Sports Editor Justin Kline names the top players of the 2015 season.
Without a doubt, many Plant City-area players had a great 2015 season.
But who, individually, had the best season?
While it would be easy to point out Markese Hargrove, who won an award for being Hillsborough County’s best football player, I think there are a lot of guys who deserve credit.
I’ve put together a list of football players who, going beyond their own teams, I consider to have been most valuable at their position in 2015.
Because many of us are getting back into the fantasy football spirit, I made a couple of fantasy-style lists.
About the defensive picks: because there was solid linebacker play at all three schools, my “fantasy team” is using four linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
QB: Corey King (PCHS)
Scoop: It took a while for King to get comfortable in the offense but, when he did, his confidence was big for the Raiders. Although he did not have a good outing against Braden River, throwing three of his seven picks, King’s arm and legs showed this kid could be the most dangerous signal-caller in the area.
RB1: Markese Hargrove (PCHS)
Scoop: Is there a bigger no-brainer than this? Hargrove earned the Guy Toph award with a stellar, 1,700-yard senior season and proved that, as Muggsy Bogues famously said, “You’re never too small to ball.”
RB2: Jake Harris (DHS)
Scoop: Durant has a history of producing quality running backs, and Harris is the latest one. The senior was placed into a committee last season, but managed to stand out with 872 yards on 162 carries and four touchdowns. He’s also been known to hurdle a defender or two, which, while illegal by FHSAA standards, is encouraged by everyone else’s.
WR1: T.J. Chase (PCHS)
Scoop: Chase came back from a year at IMG Academy with the goal of taking his team to the promised land. He proved to be every bit as dangerous as people thought he would be when he had a breakout sophomore season in Plant City. He became King’s most reliable red-zone target, hauling in nine touchdown catches. Chase and teammate Antoine Thompson also play defensive back.
WR2: Antoine Thompson (PCHS)
Scoop: My rough (and probably inaccurate) estimate is that Thompson only came off the field for one play per game in 2015. At least, that’s what I saw. The reason he got so much run on offense and defense is because Thompson’s closest comparison is none other than Chase. Had he not torn his ACL this summer, he might have been able to surpass Chase’s numbers.
FLEX: Tydre Ward (PCHS)
Scoop: Plant City likes to use Ward in a similar way as NFL teams have used Darren Sproles in the past. What Ward lacks in height, he makes up for in versatility — he was a solid passing option as well as the team’s best return man — and heart.
OL: Plant City Raiders
Scoop: Short, sweet and to the point: Markese Hargrove doesn’t win the Guy Toph without that offensive line.
K: Peyton Ledbetter (DHS)
Scoop: Ledbetter led all area kickers with 42 total points scored, between field goals and PATs. He hit 70% (8-for-11) of his field goal attempts and is directly responsible for the Cougars’ 16-14 win over Newsome, the only area kicker to hit a legitimate game-winner.
DL: Plant City Raiders
Scoop: Honestly, Plant City’s entire defense has a case to fill up this half of the list. But the unit benefitted greatly from getting a good push up front, as is usually the case, thanks to James Alexander, Josh Crowell, Kijafi Coney and company.
LB1: Cory Cotnoir (PCHS)
Scoop: Cotnoir led Plant City with 150 total tackles (11.5 per game) and 18 tackles for loss and also recorded eight sacks. To be more accurate, the two-sport athlete led everybody. Deep as Plant City may be at the position, losing a guy of this caliber to graduation is always going to sting a little.
LB2: Steven Ogletree (PCHS)
Scoop: Dubbed “the Cleanup Man” by the Raiders’ announce team, Ogletree’s 138 total tackles (10.6 per game) and team-leading nine sacks would have been tops in the area if not for Cotnoir. Ogletree’s junior season showed that this ‘backer has what it takes to be a star on any squad.
LB3: Jake Ross (DHS)
Scoop: “Active” is the word most often used to describe Durant’s mike linebacker. Ross recorded 10.2 tackles per game as a junior, totaling 92, and anchored a defense that won five of its first six games, which helped the Cougars make a few “top 10” lists throughout the season.
LB4: Jordan Zilbar (SCHS)
Scoop: Zilbar could also be considered the MVP of Strawberry Crest’s 2015 squad. As a senior, he finished with a team-leading 90 total tackles and tied for the team lead with five quarterback hurries. Averaging nine tackles per game, Zilbar was among the most consistent of the Chargers throughout the year.
DB1: Jaden Garrett (DHS)
Scoop: Durant’s top defensive back played well wherever he was slotted in 2015. He averaged 7.5 tackles per game — including a whopping 19 against Newsome — and showed equal parts athleticism and awareness. As an added bonus, he also proved to be a capable return man.
DB2: Tammarion Faison (PCHS)
Scoop: If the ball is in the air, there’s a good chance Faison is tracking it like a hawk. He led all area players with six interceptions in his junior season, broke up 13 passes and forced a fumble.
DB3: Kwest Fluitt (PCHS)
Scoop: In his senior season, Fluitt proved to be as reliable a player as any on the Raiders’ roster. The safety recorded 93 total tackles (7.2 per game), two picks and two sacks in 2015. That tackle total led all Plant City defensive backs; the next-highest total was T.J. Chase’s 79.
DB4: Xavier Walden (DHS)
Scoop: Although Walden is on the small side for a cornerback, he proved to be a good option for Durant in 2015. He finished with 47 total tackles — 13 against Newsome — which is good for second on the team among all defensive backs.