By Foster Lander and Brian Paglia
These players may not grab headlines, but Forsyth football teams couldn’t go without them.
Pierce Nufer, Forsyth Central, Jr. LB/FB/P
Forsyth Central utility man (linebacker, fullback, punter) Pierce Nufer had to look inward after last season as to why he wasn’t playing more. It wasn’t the coaches, it wasn’t his teammates — it was the effort he had been giving.
Central coach Shane Williamson had high praise for Nufer during fall practice, saying he loved the junior’s attitude and the way he worked over the spring and summer.
"I think I’ve gotten better at just going hard on every play — even if I’m not doing anything special," Nufer said. Nufer notched three sacks in an Oct. 10 win over North Atlanta, and that’s what he does best. "I love being ruthless and attacking the quarterback," he said. The goal for Central now, Nufer said, is to finish the season undefeated at home.
- Foster Lander
Will Dunavant, Lambert, Sr., HB/DE
Last season, as the Longhorns put a scare into eventual region champion Alpharetta, then-junior Will Dunavant spent much of his time on the sideline switching jerseys.
The Longhorns were using different offensive sets and were low on linemen. When Lambert needed him at H-Back, Dunavant wore his usual No. 27. When they needed a lineman, a coach helped him switch into a No. 67 jersey to play tackle.
"Never complained," Lambert head coach Louis Daniel said. "Never said a word. He just comes to work, works his tail off and has a great attitude."
The senior has given Lambert little to complain about this season. He still starts on offense at H-Back where he helps block for running back Trevor O’Brien and has two catches for 18 yards.
And when Lambert needed a jolt on defense after a disappointing loss to Centennial, the Longhorns turned to Dunavant, inserting the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder at defensive end where he immediately made an impact. He had a sack against Alpharetta, forced a fumble against North Forsyth that was returned for a touchdown and had another sack in last week’s 3-0 upset victory over Northview.
"Defense is easier than I expected," said Dunavant, who plays on Lambert’s state championship baseball team and is committed to Wofford as a catcher. "I’m just trying to master my pass rush, getting my reads right."
- Brian Paglia
Jacob Whitten, North Forsyth, Jr., K
Gone was Joshua Bailey, the Raiders’ sure-thing kicker. Gone was Cody Gottberg, the Raiders’ booming punter. Transition was the theme for North this offseason after losing nine starters on defense and a host of playmakers on offense, so why spare special teams?
In came Jacob Whitten from the junior varsity. His only varsity experience last season had been with the kickoff unit against Chattahoochee and West Forsyth, and so the nerves were there.
"I knew I had to step up a lot this year," Whitten said.
Indeed, Whitten has been a bright spot in North’s disappointing 1-6 season. He’s made 5 of 6 field goals, with his long coming from 34 yards, and made 6 of 6 point-after attempts. At punter, he’s kicked 28 times for 828 yards. He’s handled all of North’s kick-off duties.
"He’s just matured," North head coach Jason Galt said. "He’s a little stronger. He’s gotten his opportunity, and he’s doing a good job for us."
Whitten figures to only get better. He started kicking at Little Mill Middle School in eighth grade, though he wasn’t used much. He didn’t kick much more his freshman season at North.
So this offseason he went to a National Kicking Service camp where he got instruction from college kickers. He got help with his technique and accumulated drills he could use in practice.
He came back ready to give North a true weapon on special teams.
"I’m still learning," Whitten said, "but I’ve gotten lot better ever from last year."
- Brian Paglia
Jake Mangan, Pinecrest Academy, Jr., QB
When Pinecrest quarterback Jake Mangan gets a chance under center, he makes big plays.
Exhibit A: Mangan’s 62-yard touchdown run up the middle in the fourth quarter of the Paladins’ blowout win over Walker.
Exhibit B: the junior’s 29-yard throw on first-and-27, falling out of bounds, to Nick Palmer, on a 90-yard Pinecrest drive that put away Whitefield.
Mangan started the Paladins’ first three games last season before breaking his collarbone. Ryan McCarthy started the rest of the way for Pinecrest and has started each of the Paladins’ seven games this year.
"It was definitely frustrating last year when that happened, but it made me more of a man," Mangan said. "I realized that you can’t take starting for granted, because one play can bring you down. I work as hard as I can to make Ryan compete every single day."
Mangan said he’s back to full strength and has been working to bulk up. For now, he bides his time, minding the details of coach Todd Winter’s triple-option offense, knowing that one play can change everything.
- Foster Lander
Drew Witalis, South Forsyth, Sr., WR/S/KR
South Forsyth senior Drew Witalis fills so many roles, you’d think he played for a Class A school that needs its best athletes on both sides of the ball. Nope — Witalis does it because, well, that’s what he’s always done.
A soccer player growing up, Witalis picked up football and found that soccer had put him in physical condition to run all day. Witalis said he does extra running in the summer to prepare — more than what would otherwise be necessary — so that he can play nearly the full 48 minutes. Sit in the stands at War Eagle Stadium on a Friday night and it seems as though No. 10 never even takes his helmet off.
The biggest surprise for Witalis in his senior season has been South’s sudden success throwing the football.
"It was one of the first two games, we were down by the goal line and they called a pass," Witalis said. "I turned around, like, ‘What?’ But it worked — I ran a slant route and caught a touchdown."
- Foster Lander
Alan Pearson, West Forsyth, Sr., OL
A rebuilt West offensive line heard the negative talk while struggling to gel early in the Wolverines’ season. West had to replace Andrew Marshall, a three-year starter, and it was senior Alan Pearson tasked with filling Marshall’s shoes.
The 6-foot-1, 244-pound Pearson learned from Marshall to not back down, and people will follow. Pearson made sure the Wolverine offensive line didn’t back down.
"It’s been fun and hard all at the same time," he said. "It’s made me a better football player because I have to study harder so the younger guys can lean on me."
After the Wolverines’ first two games, West is now firing off the ball, giving Grant Torgerson and Austin Reid room to run. Pearson made an assurance to quarterback Hampton McConnell that has proven true in recent weeks.
"I told him we were going to keep him safe the rest of the way," Pearson said. "It’s not like we didn’t want to win. We just had to be more consistent."
- Foster Lander