ACC: Michael Johnson

From Florida State's veteran line to Clemson's fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country's best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we're looking at the ACC's best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Next up: The secondary

Best of the best: Florida State

Where do we begin? FSU's defensive backs may be the best in the nation. Start with safety Jalen Ramsey, who started as a true freshman last season, earned freshman All-America honors and should step right into the role all-everything DB Lamarcus Joyner filled last season. Both Ramsey and corner P.J. Williams shined this spring, and they were recognized as such by sharing the team's Hinesman Award (spring standout), along with Jameis Winston. Ronald Darby has the potential to become a shutdown corner, Tyler Hunter has made a strong comeback from neck surgery that forced him out of the final 11 games of last season and Nate Andrews is looking to build off a standout rookie campaign that saw him lead the Seminoles in interceptions, with four.

Next up: Virginia Tech

If FSU's secondary is the best in the nation, Virginia Tech's probably isn't far behind. The Hokies return all four starters from a unit that ranked No. 8 nationally in passing defense last season. Corners Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson were thrust into immediate meaningful action in 2013 because of injuries and neither disappointed, tallying a combined 11 interceptions. Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner added two picks apiece, with Jarrett serving as the team's leading returning tackler this fall as well (71 in 2013). Injuries limited several key pieces of the secondary this spring, but if it's any consolation, that could prove valuable long-term for the next-in-line at DBU. It's how Fuller and Facyson were able to thrive so early, after all.

Possible sleeper: Duke

The departure of Ross Cockrell will be tough to fill, but the Blue Devils have a ton of talented and experience playmakers returning. And there could be more opportunities coming their way, thanks to the fact that they have a very green defensive line. Safety Jeremy Cash had four of the secondary's 16 interceptions last year (the team had 18 total), but his biggest impact may be up front, where he tallied 9.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles, in addition to tallying 121 tackles in 2013. Corner DeVon Edwards came on strong down the stretch and finished with three picks, and safety Deondre Singleton added one pick and two forced fumbles as well. Corner Breon Borders, meanwhile, holds the distinction of picking off the Heisman winner Winston twice last season as a freshman, and he is looking to build off a four-interception rookie campaign.

Problem for a contender: Louisville

It's all on the corners now. Replacing safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor is a huge task for Todd Grantham in his first season as Louisville's defensive coordinator, and he at least benefits from a pair of returning starters at corner in Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines. Still, there could be a pair of redshirt freshmen starting at safety (Charles Williams and Richard Benjamin), though Gerod Holliman and Michael Johnson might figure into the mix.

NoleNation links: Big-play receivers

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
3:13
PM ET
David Hale writes: One key for FSU’s offense, to hear Jimbo Fisher tell it -- and a close look at last year’s numbers back him up -- is the need to complete passes for 20 yards or more.

Corey Dowlar writes: Insider In 2012, FSU signed no Miami-area players. Commits Adrian Baker, Jesus Wilson and Michael Johnson begin to reverse the trend. What's changing?

Hale writes: Concerns about cornerback Xavier Rhodes’ knee pain leads Thursday’s practice notebook. Also: Quarterbacks' work, WR Dent's health.

Hale writes: Insider Florida State might need freshman Reggie Northrup to pitch in at linebacker, the one position that could unravel on an otherwise rock-solid defense. Today’s profile in NoleNation’s Carrying the Spear series of 50 potential impact players this season.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 31, 2009
7/31/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ACC football officially begins this weekend when players report in Raleigh and Atlanta, so TGIF ...

  • Former Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson signed a four-year deal with Cincinnati. He's just one of three players the Jackets will be missing up front this year. He's not the only former ACC superstar who just got richer.
  • Former Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey signed a contract with the Raiders that will guarantee him at least $23.5 million. I need to learn how to catch the football better.
  • Is the ACC getting offensive? You bet.
  • Jerry Ratcliffe says there are a few reasons for Virginia to be optimistic about this season.
  • Miami senior cornerback Chavez Grant has the pedigree, but he wants to create his own legacy.
  • Duke running back Requan Boyette could give the Blue Devils' running game the boost coach David Cutcliffe is looking for.
  • The Demon Deacons picked up an offensive tackle this week.
  • There's an injury trend at Maryland that doesn't bode well for this season if "stabilizer" Chris Turner becomes the latest in a long line of quarterbacks to get hurt.

