On Sunday, the Tribune released a list of 10 offensive players to watch in the upcoming football season. Ask many coaches, though, and it’s defense that wins championships. While the offensive stars are readying to score points, the defenders are counting down the days until they can zero in on opposing quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
Here are 10 of the top defensive players to watch in the East Valley in 2011:
Josh Bamrick, LB, Mesquite: A defense known for doling out punishment the past few years might change some with new coach Matt Gracey, but not much. There’s no reason to with Bamrick back for his senior season and in the middle of it all. He had 148 tackles (89 solo), two interceptions, 11 passes defended and laid the wood on nearly every play. The Wildcats defense lost a lot from last year, but it has an anchor, one that’s tough to get past or through.
Jalen Brown, DB, Mountain Pointe: Only a sophomore, Brown is already one of the nation’s highly regarded after a slew of national honors, including U.S. Air Force 2010 Freshman All-American first-team as a wide receiver. While he had a solid year as a wide receiver (25 catches, 282 yards, 3 TDs in 11 games) for the Pride, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound dynamic athlete made his biggest impact his first year as a defensive back. He had six interceptions, including three against Westwood, and 23 tackles. He has already received offers from Arizona State and Arizona while Yale has made contact after winning numerous camp MVP honors this summer.
Reggie Daniels, DB, Hamilton: Don’t worry about the raw statistics with Daniels in 2010 when he was a starting safety as a junior. He can run, hit, catch the ball (four interceptions) and played his best in the playoffs. He figures to grow and fill in a bit more into his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. Practically every Pac-12 school has offered him a scholarship, as have Arkansas, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
Kisima Jagne, DL, Chandler: Consistency was an issue with coaches last year, and he missed a couple games, but when Jagne played, he terrorized Mesa, Mountain View and Desert Vista. He’s as good physically as anyone at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds with long arms. When he wants to, he can dominate with speed and size, and with Richard Winston also back from last year, it’s no wonder the defensive line will be Chandler’s strength.
Jarvis Lewis, DE, Chaparral: Lewis may be a bit of an unknown in the East Valley after playing last season for Glendale Raymond Kellis, but it won’t be like that for long. He had 59 tackles and 13 sacks as a junior, and with more talent around him this season, expect a big year from Lewis. He has reported Division I scholarship offers from Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona, and he is a key addition for a Firebirds defense that lost most of its impact players to graduation.
Avery Moss, DE, Corona del Sol: Moss missed all but five games last season with a broken wrist, so he doesn’t have much of a history to lean on. However, he has opened eyes during the offseason, securing scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska, Stanford, Washington and more. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Moss will be a handful for opposing offensive linemen to corral. Corona del Sol went just 1-10 during Zane Zamenski’s one tumultuous season as coach last year. With Moss and Andrus Peat leading the way, the Aztecs are hoping for a quick turnaround in 2011.
Davonte Neal, CB, Chaparral: Neal’s football prowess shouldn’t be limited to one facet of the game, but he is likely the best cornerback in the state. Last season, he rarely ever saw the ball thrown his way because of his fantastic coverage skills, which gave the Firebirds plenty of options defensively. Neal had five interceptions and nine pass deflections last season. Those numbers might go down this season, but not because Neal is regressing. Teams might avoid throwing at him altogether, which is the biggest sign of respect a cornerback can receive. Neal is also an exceptional kick returner and wide receiver.
Adam Pavlenko, LB, Marcos de Niza: The Padres have had a parade of stellar linebackers the past few years, from Anthony Rose to Ramon Abreu and, now, Pavlenko. The 5-foot-11, 198-pound senior finished last season with a team-high 133 tackles, more than doubling anyone else on Marcos. Pavlenko is an emotional leader and has a great nose for the football. The Padres are replacing several of their skill guys on offense, so Pavlenko and the rest of the defense may have to hold down the fort early on until everything begins hitting on all cylinders.
Andrus Peat, DL, Corona del Sol: Consider that Peat, widely considered the top recruit this year in the state and one of the best in the country, is 6-foot-7, 305 pounds and still growing into his body. With very long arms, plenty of nasty in him, goes both ways and is a level-headed kid. Him and Moss in the trenches give new coach Tom Joseph and the Aztecs something big to bank on in trying to turn the program around. His father, Todd, and older brother/former teammate Todd Peat Jr. (now at Nebraska) have taught him well. Suffice to say the big-time programs in the country still on his list (Arizona State, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas and USC) are holding their collective breaths.
Robert Relf, LB, Brophy: It might have been an “off” year for Brophy given the significant injuries and youth, but all that means is look out the next year. In the middle of this perennially solid defense is Reif, who had 113 tackles as a sophomore. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds he’s fearless, and that means oodles of promise for Relf and many more Broncos this year under defensive coordinator Gary Galante.