The top 50 football players in Union County, Matthews, Mint Hill and south Charlotte ranked in order of their impact on the gridiron this fall. Usually, these rankings are broken down into region, but not this year. This is the cream of the crop, and there were some painful omissions but we can only call it like we see it.
1. Sam Howell, Sun Valley
Howell was the talk of the internet last week when he made his college choice, spurning Florida State to stay home with North Carolina. The press conference made national news, but that’s what life’s like for the state’s No. 2 player in the Class of 2019 and the No. 3 quarterback in the country according to 247sports.com. Howell, who is Charlotte Media Group’s Most Outstanding Football Player of 2018, has the numbers and skill to back it up. This season, Howell completed 179-of-299 passes (60 percent) to go with 38 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. Howell also averaged eight yards per carry and led the Spartans with 1,392 rush yards and 17 touchdowns. His high school career leaves him as arguably the best player to ever come out of Union County.
2. Jaylen Coleman, Porter Ridge
The Charlotte Media Group’s 2018 Offensive Player of the Year was the focal point of every team’s defensive game plan, but only an occasional injury could slow the Coleman train. This season the Duke signee and Southwestern 4A Offensive Player of the Year was sensational, including gouging Cuthbertson to the tune of 20 carries for 349 yards and four touchdowns. On the season, he averaged 9.3 yards per carry and ran for 100 or more yards in nine of the Pirates 14 games, finishing the season with 211 carries for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns.
3. Elijah Bowick, Myers Park
The best receiver in our coverage area by a long shot, Bowick is truly a talent for the high-flying Mustang attack. Bowick has been on varsity since his freshman season and has seen the Mustang transformation before his eyes as they’ve won 37 games over the past three years. The silky smooth Virginia Tech signee led the Mustangs with 62 catches for 1,424 yards and 17 touchdowns. The matchup nightmare was unguardable one-on-one and averaged over 109 receiving yards per game despite sitting out much of the second half of many of Myers Park’s early wins.
4. Will Shipley, Weddington
Still just a sophomore, Shipley is making a push to become one of the county’s all-time greats. He has already picked up some big offers including from Arkansas, Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina and N.C. State, but it’s probably just getting started. The speedster is already one of the state’s top running backs, and this season ran for 1,368 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging over seven yards per carry. Shipley also caught 30 passes for 356 and five more touchdowns. Defensively, he also had 48 tackles, eight passes defended, three interceptions, a blocked kick and a sack. Shipley is certainly one to watch over the next two years, and one of just three sophomores among the 50 listed.
5. JT Killen, Charlotte Christian
Killen is the heart and soul of the powerful Charlotte Christian defense that allowed less than a touchdown per game. This season as the senior captain, he made his presence known on every play. Despite teams game-planning to try to block him, Killen still led the Knights with over 100 tackles and averaged more than 10 per game despite sitting out one game for a debatable target penalty and parts of others with the Knights up big. The 2018 Charlotte Media Group Defensive Player of the Year also had 15 tackles for a loss, five quarterback hurries, four sacks, three passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble. Killen, who is also an all-state pitcher and power hitter on the baseball diamond, has signed to play both sports at Coastal Carolina.
6. Drake Maye, Myers Park
One of just three sophomores to make the list, Maye is certainly very deserving. He has already attracted offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, N.C. State and North Carolina with many more to come. After transferring in from Hough, Maye was given the keys to the Mustang offense and delivered in a big way, helping take them to the regional finals. Maye was fantastic, completing 188-of-291 passes (65 percent) for 3,201 yards and 36 touchdowns against just five interceptions. Maye also ran for a pair of scores this season and should end up being a national recruit within the top 100 or so of the Class of 2021.
7. Garrett Shrader, Charlotte Christian
Shrader came back early from shoulder surgery and had to work his way back to health during the season. He may never have ever gotten to 100 percent, which makes his season even more remarkable as the leader of the unbeaten state champion Knights. This season, Shrader completed 127-of-195 passes (65 percent) for 1,952 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions despite not playing the third and fourth quarters of many of the early games. Shrader also led the team with 800 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. He has signed with Mississippi State.