Georgia Tech spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
9:35
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3, Coastal Division Co-Champions

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 8, kicker/punter 2

Top returners

RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Roddy Jones, C Dan Voss, DE Derrick Morgan, S Morgan Burnett, S Cooper Taylor, K/P Scott Blair

Key losses

OT Andrew Gardner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Darryl Richard, DT Vance Walker, CB Jahi Word-Daniels

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing:
Passing: Josh Nesbitt* (808 yards)
Receiving: Demaryius Thomas* (627 yards)
Tackles: Morgan Burnett* (93)
Sacks: Michael Johnson (9)
Interceptions: Burnett* (7)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Jacksonville State
Sept. 10 Clemson
Sept. 17 at Miami
Sept. 26 North Carolina
Oct. 3 at Mississippi State
Oct. 10 at Florida State
Oct. 17 Virginia Tech
Oct. 24 at Virginia
Oct. 31 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 7 Wake Forest
Nov. 14 at Duke
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 28 Georgia

1. Significantly more depth at the skill positions. With the addition of Louisville transfer Anthony Allen, plus Marcus Wright and Embry Peeples, who played as true freshmen, and a few redshirt freshmen wide receivers, the Jackets have a lot of answers off the bench. Unlike last year, the Jackets now go three-deep at quarterback, as Tevin Washington, who redshirted last year, has shown this spring he can play.

2. Leadership on defense. Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett have clearly established themselves as leaders and arguably the top defenders on the roster. Burnett wasn't noticed as much last season because of his supporting cast, but that should change this fall. Both could be among the best defenders in the ACC this fall.

3. Unprecedented depth in the secondary. Jerrard Tarrant was cleared from his suspension, and redshirt freshman Kamaron Riley should give the secondary a boost. Plus, the Jackets have three returning starters in the secondary. Cooper Taylor and Rashaad Reid were impressive as true freshmen and now they've got legitimate experience.

Fall questions

1. The offensive line. It remains the biggest concern, in part because injuries slowed the progress this spring. Senior guard Cord Howard missed most of the spring, starting center Dan Voss missed all of the spring after shoulder surgery, Nick Claytor, who started at tackle last year after David Brown went down with an injury, missed all of spring and had back surgery, and the line was the weak link last year.

2. The kicking game. In the spring game, the kickers were 1 of 5 on field goals, including Blair, who was 0-for-3. There are a few walk-ons, but they are his only competition. Blair handled both kicking and punting duties last year and Chandler Anderson missed all of spring practice after bout with appendicitis.

3. Defensive changes. Because the staff knows it's going to be thin there, it tweaked the defense a little a bit and made one of linebacker positions a hybrid defensive back/linebacker position called the wolf. How the players grasp that will be a question, as will whether or not it will help take some pressure off the new players up front.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
12:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Because of the draft and spring games, there were too many links to get to in one day on Monday, so consider this the second chapter:

  • Tony Barnhart breaks down the NFL draft in relation to the ACC and SEC.
  • What's the criticism of Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson? That he "doesn't play hard all the time."
  • It's exactly the opposite for Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, who wanted to "punish every team in the ACC for not even coming to say 'hi'" when he was recruited -- or, more accurately, wasn't recruited.
  • Curry is part of a recruiting class that was probably the best in school history. Or, as Dennis Dodd points out, the best in "a lot of schools' history." Imagine that. Lil' ole' Wake Forest had more players drafted than Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida.
  • Former Maryland corner Kevin Barnes, who attended Old Mill High School in Maryland, is staying in the area yet again to continue his career. He was caught off-guard on Sunday by a phone call from Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins.
  • Also coming to the area will be Florida State's Lou Groza Award winner, Graham Gano, who was signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Clemson's players waited longer than usual to hear their names called.

All eyes on Georgia Tech's defensive line -- again

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, and from the football-rich state of Alabama, massive Georgia Tech redshirt freshman T.J. Barnes wowed a lot of college coaches during his recruiting process as a potential offensive tackle or guard -- two positions he had absolutely no interest in playing anymore. Alabama and Louisville were among his suitors, as was Auburn, where his father, Terry Jones, was a defensive lineman and his cousins, Fred Baxter and Randy Hart both played.

"All my offers were for offense," Barnes said. "Nobody really believed I could play defense except for Auburn and Georgia Tech."

Georgia Tech had no doubt he'd have a future as a defensive tackle.

"That's all I wanted to do," Barnes said, "play defense."

That and make a name for himself somewhere other than Auburn, where expectations to continue the family legacy would be high.

This spring, Barnes will get his chance to do both.

Georgia Tech only lost six starters from last year's nine-win team that tied with Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title, but three of them were on the defensive line and had combined for 87 career starts. That leaves the door wide open for Barnes -- and several other young players -- to win starting jobs this spring and summer. The unit lacks both depth and experience, and is easily the Yellow Jackets' biggest question mark heading into the fall, as junior defensive end Derrick Morgan is the only player returning with any starting experience.

