Maury QB Eric “E.J.” Gibson (Photo: Joe Barnes/recruit757)
Where are the top programs since the 2019 season ended? Here’s a new Top Ten to tide you over
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
You want to take a little ride?
Usually, at this time of the year, we’re doing a deep dive on all of the prospects who are rising fast as they come into their junior and senior seasons.
We know who has signed their college commitments. Obviously some players will transfer and some more talent will rise up to take the place of graduating seniors. We don’t have the whole picture yet, so we’re entertaining you with a WAY too early ranking of the high school programs in the 757.
There’s no way to make everyone happy. Some teams will be disappointed because they dropped compared to their 2020 finish. Others may feel that they have a much more promising season coming than we’re giving them credit for.
Our answer: keep working hard and prove us wrong this fall.
Here’s the list, ranked all the way from number 16. Consider that a bonus. Enjoy it!
16. Green Run (4-6) – the Stallions are in position to jump up the standings in 2020. They are loaded with skill players and lose only a few key starters from the 2019 season. Expect leadership from George Wilson (2021 DE 6-5 220), Jevon Hill (2021 OLB 6-1 200) and Tayon Holloway (2022 DB 6-0 160). Back in 2013, Green Run went to the Region 5A title game. They have inspiration working for them.
15. Deep Creek (7-4) – the Hornets may have been taken out in the first round of the playoffs in 2019, but they were knocked off by a powerhouse Maury squad that went all the way. Deep Creek loses their starting quarterback, Jayden Bailey, and Gabe Fuster, who was a leader on both sides of the ball. They’ll make up for it in 2020 with solid line play from Ryan Nolan (2022 OL 6-3 300), Walter Barnett (2022 OT 6-4 290) and skill talent that will bubble to the surface.
14. Churchland (10-3) – the Truckers had a lot of senior leadership in 2019, and those guys will be tough to replace. George Wise and Marcus Cutler at RB, linemen Marquas Gregg, Marquale Benton and Charles Grant, linebacker Ian McLaurin, QB D’Nardo Harrison and all-around play maker Kenny Gallop, Jr. depart. Lake Taylor dealt Churchland two of their three losses in 2019. Maury was the only other team to beat them. Both teams won state titles last year.
13. Indian River (8-3) – Indian River blasted Lakeland to finish the season then turned around and laid an egg against Nansemond River in the opening round of the playoffs. They lose a wealth of graduating talent, most notably Lamareon James. Zakai Minggia is set to return as a junior quarterback, and that leadership will buoy the team after the loss of James, Tyrell Spruill, Lincorey Lucas, Cam Hunter, and seasoned place kicker Thad Blackburn.
12. York (11-1) – the Falcons finished the 2019 season with a 10-0 record and the Bay Rivers District championship. Their season ended in the second round of the playoffs with a valiant effort against Phoebus. Many key players graduate, and Lafayette won’t get surprised this year, but Coach Pereira has a winner here.
11. Landstown (8-4) – the Eagles are in a stacked Beach District that includes a Salem team that ran the table in 2019, a young and athletic Green Run team, a Princess Anne team that’s coming into their own and an Ocean Lakes team that simply knows how to win. Coach Tommy Reamon returns for his 30th season of coaching high school football. The offensive and defensive lines are deep. Carlton Winston returns to lead a skill group that lights up the scoreboard.
10. Nansemond River (9-3) – the Warriors lose offensive coordinator Lew Johnston as they head toward the 2020, so expect them to be a little more pass oriented this fall. Their run game was strong in 2019, but opposing defenses keyed on it as the season wore on. The Warriors upset Indian River in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, but were crushed by Maury in the second round. Senior workhorse X’zavion Evans graduates, leaving a need for offensive production.
9. Lafayette (9-2) – the Rams rolled through the regular season only to get shocked by I.C. Norcom in the first round of the playoffs. Starting QB Luke Hanson (2022 QB 6-2 175) returns, and the defensive line will be bookended by Michael Green (2021 DE/TE 6-4 210) and Loyal Gresham (2022 DE/OLB 6-1 220). Lafayette’s offensive and defensive schemes are simple in structure, but they’re winners. It’s a program that opponents find hard to stop.
8. Ocean Lakes (8-4) – the Dolphins knocked off Cosby in the playoffs before Thomas Dale returned the favor in round two. Ocean Lakes loses a few key seniors including lineman Tyler Stephens (JMU) and Devon Allen (ODU). In 2020, they could be juiced by senior leadership with Myles Alston (2021 WR 6-1 180), Kai Hodge (2021 RB 5-10 180), David Roulley (2021 WR 6-1 185) and Naquan Brown (2021 DE/TE 6-3 220)
7. Princess Anne (8-3) – the Cavaliers are more skilled man-by-man than their results showed in 2019. There is still a TON of talent here, led by #1 in the nation cornerback Tony Grimes (2021 CB 6-2 195). If they pull it all together, Princess Anne could WIN the Beach District. They still have a lot to prove but this is an easy team to like.
6. Woodside (10-2) – the Wolverines played a solid game against Princess Anne in the playoff opener, shutting out PA in a downpour. The Danny Dodson led Wing-T will return in 2020 and will be led once again by a solid corps of skill talent.
5. Phoebus (12-2) – the Phantoms lost their first game of 2019 (Lake Taylor) and their final game (Hopewell), just one game short of the Class 3 state title game. They lose quarterback Chris Daniels, so expect slower going early on. Woodside may be the only team in the PD who can slow them down, but several (including Gloucester and Warwick) will give them a hell of a game in 2020.
4. Salem (12-1) – the Sun Devils had it all put together before running into a Maury team that wouldn’t be denied. Kaelon Black (JMU) departs, as well as Amorie Morrison (ODU) and Lex Henry (NSU), but the team will be carried by Saquan Miles (2022 QB 6-1 180), Zemarion Harrell (2021 LB 6-3 215), Isaiah Henderson (2021 DE 6-3 235) and Desmond Green (2021 WR/DB 5-10 185). A tough defense and a rock-solid run game have been hallmarks for Salem for years. Expect that to continue.
3. Lake Taylor (13-2) – After stumbling a few times in the regular season, Hank Sawyer’s squad pulled it together and won themselves a state championship. Malik Newton (2021 RB/LB 6-1 220) returns to lead the offense and the defense. Jeff Foster returns at quarterback. There are few seniors leaving and that bodes well for a repeat run at the title.
2. Oscar Smith (13-2) – Coach Chris Scott almost took the Tigers to a championship win in 2019. They’re looking good to return in 2020. Quarterback Ethan Vasko (2022 QB 6-3 190) was an award winner in his first season. Now he’ll come back as a junior with an opportunity to set new record marks in the Tiger record book. Smith is deep, and new names are bubbling to the surface to support a cast of characters who already have big game experience.
1. Maury (15-0) – The Commodores ran the table in 2019, winning their first state championship in football since 1939. There were few doubters in 2019. They had to prove it to themselves. Maury sees Keandre Lambert (Penn State), C.J. Beasley (Coastal Carolina), Dashaun Peele (Navy), Darien Varner (Temple), and Austin White (VMI) commit to Division I college football. Quarterback E.J. Gibson will lead Maury in the 2020 season and the Commodores will have a target on their chest.
– Andy Hilton