Northwestern’s Jamario Holley, future Gamecock, begins his senior season
As always, The Herald’s 12-school coverage area is full of high school football talent. Check out this list of players from around York, Chester and Lancaster counties who will make an impact on Friday nights this fall, and very likely at the college level, too.
Jamario Holley, Northwestern
The area’s most explosive offensive player, and maybe the state’s, Holley looks poised for a monster senior season in 2018. The South Carolina Gamecocks commit caught 75 passes for 1,178 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and also returned a punt and a kickoff for scores.
Northwestern coach James Martin was clear one thing that immediately jumps out to him about Holley: his sticky hands.
“When that ball gets to him, he goes up for it or he catches where you just don’t think he’s gonna catch it,” said Martin. “The tougher the competition he turns his game up even more. He’s just a play-maker.”
Martin likened the 5-foot-11, 170-pound receiver and return man to a hybrid made from Dupree Hart’s shiftiness and ability to get open and Cordarrelle Patterson’s explosivity with the ball. Martin wants Holley to continue to develop his leadership skills, an area where he’s already shown great improvement. But the speed, the effortless open field cuts, the grippy mitts, that’s already there.
“You love having those guys,” said Martin. “At the end of the night, get the ball in their hands.”
Antonio Barber, Rock Hill
Though his season was cut short midway by a broken ankle, Barber was productive as a sophomore. He averaged close to 100 yards receiving and caught four TD passes in six games, which got college recruiters’ attention.
“He’s a real confident kid and when he’s playing well, things are good,” said Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman.
Barber was inundated with scholarship offers this past offseason, before committing to Tennessee. The Vols will get a sharp route runner, with sticky hands and pretty good size.
Staying healthy will be the key for Barber, who has battled some injuries the last year.
“Individually, he’s an excellent athlete, I think he brings a lot to the table,” said Pittman. “Finding that role in the team and being the leader that we want him to be, that’s his biggest area of improvement. Can he be a leader and lead by example?”
Fentrell Cypress, Northwestern
You’re not gonna hear much from Fentrell Cypress when he’s defending the opposing team’s best wide receiver. The 6-foot, 170-pound cornerback committed to Virginia doesn’t need to say much to be one of the best defensive backs in The Herald’s coverage area.
“He just goes out there and does his job, and he does it quietly,” said Northwestern coach James Martin. “I think going through this season he’s probably going to turn it up another notch. When you’re committed or you know where you’re gonna go, people expect you to uphold your end of the deal. Everybody knows you’ve committed. Now go play like it.”
Cypress’ elite blessing is speed. He finished fourth in the 100-meter dash at the 5A track and field state championship last May. His speed helps shore up the back end of Northwestern’s defense. Few players can get behind him.
Martin wants Cypress, who made 44 tackles, broke up 12 passes and intercepted three more in 2017, to get more comfortable in his pre-snap positioning, how close or far to be from an opposing receiver, without questioning himself too much.
“That’s tough because you’ve got to find the right range and not worry about who you’re going up against and let your technique take over,” said Martin.
Jaylen Mahoney, South Pointe
Mahoney had double-digit offers but committed to Wake Forest in June.
“His standout attribute is his level head and his focus and commitment to doing what’s right, out here and in the classroom,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron.
But, he added, Mahoney is also a technician, extremely capable in the finer details of defensive back play. He’s also got great size -- 6-foot, 175 pounds -- and athleticism. He had 85 tackles, 13 pass break-ups and three interceptions as a junior.
Mahoney will probably play on both sides of the ball for the Stallions this fall, but will be cornerback in college. It’s unclear if Wake Forest has offered him the possibility of early enrollment, but should the possibility arise, Mahoney would be ready. A strong student, his grade point average is well over 4.0.
“Continue doing what he’s doing,” said Herron, who said some South Pointe seniors that committed in the past eased up before heading away to college.