"Coach (Giff) Smith instills in us we have to be the best group on the team," said Morgan, who cracked the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007. "That's what we strive for. I know we're losing four seniors, but we're not looking at it as a lack of talent. We have talent. We don't want to lower our expectations coming into next year just because we're losing four seniors. We're setting the bar high."

Morgan has set the standard high for himself. He was second on the team and eighth in the ACC with seven sacks last year. He had 9.5 tackles for loss and was tied for second nationally in fumble recoveries with four. He led all of Tech's linemen with 51 tackles, but soaked up his teammates' knowledge on a daily basis.

Former starters Vance Walker, Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard often shared different pass rush techniques and how to see blocks. Morgan said he's still learning from the trio as they audition for NFL scouts, and give him advice on going through the NFL combine and handling his post-collegiate career. They've also added to the growing list of voices telling him he has to be a leader this season.

"I'll probably have a bigger leadership role amongst my teammates," said Morgan, a junior who recently turned 20 years old. "I'm ready for that. A couple of coaches have said I have to step up and become one of the leaders of our team, and I have no problem doing that."

He'll be anchoring a group that includes defensive end Robert Hall and defensive tackle Ben Anderson, both who played significant snaps last year. Defensive end Jason Peters returns, along with defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe, who played sparingly last season after transferring from Tulsa. Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke (D-A-K) enrolled early and has impressed the staff, and defensive end Antonio Wilson is a redshirt freshman who didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school. There's no shortage of bodies at end, but experience and the interior line is another matter.

"Anytime you lose guys that have played as much football as they have, there's an adjustment," Smith said, "but I think we've done a good job of keeping talent coming in. Although it will be a little bit inexperienced, I think it's a great challenge. It's like I told them last year, all the eyes were on us for one reason, now all the eyes are on us again for a different reason. I think they're excited about the challenge and I think people will be surprised when they see the caliber of players we have at Georgia Tech."

Morgan said he's heard all off-season about what the Yellow Jackets don't have coming back on the defensive line.

"I kind of expected that," Morgan said. "We're just going to take that with a grain of salt, work hard, and use it as motivation, which is kind of an advantage. Teams are going to probably underestimate our d-line and not take as much time to game-plan for us like they did last year. We're going to have to go out there and prove ourselves, which is no problem for us."

Like Barnes, Morgan, too, has something to prove. He said he wants to silence come critics who don't think he can be as effective as he was last year without the veteran lineup beside him.

"God-willing that's what I'm aiming for, that's what I'm working for," he said of a breakout season. "I know there are going to be skeptics who say, well, can he do the same thing he did last year without the three veterans? I want to go out there and prove I can do everything I did last year and more."

There's no doubt the Yellow Jackets will need him to.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 10, 2009
3/10/09
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Hang on for your daily trip around the ACC ...

  • FSU will be without linebacker Dekoda Watson, who had elbow surgery, this spring. It was a position that already lacked experience.
  • If Willy Korn and Kyle Parker can't get it done at Clemson, highly touted recruit Tajh Boyd isn't at practice for decoration. One thing is for sure -- the race is wide open
  • Former Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson always wanted to be a Marine. It looks like he'll have to settle for the NFL.
  • Here's a leftover from the weekend I missed, but it hits every school in the conference with a breakdown of what to watch this spring. Also, Miami freshman cornerback Brandon McGee will be out for six weeks with a fractured finger.
  • FSU AD Randy Spetman said there's no doubt the school is going to appeal the NCAA ruling that the Seminoles vacate victories.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here's your daily dose of ACC news:

  • NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said former Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson is "wasting" his talent, and that there is "way too much bad game tape" of Johnson. To that Johnson replied, "God bless him."
  • Here is an interesting article on the usually hidden salaries of private school coaches, including former BC coach Tom O'Brien.
  • Here are five questions (and answers) about Miami football as the Canes prepare to start spring practices on Tuesday.
  • Former Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith will try to repeat his success at the next level.
  • One weekend leftover -- Virginia will have some competition at quarterback this spring, where cornerback Vic Hall will pick up where he left off.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The official invitation list for the NFL scouting combine is out, and there are plenty of ACC players who will participate in the four-day job interview in Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24. Just because a player didn't make the list doesn't mean he won't be drafted, but here are the ACC players by school who were invited to the combine:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Kevin Akins, cornerback/linebacker

