These are the first of two 20 To Treasure player rankings we will publish. Teams aren’t made of individuals, but these are how we rank the area players in our first installment of the 20 To Treasure. This year, we added a dozen players ready for breakout years and are names to watch this season.
1 Sam Howell, Sun Valley
A top 100 national recruit, Howell has certainly made a name for himself. He has a legitimate shot at breaking the NCHSAA career passing yardage, as he already has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career. Last year, Howell threw for 3,372 and 36 scores and ran for 1,594 yards and 24 more touchdowns. This kid is as fine a talent as Union County has ever seen.
2 Will Shipley, Weddington
Shipley is shooting up the recruiting charts with offers from Arkansas, Duke, South Carolina, West Virginia and N.C. State among his ever-growing list of suitors. Last season, he gained 700 yards and scored five touchdowns, but Shipley is also a dynamic receiver who caught eight touchdown passes. He’s the county’s next big star and could see his numbers rise significantly.
3 Grayson McCall, Porter Ridge
McCall is back to lead what should be a potent Pirate offense. A dual-threat quarterback, McCall ran for nearly 1,000 yards and threw for over 1,400 and was responsible for 25 touchdowns last season. He has weapons all around him and a real shot to compete for a league title.
4 Jaylen Coleman, Porter Ridge
Coleman is the lead back in a three-headed rushing attack that makes the Pirates a very tough out. The Duke commit is a consensus top-50 recruit in North Carolina’s Class of 2019 and last season ran for 1,287 yards and 15 touchdowns while being a safe option in the passing game. Expect more from Coleman this season.
5 Max Brimigion, Weddington
The Warriors top pass catcher is one of the best at separating from defensive backs and finding space. Last season, the all-state receiver caught 60 passes for 1,366 yards and 16 touchdowns. Brimigion will see a lot of balls coming his way again this year and should put up huge numbers. He’s starting to get mid to high Division I interest with more on the way.
6 Derek Young, Union Academy
There isn’t anything this kid can’t do on a football field. Last year, Young had just eight carries, but he averaged 25 yards per touch. He also caught 40 passes for 772 yards and seven touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 79 tackles and had four interceptions. Expect more of the same from the junior star in the making.
7 Ari Rodriguez, Charlotte Catholic
An absolute mauler for the state champs, Rodriguez is a running back’s worst “knightmare.” Rodriguez recorded 4.5 sacks and nearly 50 tackles last season. The Navy commit headlines a unit that allowed under 10 points per game.
8 Jadus Davis, Metrolina Christian
Thomas Langley knows what to do when he gets an athlete like Davis, who transferred in from Forest Hills. Last year, the track star had 702 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and 26 tackles and a pair of interceptions on defense. Expect those numbers to see a sharp increase.
9 Whitner Litton, Weddington
The leader of a very good Warrior offense, Litton will have a field day with all of his weapons. Last season, he completed nearly 200 passes and threw for over 3,100 yards and 30 touchdowns. Expect him to flirt with 4,000 yards this season.
10 Gavin Blackwell, Sun Valley
As a freshman last year, the speedy Blackwell averaged over 23 yards per catch and scored 16 times. We expect the deep threat will catch more than 23 passes this season. Before his sophomore season, he’s already been offered by North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Maryland and more.
11 Will Smith, Marvin Ridge
Smith is the heart and soul of a very good Mavs defense. He has totaled more than 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons and should eclipse that number once again. Last year, he also played great in coverage, defending four passes and forcing a fumble.
12 Lamagea McDowell, Charlotte Catholic
A top 25 recruit in North Carolina’s Class of 2020, McDowell is exceptionally talented. As a backup last season, he ran for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. As the clear starter, those numbers could easily double.
13 Malcolm Hines, Porter Ridge
The third cog in the Pirates’ run game with Grayson McCall and Jaylen Coleman, Hines is a major talent in his own right. Last season in a carry share, the senior ran for 1,174 yards, scored 11 TDs and had seven games with 100 or more rushing yards. He’s a good receiver, too.
14 Myles Wallace, Cuthbertson
Wallace averaged 93 yards per game during his first season as Cuthbertson’s main ball carrier. He returns after rushing for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns with four games of 100 or more yards including a 157-yard, three touchdown game against Monroe.
15 Tacory Robinson, Sun Valley
Robinson benefits from teams trying to match up with defensive backs to stop the Spartan pass attack, but he’s making a name for himself. Last year, as a sophomore, he ran for 992 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught nine balls. Expect his numbers to rise significantly this season.
16 James Shipley, Weddington
Shipley is an athletic receiver who is also extremely dangerous as a punt returner. A Penn lacrosse commit, Shipley seems to always be open and last year caught 59 passes for 622 yards. He returned a couple kicks for scores last year and will again play some defensive back.
17 Brian Jacobs, Charlotte Catholic
Jacobs isn’t the biggest guy on the field, but the Catholic safety packs a punch and doesn’t shy away from contact. During the past two seasons, the Davidson commit has been the team’s leading tackler with over 100 stops each year. That streak should continue.
18 Trey Shepherd, Monroe
Shepherd is already a two-year starter for the Redhawks, but he enters his senior season looking to turn around their fortunes. Last season, he passed for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 scores and ran for over 200 yards and another two touchdowns. With the athletes around him, expect a big senior year.
19 Caleb Woodley, Marvin Ridge
Woodley looked really good at times as the backup running back last year, but he enters this season as the man on the Mavs balanced run-pass offense. Last season, he gained about 600 yards and scored five touchdowns, but as the guy this year, those numbers could easily triple.
20 Davis Walker, Cuthbertson
Walker had a great first year as the leader of the Cavs offense. He completed 56 percent of his passes, threw for 2,314 yards and 20 touchdowns. He did throw 15 picks last year, but if he cuts down on that, he’s surrounded by enough talent to help the Cavs turn it around.
A dozen others to keep an eye on:
Sean Brown, Marvin Ridge; Jake Cameron, Marvin Ridge; Carson Cross, Marvin Ridge; Preston Dudy, Sun Valley; Trevor Grant, Cuthbertson; Kevin Koss, Charlotte Catholic; Kendrick McLaurin, Forest Hills; Michael Neel, Charlotte Catholic; Connor Purser, Piedmont; Marcus Robitaille, Marvin Ridge; Myles Saxton, Metrolina Christian; JahTwan Stafford, Monroe