Wyatt Tunall, Chester
Tunall had numerous FBS scholarship offers, but committed to Appalachian State over the summer. He’s gained weight during the offseason and now measures 6-foot-6, 270 pounds. Tunall will be a key cog for the Cyclones, who return all five starting offensive linemen from last season.
Chester coach Victor Floyd thinks that Tunall, who is graduating high school early and enrolling in college next spring, could have a shot to play early in Boone.
Tunall had 23 pancake blocks last season, and didn’t allow a sack. While that was all well and good, Floyd “would love to see him smash people, as opposed to just block them. I’d like to see a lot more people on their back.”
Joe Ervin, South Pointe
Ervin already put on about 20 pounds this offseason, taking him to around 190 pounds. He’ll carry more of the load this season, after splitting it three ways in 2017, so the extra bulk should help.
Like Mahoney, Ervin, who committed to Coastal Carolina in June, will play some on both sides of the football this season. But he’s been recruited as a running back. The question had centered on his speed, but he showed more than enough in the latter half of the 2017 season, including a number of breakaway runs that led to big gains or touchdowns.
“Thing I worry about with him is overworking,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “He needs to make sure he’s taking care of himself, he’s got to stretch well and take care of his body.”
Ervin picked up 1,276 yards on 157 carries last season, scoring 16 touchdowns. He should improve on all of those figures this fall.
“We’re gonna have to give him the ball a lot,” said Herron.
Dorian Williams, Indian Land
Williams is a modern defensive football player. He can move -- the senior was timed around 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at camps this summer -- he’s long and young for his grade -- he just turned 17 years old in late June and is projected by a doctor to reach 6-foot-4 -- and he’s strong -- Williams pushed up 185 pounds over 20 times at the Shrine Bowl combine.
It’s no surprise that Williams committed to Coastal Carolina over the summer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if bigger schools continued to chase him this fall.
“He can play anywhere from the free safety, down to outside linebacker,” said Indian Land coach Horatio Blades. “He’s still a young kid, as far as age and growth goes.”
Williams, who is currently 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, picked Coastal over Campbell and Troy. He had 62 tackles, with 13 for a loss, last season, but now Blades is looking for his standout to take the next steps.
“Consistency, just like most young football players,” he said. “You always want to improve on everything about your craft. If he can improve on leadership, I think that will be a big thing for us this year. We have a lot of returning starters from last year’s team so I want to see him take control and lead the team.”
Anthony Jackson, Rock Hill
For 6-foot-3 junior Anthony Jackson, the biggest thing he needs to before college may simply be eating more and hitting the weights
“He’s a little light right now,” Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman said over the summer. “But every time I say that I have to remind myself he’s not even a junior yet.”
Jackson, who broke up 12 passes in 2017, has an offer from Duke and plenty more likely on the way.
“Really aggressive kid, likes the contact part of the game,” Pittman said. “He does a good job in coverage and can basically shut down half the field. We like him back there a lot.”
The entire Rock Hill defensive secondary, Jackson included, had a lot of plays that it didn’t quite finish last season. Pittman expects Jackson to turn pass break-ups into interceptions.
“Be the finisher of the play,” said Pittman. “Don’t try to score a touchdown before you catch the ball. But he’s a really good playmaker with a great nose for the ball.”
Lane Towery, York
Six-foot-6 and 315 pounds, Lane Towery certainly looks like a college football offensive lineman. The York senior has offers from Kent State and North Greenville, but Cougars coach Bobby Carroll said he could add quite a few more with a strong first three or four games of the 2018 season.
“He’s a smart football player, he’s a good leader,” said Carroll. “He could play some D-I football, if everything comes together, there is no doubt about it.”
Carroll said that Towery can be mean and tough, but that he needs to show that side of his on-field personality more regularly. Towery has excellent academics, increasing his options.