8. Jacolbe Cowan, Providence Day
Cowan is a big-time recruit who 247sports.com ranks as the No. 2 overall prospect in the state and as the sixth-best strongside defensive end in the country in the Class of 2020. With that pedigree, Cowan is being heavily pursued by schools, including Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, among many others. This season, Cowan was extremely disruptive despite teams running to the other side of the field. Cowan forced three fumbles and had a pair of sacks. He also lines up some at tight end and as an offensive lineman, but Cowan is one of the nation’s best at what he does.
9. Porter Rooks, Providence Day
Rooks is a precise route runner and has great hands when the ball is on him. This season, Rooks led the Chargers in every receiving category and through seven games had 43 catches, 604 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rooks recently committed to N.C. State, picking the Wolfpack over a number of schools including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina. He’s considered the No. 3 prospect in North Carolina’s Class of 2020 and the No. 9 wide receiver and No. 54 overall prospect by 247Sports.com.
10. Grayson McCall, Porter Ridge
The Pirate senior signal caller was brilliant this season and the definition of a dual-threat. From the pocket, the Coastal Carolina signee completed 86-of-156 passes (55 percent) and threw for 1,337 and nine touchdowns. But it was with his feet where McCall could really hurt teams. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry and ran for 1,460 yards and 21 touchdowns and also eclipsed 100 yards in six different games this season, fueling Porter Ridge’s run to the fourth round of the 4-A playoffs.
11. Osita Ekwonu, Providence Day
Ekwonu was a two-way star for the Chargers at linebacker and running back. This season, he led the Chargers in rushing and touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball and also topped Providence Day in tackles on defense. Ekwonu had offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and West Virginia among his 26 offers, but chose to sign with Notre Dame as the state’s No. 10 overall prospect in the Class of 2019. With his instincts, speed and strong upper body, Ekwonu is a potential NFL prospect.
12. Muhsin Muhammad, Myers Park
One half of the best wide receiver duo in the state alongside Virginia Tech signee Elijah Bowick, Muhammad is making a big name for himself in his own right with offers already from Michigan State, N.C. State, North Carolina, Nebraska, Louisville and others. This season, Muhammad did it all. In addition to scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns and serving as one of the area’s premier special teams aces as a punt returner, he caught 58 passes for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging over 17 yards per catch. Look for that production to jump even further next season.
13. Jaylon Sharpe, Rocky River
The Charlotte 49er signee wrapped up his standout season with his second consecutive Southwestern 4A Defensive Player of the Year award and shined wherever he was on the field. Sharpe has been a three-time all-conference pick and the heart of the Ravens defense, and this year was no different. His two receptions at tight end both went for touchdowns, but he was best wreaking havoc in the middle of the field. On the season, Sharpe averaged 18 tackles per game and finished with 127 total stops even in the Ravens’ shortened season. Sharpe also had 15 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception.
14. Keyon Lesane, Butler
Lesane is a weapon with the ball in his hands, and Butler found plenty of ways to get their star involved in the offense this year. In addition to catching passes lined up outside at receiver, the N.C. State signee got the ball in the run game, return game and lined up as one of Butler’s top defensive backs, helping fuel a nine-win season. Although his numbers weren’t gaudy due to Butler missing two games and Lesane missing parts of two with an ejection, he’s a special talent. Just imagine how good he will be at the next level having to focus on just one position.
15. James Shipley, Weddington
Shipley, who was named the championship game’s Most Outstanding Player, is Weddington’s Swiss-army knife who does everything and does it all well. As a receiver, he led the Warriors with 63 catches and had 756 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Shipley also threw a touchdown pass and starred in the return game, where he added over 700 yards of all-purpose yardage and six additional touchdowns. Shipley, who has signed to play lacrosse at Penn, had 34 tackles, 14 passes defended on defense and an interception in the state final.
16. Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, Myers Park
Roseman-Sinclair served as the centerfielder, patrolling one of the state’s top defenses and daring teams to pass on the Mustangs, who picked off 23 passes this season. Roseman-Sinclair picked off two balls himself, but also was in on six passes defended and also forced a fumble. In addition, the junior was third on the team this season with 69 tackles. Regarded as the No. 8 player in N.C.’s Class of 2020 and the No. 9 safety in country by 247sports.com, Roseman-Sinclair’s offers are sure to expand from Virginia Tech, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Maryland.
17. Kedrick Bingley-Jones, Providence Day
Bingley-Jones transferred into Providence Day this season, and proved to be a force on the defensive line with a motor that won’t quit. The Florida commit is just a junior, but is already among the top linemen in the state. Rated a four-star recruit by 247sports.com, Bingley-Jones is the No. 9 prospect in N.C. in the Class of 2020 and ranked the 12th-best strongside defensive ends in the nation. This season, Bingley-Jones led the Chargers in sacks and was third on the team in tackles.
18. Gavin Blackwell, Sun Valley
Some people will point to quarterback Sam Howell for all of Blackwell’s ridiculous production this season, but the speedy sophomore receiver has grabbed plenty of attention in his own right. Blackwell has already garnered scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, Duke, East Carolina, Florida International and Maryland and should be expecting to get quite a few more. This season, Blackwell averaged 22.3 yards per reception, but was not simply a deep threat. He caught 51 balls for 1,136 and 19 touchdowns including a long of 91 yards.
19. Ricky Kofoed, Charlotte Christian
One of the best two-way players in the state, Kofoed made an impact no matter where he lined up for the Knights. As a defensive end, teams would generally run plays to the other side of the ball but the senior still made a huge impact. Kofoed produced 55 tackles, including 12 for a loss, eight quarterback hurries, four passes defended, three sacks and two forced fumbles. As great as he was on defense, Kofoed is an Appalachian State commit at tight end. This season on offense, he was the Knights top target with a team-high 26 receptions to go with 446 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
20. Max Brimigion, Weddington
Coming off an all-state season last year, teams really game planned to take Brimigion out at least early in the season. But Brimigion’s talent and ball skills shown through all year and he had another brilliant campaign for the state champs. The Dayton signee closed this season with 47 catches for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns, including a 42-yard strike to open the scoring in the state final. Brimigion went both ways for the Warriors. He was a danger any time the ball was in the air, evidenced by his eight passes defended, four blocked punts and four interceptions.
21. Obi Egbuna, Charlotte Christian
The Knights defense allowed just 6.6 points per game during their unbeaten state title run and was solid on all levels, including the secondary where Egbuna led the way. The North Carolina commit was sensational when teams challenged him as he picked off a team-best five passes. In addition, Egbuna was involved in 12 pass breakups, had three quarterback hurries, blocked two extra point attempts and made two sacks while also racking up 41 tackles, including three for a loss.
22. Jadus Davis, Metrolina Christian
When Davis transferred into Metrolina from Forest Hills with a track star background, Warriors coach Thomas Langley had a plan to use him all over the field and he did just that all the way to Metrolina’s first title game appearance. Davis did a little bit of everything, but did it all very well. On offense, Davis ran 100 times for 896 yards and 14 touchdowns. As a receiver, the speedy junior led the team in receptions (41), receiving yards (632) and touchdowns (six). Davis also had 560 kick return yards and scored two more times. Defensively, Davis had 40 tackles, including three for a loss, eight passes defended and three interceptions, one he ran back 91 yards for a score.
23. Nick King, Charlotte Catholic
King transferred into Charlotte Catholic from Providence last season and had to sit out a year before suiting up, but the senior lineman made up for lost time. The Richmond signee recorded 79 tackles, but made his living in his opponents backfield. In addition to racking up 16.5 tackles for loss, King amassed 12 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and three fumble recoveries. In the 3-A championship game, King was fantastic, picking up the game’s Most Valuable Defensive Player award.
