As is tradition, The News & Observer All-Metro football team identifies the football players you’d want on your team for any given game – under the lights on Friday or a Saturday afternoon in the backyard. Athletes who could, if needed, play multiple positions and excel on both sides of the ball.
This year’s 18-player team has two quarterbacks who filled the stat sheet, three players who played a wide array of positions, some two-way stars and the nation’s No. 2 overall player.
Middle Creek, whose only loss this year was in the 4AA East final, ends the season ranked first in The N&O rankings for the first time in school history.
Wake Forest, which was No. 1 all season until falling in the second round, was No. 2, followed by 3AA runner-up Southern Durham. N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II champ Ravenscroft was 12th. Bunn, the 2AA runner-up, was sixth.
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QB: Tripp Harrington, East Wake, 6-1, 175, senior
Harrington rushed for 1,187 yards – most among Triangle quarterbacks – and 16 touchdowns and was second among full-time starting QBs in passing efficiency (166.2). The Greater Neuse 4A player of the year completed 168 of 267 passes for 2,507 yards and 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
Harrington’s 309 yards of offense per game “accounted for 73 percent” of East Wake’s total offensive output, East Wake coach John Poulnott said. “Despite those numbers, it was Tripp Harrington’s unselfishness and willingness to spread the ball to his teammates” that helped carry East Wake to its best two-year record since 2004-05.
QB: Caiden Norman, Cleveland, 6-2, 185, junior
Norman, a converted wide receiver, was the Triangle’s top passer in efficiency (175.7) with 168 of 267 passing for 3,368 yards – most among Triangle quarterbacks – and 31 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Norman also ran for 1,077 yards and 17 TDs.
“Caiden has done a great job operating a complicated offense this year. Everyone sees his eye-popping stats, but the best part about his game is he is so steady and has very few negative plays,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “He is a student of the game and works very hard to have himself prepared each week for the game. He has developed into a great leader, but the best thing about Caiden is he is a junior and will be back next year.”
RB: Abdul Adams, Hillside, 5-10, 200, senior
Adams’ only year in the Triangle was a fruitful one. The Oklahoma recruit was dynamic for the PAC-6 4A champion Hornets after arriving from Washington D.C. over the summer. He ran for 1,538 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Hornets.
“Abdul is an outstanding person first,” Hillside coach Antonio King said. “He combines vision and power when he runs. He can make you miss in a phone booth... He is a complete running back. He blocks, runs the ball and can catch it out of the backfield.”
RB: Melvin Briggs, St. David’s, 5-10, 195, senior
Briggs was as dominant as any 8-man football player has been in the last decade. He ran for 1,833 yards and 38 touchdowns for the Warriors, despite rarely playing offense in the second half. St. David’s went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the NCISAAchampionship game to Kinston’s Arendell Parrott.
“Melvin was the anchor for our team offensively this season,” coach Daniel Evans said. “He got the tough yards on tough downs, but he’s also explosive and broke many long scoring runs. He is built perfectly for the running back position and was especially durable this season. He deserves the success he has achieved. I’m confident he will land somewhere next year that can utilize him in some really creative ways.”
RB: Montel Goods, Northwood, 5-11, 210, senior
Goods burst onto the scene this year as Northwood switched to a more balanced offense. He led the Triangle in yards rushing per game (154.5), totaling 1,854 with 22 touchdowns. His signature game came against Southern Durham, when he ran for 229 yards on 38 carries, including a 55-yard game-winner with 90 seconds left to topple the eventual 3AA runner-ups.
“Montel Goods was the cornerstone of our offense,” Northwood coach Brian Harrington said. “Montel is not just talented, but he is also a fantastic person and hard-working. During the offseason Montel would spend an extra 20-30 minutes after workouts doing running back/cone drills in the dark. I know for a fact during the summer he also put in a lot of hours pulling a weighted speed sled and running hills almost every weekend, because he would pick up my son (also a senior) to work out together.”
RB/DB: Tevin Perry, Bunn, 5-7, 165, senior
Perry led Bunn to its first appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships. The Northern Carolina 2A player of the year scored in a variety of ways. He ran for 2,334 yards (the only Triangle back to top the 2,000 yard mark) and 29 touchdowns, returned a kickoff and three interceptions for TD, added one receiving touchdown and had 12 two-point conversions. He is being recruited by Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne.