Immanuel Bush, Lancaster
Bush is the strongest player on Lancaster’s roster. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior linebacker (he played defensive line the last two seasons) bench presses 400 pounds and squats 500. Pair that with an insatiable motor and you’ve got a prospect that is intriguing college football coaches. Bush doesn’t have any offers yet -- again, it’s his first season at linebacker, so colleges want to see how he does -- but if he continues his production from the last two seasons, he won’t have to wait long.
“Just being relentless,” said Lancaster coach Bobby Collins. “Immanuel is the first guy here, the last guy to leave. First guy in the weight room, last guy to leave. He loves football, he’s a coachable kid. I’ve coached enough college kids to know he’s gonna be one of them.”
Bush made 77 tackles, including 14 for a loss, notched 14 sacks, forced six fumbles, blocked two punts and blocked an extra point in 2017. Collins thinks that Bush can land at a Power 5 college. His star’s transition to linebacker has gone well, though there are a few rookie habits he needs to clean up.
“When you play defensive line, you get to put your hands on people, you’re in their chest when the ball snaps,” said Collins. “So just slowing down, reading his keys a little more and letting stuff play out. But he just works so hard at it.”
10 more prospects to watch
Jalen Tatah, Lancaster - hulking Lancaster offensive tackle has a Mercer scholarship offer. Lancaster coach Bobby Collins said he wants to see Tatah continue to play with a lower pad level so that smaller defenders can’t sneak under him. “I’m excited to see how this year plays out for him,” said Collins, a former college lineman himself.
Pha’Leak Brown, Chester - a thousand-yard rusher last season as a junior, Brown looks poised for another big season at Chester. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound running back has offers from Cincinnati, Old Dominion and Rice.
Octaveion Minter, Chester - Minter started at linebacker as a freshman, piling up 99 tackles and four sacks. The stout 6-foot-2 sophomore should be even better this fall.
Heze Massey, Clover - Massey is very adept at catching the football at its highest point. He has an offer from Newberry and should add some more this fall if he can repeat his 1,000-yard receiving season of last year.
Narii Gaither, Rock Hill - The now senior linebacker and the Herald’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 had 123 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks. Gaither will play some linebacker this season, but also should start at running back. He’s got interest from Newberry and Coastal Carolina.
“He’s what you want your football program to be made of,” said Rock Hill Bubba Pittman. “If you had 70 guys out there like Narii Gaither, you’d win a lot of state championships.”
Jackson Chappell, South Pointe - one of The Herald’s 2017 Hawgs of the Year, Chappell had 23 pancake blocks and did not give up any sacks last season. Chappell is getting considerable FCS recruiting interest, chiefly from Elon and Charleston Southern.
Kyle Romenick, Fort Mill - Senior punter will be one of the best in the area. Romenick has an offer from Boston College and a preferred walk-on spot from Penn State.
Dewuan McCullum, Nation Ford - shifty senior receiver committed to Texas-San Antonio recently. McCullum battled injuries in 2017 but should be a central piece of the Falcons’ offense this fall.
“He’s got a great set of eyes, which in turn, make his hands great,” said Nation Ford coach Michael Allen.
Michael Peterson, Nation Ford - senior linebacker led The Herald’s coverage area in tackles last season, with 150. He has great academics and is getting recruiting interest from Northwestern and Duke.
Robbie Csuhta, Indian Land - tough middle linebacker did the most bench press repetitions of any participant in the South Carolina Shrine Bowl combines last spring. Csuhta has considerable recruiting interest from FCS and FBS school. He has had 121 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 2017.
Tanner McKinney, York - QB has an offer from North Greenville and is receiving interest from Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Georgia St., and James Madison. The 6-foot-2 senior threw for over 1,900 yards last season.
Worth a mention
Zion Robbins, Clover; Kelton Talford, Great Falls; A.J. Jefferson, Indian Land; Nathan Lovette and Petey Tuipulotu, Nation Ford; D’Arthur Ratchford, Northwestern; Dorian Manning, Marice Whitlock and Adam Foxx, South Pointe; J.Q. Guinn and Stephen Oglesby, York.