrelli and receivers Guy Morra, Jaylen Pearson and Cal Morris repeat last season’s success?
Others to watch: Ben Bresnahan, West Forsyth; Zach Burns, West Forsyth; Jacob Grinstead, Horizon Christian; Richie Kenney, Lambert