School: Forsyth Central
Position: Inside linebacker
Shoes to fill: Victor Peppers
What to know: Victor Peppers established himself as one of the most dependable linebackers in the county the past two seasons. A two-time all-county and all-region player, Peppers had 162 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries and two sacks combined the past two seasons for Forsyth Central.
“Victor just had a nose for the ball,” Bulldogs head coach Shane Williamson said.
Peppers is gone now, graduated, and it’s up to a player with zero varsity experience to replace him.
That’s not to say Jacob Ward wouldn’t have contributed on varsity last season. He just couldn’t; he was ineligible after transferring back to Central from South Forsyth.
But Williamson says Ward has all the athletic tools that Peppers did – and maybe a little more. As he gains more varsity game experience, Williamson expects Ward to fit right in with a Central defense that allowed 17.9 points a game last season, second-best in the county.
“We feel like his strength, with how far he’s come in the weight room, and athletic ability, he’s got a chance to really shine for us,” Williamson said.
School: Horizon Christian Academy
Position: Linebacker/tight end
Shoes to fill: Michael Walker
What to know: There was no question who was Horizon’s best player last season. Michael Walker was the only Warriors player to sign a scholarship to play in college (Reinhardt) and the only one to make the Forsyth County News’ All-County team. He was Horizon’s defensive leader at linebacker, making 108 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. When the Warriors looked to pass on offense, Walker was their target.
“He was everything to our team,” Horizon head coach Charles Wiggins said.
Now, it’s Cole Brown’s turn to be everything for the Warriors.
Brown played beside Walker on defense last season, so he’s familiar with the role he’s stepping into. In Horizon’s scrimmage two weeks ago, Brown had 14 tackles, including nine solo. Oh, and he also caught a touchdown pass on offense.
“If it’s any indication from our preseason game,” Wiggins said, “he’s going to do very well.”
School: North Forsyth
Shoes to fill: Logan Cross
What to know: In North head coach Jason Galt’s experience, some players tend to make a significant jump in development between their junior and senior seasons. A light seems to turn on.
That’s what he’s seen in Raiders senior Jordan Palms this offseason. Palms played sparingly on offense last season at wide receiver, catching four passes for 47 yards. Now, he’s making the transition to defense where he’ll take over at safety after the graduation of Logan Cross.
It’s been an encouraging transition so far. Take North’s scrimmage last Friday against Forsyth Central: it was Palms who intercepted the Bulldogs’ first pass attempt of the game.
North could use more plays like that with Cross’s graduation. Cross was a two-year starter who’d been the quarterback of the Raiders’ defense.
Now, it’s in Palms’s hands.
“He had a great offseason,” Galt said. “He’s really kind of stepped into his own as a senior. We’re looking for big things out of him.”
School: Pinecrest Academy
Position: Free safety
Shoes to fill: Adam Guard/Greg Metz
What to know: Holler didn’t play football last season, much to the surprise of Pinecrest head coach Todd Winter. Holler had played as a freshman, even starting against Mount Vernon Presbyterian in the team’s third game and eventually earning a letter. Winter expected Holler to be a starter as a sophomore. Instead, Holler decided he wanted to take a break.
“He definitely missed it, I can tell you that,” Winter said.
And his timing is perfect. Pinecrest has tweaked its defensive scheme this season, so while position assignments might differ, the Paladins need Holler to replace the production of linebacker Adam Guard and safety Greg Metz who graduated. The two combined for 153 tackles and four interceptions last season. Even more, Guard was Pinecrest’s vocal leader on defense.
But Winter thinks Holler is up to the task, especially after watching him impress in Pinecrest’s scrimmage at Wesleyan this past Friday.
“Carson is a guy who has what Adam had, and that is that sixth sense to find the football,” Winter said.
CLINT HALL/ELI HUGGINS
School: West Forsyth
Position: Defensive linemen
Shoes to fill: Alec Coburn/Hunter Stewart
What to know: In Alec Coburn and Hunter Stewart, the Wolverines lose a collective 22 tackles for loss, 22 quarterback hurries and 11 sacks.
But West believes it has the players to make up for the graduation of Coburn and Stewart.
Hall came on late last season to be a playmaker for the Wolverines, finishing with 44 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and two sacks.
“What we need out of Clint is what we got out of him last year,” West head coach Adam Clack said. “He’s got an unbelievable motor.”
The difference-maker might be junior Eli Huggins, whose move from linebacker to defensive end could mean trouble for opposing quarterbacks. Last season, Huggins had 53 tackles, three tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and one sack.
“He’s taken the transition outstandingly,” Clack said. “He’s up over 260 pounds now. He’s a big body, but very coachable. ... That’s going to be huge for us.”