“(Perry is) active in church and community and FCA at school,” Bunn coach David Howle said. “A very humble young man and a good teammate. He also helps the JV running backs. He has the ability to break it anytime he touches the ball. He also blocks for the other backs on our team; in our Wing-T all our backs have to block for each other. He is a very unselfish player who wants to see his teammates do well. He praises his offensive line for blocking for him.”
WR: Marius Cooper, Wakefield, 5-11, 185, senior
Cooper was named Cap-8 offensive player of the year after leading the Triangle with 55 catches for 1,237 yards receiving – the only player to top 100 yards per game (103.1) – with 15 touchdowns, which was third in the area. Cooper proved his versatility in the 2014 season when he started the year at quarterback when teammate Matt McKay was injured.
“Marius Cooper helped to lead our team to an 8-4 record this season. ... He was our go-to guy on offense and our leader of the receiving corps,” Wakefield coach Rod Sink said. “Marius has been a joy to coach over the past four seasons, and he will be sorely missed next fall. He hard work and dedication to his teammates made him truly one of a kind.”
TE/LB: Bryce Dixon, Green Hope, 6-4, 226, senior
The N.C. State recruit was named first-team Southwest Wake 4A on both sides of the ball for his play at H-Back and linebacker for the Falcons. He had 45 catches for 704 yards receiving and nine TDs on offense and 67 tackles for 5.5 sacks and one interception on defense. This was his first year playing defense.
“Bryce rarely left the field and we were a better team because of it,” coach Kwame Dixon said. “He will be sorely missed. Not only as a valuable member of our team but also as the son of the head coach. That must have been tough for him, and yet he was still able to excel. Bryce and the other seniors are the first class in school history to go to the playoffs all four years. His contributions on offense, defense, and special teams contributed to us achieving that goal.”
OL: Connor Baroniunas, Middle Creek, 6-2, 250, senior
Baroniunas led a Middle Creek offensive line that put up points by the air and ground. The Mustangs averaged 37.1 points per game this year and topped the 40-point mark in seven games.
“He is without a doubt one of the best offensive lineman I have ever coached: an outstanding young man who is constantly working hard and trying to be the best teammate and offensive lineman he can be,” Middle Creek coach Randy Ragland said. “A three-year varsity starter and was the driving force for an offense that rushed for over 2,600 yards, passed for over 2,800 yards, and averaged 37.1 points per game. He had 64 knockdowns. He is a great student and a member of the National Honor Society. Outside of school, Connor does a lot of volunteer work.”
OL/DL: Jonathan Cole, Fuquay-Varina, 6-2, 270, junior
Fuquay-Varina’s success this year was because of its lines, and Cole was a part of both of them. On offense, he paved the way for the Triangle’s second-best rushing attack (4,533 yards, 323.8 per game), and on defense the Bengals only allowed two teams to top the 30-point mark.
“Jonathan is an outstanding football player on the field and off; he is a two-year starter on the offensive line and defensive line,” Fuquay-Varina coach Jeb Hall said. “On the field he is a leader by example, and off the field he is what all coaches dream of. He has a 4.3 GPA and is a beast in the weight room. He finished his junior year with 74 total stops, 17 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and 1 interception.”
DL: Dexter Lawrence, Wake Forest, 6-5, 330, senior
The Clemson commit is the highest-ranked football recruit the Triangle has ever seen. Lawrence, who spent most of the last year ranked first in various recruiting rankings before falling to second, is a three-time N&O All-Metro selection. He controlled the line of scrimmage for a Cougars program that went to two title games before going 12-1 this season. He had 91 tackles and 21 for loss to go with 14 sacks.
“Dexter dominated every game he played in this year,” Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said. “His ability, with his size, made him almost impossible to block. He led the team in sacks this year with a total of 14 (plus) 26 hurries. He will be tough to replace next year.”
DL: Xach Gill, Wake Forest, 6-5, 270, junior
Gill, who lines up next to Lawrence, had 41 tackles and four sacks and was named Cap-8 defensive player of the year while Lawrence won the overall player of the year award.
“Xach had a quiet dominant year, mainly because he played beside Dexter Lawrence,” Lucas said. “He has tremendous size and strength. Teams averaged less than a 100 yards a game rushing because they thought they could run away from Dexter, but Xach made play after play. I’m looking forward to Xach leading our defense next year.”
DL/TE: Matthew Butler, Garner, 6-4, 260, junior
The highly recruited Butler had 100 tackles and 9.5 sacks to go with 18 quarterback hurries on the defensive line for the Greater Neuse River 4A champs. Butler was an outstanding blocker at tight end, but also caught 20 passes for 250 yards with four touchdowns.