24. Jaylen Nichols, Myers Park
The big space eater had a great season and career with the Mustangs. He helped form one of the best offensive lines in the region and was a big part of Myers Park’s rise over the past three years, winning 37 games. Nichols, 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, didn’t produce big stats, but his value was felt more than ever when he was injured in the regional final, changing the game flow on both sides of the ball. Nichols has signed with South Carolina.
25. Cedric Gray, Ardrey Kell
The junior made a name for himself this season and helped resurrect the Knights from the depths of an 0-5 start to co-conference champions. Gray shined as a two-way player, rarely coming off the field and has attracted suitors including Campbell, Marshall and Kent State, but more are on the way for the three-star receiver. This season, Gray led the potent Ardrey Kell air attack with 891 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 55 receptions. In addition, he shined at defensive back, where he was fourth on the team with 60 tackles and also had six stops for loss and three sacks.
26. Trey Bly, Myers Park
The Charlotte 49ers signee has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of the state’s top lockdown corners and he put that on display all season as he checked opponents’ No. 1 receivers often without help. When they did try to throw his way, Bly made them pay. He was sixth on the team with 49 tackles showing he doesn’t shy from contact, but Bly is best with the ball in the air as he led the team with nine passes defended and seven interceptions. He also is a standout kickoff return man who should make an immediate impact at the next level.
27. Kevin Coss, Charlotte Catholic
The Cougar defense was one for the ages this season, and Coss was a huge reason why. The Southern Carolinas Defensive MVP helped Catholic average just 6.9 points to opposing teams with their relentless pressure that starts up front with him. This season, Coss had 72 tackles, including 10 for loss, but was a menace to opposing quarterbacks as he registered 10.5 sacks and also forced and recovered a fumble.
28. Eamon Murphy, Weddington
Murphy, along with junior Alec Mock, controlled the interior of the vaunted Warrior defense, leading them to a their second title in three seasons. Although he is an Army lacrosse recruit, Murphy is also a standout on the football field. In the title game, Murphy had nine tackles and a game-changing interception to earn Defensive MVP honors, but that’s what he did all year. On the season, he led the Warriors with 162 total tackles to go with an impressive stat line that also included 12 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback pressures, nine passes defended, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
29. Josh Eboboko, Charlotte Christian
The Yale signee is listed as a three-star running back by Rivals.com, but did a little bit of everything to help the Knights repeat as state champs, this time with an unbeaten season. Eboboko, ranked 84th in the state’s Class of 2019, ran for 682 yards and six touchdowns despite sharing the backfield with two teammates. In addition, he had 21 catches for 221 yards and a score as a receiver.
30. Ikem Ekwonu, Providence Day
At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Ekwonu is a force on the offensive line for the Chargers, often opening holes for his brother, Osita, who led Providence Day in rushing this season. He’s rated by Rivals.com as a three-star commit and the No. 29 overall prospect in N.C.’s Class of 2019. He had offers from West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Vanderbilt among his many offers but signed with N.C. State. In addition to starring on offense, Ekwonu was fourth on the team in tackles, second in sacks and even recovered a fumble this season.
JB Awolowo, Charlotte Christian; Ryan Brouse, Charlotte Latin; Chris Colon, Monroe; Quentin Cooper, Country Day; Jeremiah Gray, Charlotte Christian; Kevens Grammont, Charlotte Latin; Jake Harkleroad, Myers Park; Isiah Hall, Sun Valley; Brian Jacobs, Charlotte Catholic; Cam Maddox, Sun Valley; Kendrick McLaurin, Forest Hills; Tristan Miller, Country Day; Alec Mock, Weddington; Caleb Ogunmola, Providence; Ari Rodriguez, Charlotte Catholic; Will Smith, Marvin Ridge; JahTwan Stafford, Monroe; Juwan Truesdale, Myers Park; Jared Wheatley, Porter Ridge; Ian Williams, Weddington; Jack Wilton, Sun Valley; Derek Young, Jr. Union Academy.