“Matthew is one of the best two-way players I have coached,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “He is a great student-athlete with a 3.68 GPA. He’s a good person from a good family.”
LB: Austin Pluckhorn, Fuquay-Varina, 5-11, 205, senior
Pluckhorn was the Southwest Wake 4A defensive player of the year and a rare four-year starter at linebacker in a 4A conference. The middle linebacker was all over the field with 108 tackles, 22 for loss, three forced fumbles, an interception and 1.5 sacks for the 12-2 Bengals.
“Austin's heart, desire and toughness will be missed,” Fuquay-Varina coach Jeb Hall said. “I have told him many times that he is the last of a dying breed of tough football players. There aren’t many tough players like him anymore. He also has a 3.5 GPA. It doesn’t hurt to be smart and tough.”
LB: Jaleel Scroggins, Southern Durham, 5-10, 175, senior
Scroggins was able to come up and help against the run as well as drop back and make plays in the secondary. He was named the Spartans’ most outstanding defensive player in the NCHSAA 3AA championship game. The Big-8 co-defensive player of the year with Orange’s Bryse Wilson had 95 tackles, 21 for loss, with 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
“Jaleel Scroggins started his high school career (at Wakefield), but quickly made a name for himself as a Spartan in his final campaign,” coach Darius Robinson said. “With his nose for the ball and ability to quickly read offenses, Scroggins play is described as ‘instinctive and athletic’ by his position coaches, making it no surprise that he was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player for the Spartans in their state title appearance to end the season.
ATH: Jordon Brown, Southern Durham, 5-11, 190, senior
The North Carolina recruit was a handful for opposing teams at running back, and if that wasn’t enough he led his team to the state title as an emergency quarterback (22 of 47 passsing, 458 yards) when starter Jalen Greene was injured in the playoffs. Brown ran for 1,678 yards and 24 touchdowns this year and was a receiving threat as well. He finished third on the team with 466 yards receiving and five touchdowns, was Big-8 co-offensive player of the year along with Goods and was the most outstanding offensive player for the Spartans in the 3AA title game.
“Known for his lightning-fast and powerful running style, (Brown) answered the call of his team and showed true versatility with his start as quarterback in the Spartans’ state championship game,” Robinson said. “There he added 278 total yards and three touchdowns to his legacy as a Spartan. Brown ends his career having set a new standard for Southern Durham football on and off the field. His highlights speak volumes despite the fact Brown is known for his humility and quiet demeanor.”
ATH: Johnathan Spencer, Middle Creek, 5-11, 165, senior
Nobody was more of a big-play threat than Spencer. He was the Southwest Wake 4A offensive player of the year and co-special teams player of the year, as well as first-team all-defense. He led the Mustangs in receiving with 720 yards and eight touchdowns. He also returned one kickoff, two punts and three interceptions (five picks in all) for touchdown.
“He is a tremendous player that does things on Friday nights that you just can’t coach; a special athlete that made a lot of game changing plays for us throughout the course of the year,” coach Randy Ragland said. “He is definitely a player that could score anytime he touched the ball.”
ATH: Bryse Wilson, Orange, 6-2, 220, senior
The North Carolina baseball recruit can play every position on the field and he was a master of all of them. He started the year at a wide receiver (16 catches, 303 yards, four TDs) until the quarterback was hurt, so he played QB (24 of 49 passing, 556 yards, five TDs, no interceptions) until the running back got hurt, and moved there (1,024 yards, eight TDs) for the rest of the year. When the punter went down, he boomed touchbacks and punts. He played linebacker and safety (93 tackles, 22 for loss, six sacks, two interceptions) as well. He also had a whopping eight blocked kicks (five punts), single-handedly more than a majority of teams have altogether.
“What makes Bryse so special is not only his amazing talent but also his willingness to do whatever the team needed for us to be successful,” coach Pat Moser said. “We lost our punter after the second game so Bryse punted for us the remainder of the season as well. His leadership, unselfishness, and work ethic has set Bryse among the best players in our area and possibly even the state. Bryse has signed to play baseball for UNC next year and may very well be drafted this spring in the MLB draft, but I will always remember him as the best all-around football player that I ever coached.”
Final N&O football rankings
1. Middle Creek
2. Wake Forest
13. Holly Springs
14. Green Hope