Ron Brace, defensive tackle

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle

CLEMSON

Chris Clemons, safety

James Davis, running back

Michael Hamlin, safety

Cullen Harper, quarterback

Aaron Kelly, receiver

Dorell Scott, defensive tackle

FLORIDA STATE

Everette Brown, defensive end

Graham Gano, punter/placekicker

GEORGIA TECH

Andrew Gardner, offensive tackle

Michael Johnson, defensive end

Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Vance Walker, defensive tackle

Jahi Word-Daniels, cornerback

MARYLAND

Kevin Barnes, cornerback

Moise Fokou, outside linebacker

Dan Gronkowski, tight end

Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver

Jaimie Thomas, offensive guard

Edwin Williams, center

MIAMI

Bruce Johnson, cornerback

NORTH CAROLINA

Brooks Foster, wide receiver

Hakeem Nicks, wide recevier

Richard Quinn, tight end

Garrett Reynolds, offensive tackle

Brandon Tate, wide receiver

NC STATE

Andre Brown, running back

Anthony Hill, tight end

VIRGINIA

Eugene Monroe, offensive tackle

Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver

Cedric Peerman, tailback

John Phillips, tight end

Clint Sintim, linebacker

VIRGINIA TECH

Victor "Macho" Harris, cornerback

Orion Martin, defensive end

WAKE FOREST

Stanley Arnoux, linebacker

Aaron Curry, linebacker

Alphonso Smith, cornerback

Sam Swank, punter/placekicker

Chip Vaughn, safety

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 22, 2009
1/22/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here are a few stories of note from around the ACC:

  • Miami is expected to hire an offensive coordinator soon, and quarterback Jacory Harris said he is confident coach Randy Shannon "will hire the perfect guy."
  • Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson is healthy, but he's not playing in the Senior Bowl. He's not the only one. Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry, Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe have also decided not to play in Saturday's 6 p.m. game. Odd.
  • Florida State still has a few needs to fill with signing day just around the corner. UNC just added another defensive back.
  • Virginia Tech fans have reason to be excited. The preseason polls aren't out yet, but most believe the 2009 Hokies are a top 10 team.
  • My favorite part of this analysis of Maryland's 2008 quarterbacks is how much bang for the buck the Terps got on backup quarterback Josh Portis.

Georgia Tech recruiting needs

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Coincidently, Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator Giff Smith also coaches the defensive line, and that's where the Yellow Jackets' most pressing need was during this recruiting class -- up front.

Georgia Tech will lose three starting defensive linemen -- all of whom are projected to go onto successful careers in the NFL -- in Darryl Richard, Vance Walker and Michael Johnson. So far, the Yellow Jackets have five commitments from defensive linemen. Aside from that unit, this was one of the youngest teams in the ACC.

Despite Georgia Tech's success running the football in the first year of Paul Johnson's triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets were in need of an overhaul on the offensive line. They're looking to recruit big, fast, athletic linemen, not small and quick players. Georgia Tech is expecting commitments from at least three guards and a tackle.

Johnson expects to bring in two or three A-backs and one B-back, but with Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones returning, the coaches aren't too concerned with those positions.

The staff was also looking to add two or three quarterbacks and more depth at the position. With so many injuries in 2008, young players were forced into roles they weren't necessarily ready for, and the Jackets are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again. Getting closer to the 85 scholarship limit this year will certainly help.

ACC will have 18 in Under Armour Senior Bowl

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I just received the final list of ACC players who will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., and the newest release includes four players from Virginia. It's only fitting that more than half of these bowl-bound players are defenders.

Here is the final list:

Boston College: defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace

Clemson: Cullen Harper, quarterback; James Davis, running back; Michael Hamlin, safety

Georgia Tech: Vance Walker, defensive tackle; Michael Johnson, defensive end

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

North Carolina St.: Anthony Hill, tight end; Andre Brown, running back

Virginia: Eugene Monroe, left tackle; Cedric Peerman, running back; John Phillips, tight end; Clint Sintim, linebacker

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

Wake Forest: Aaron Curry, linebacker; Alphonso Smith, cornerback; Chip Vaughn, safety

ACC represents in Senior Bowl

January, 5, 2009
1/05/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The ACC will be well-represented in the Jan. 24 Under Armour Senior Bowl in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. From what I know, the only school with players yet to be announced is Virginia, and those names should be released in about a week. Here is the most current ACC list:

BC: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji

CLEMSON: Running back James Davis, safety Michael Hamlin, quarterback Cullen Harper

GEORGIA TECH: Defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Vance Walker

NCSU: Running back Andre Brown, tight end Anthony Hill

UNC: Wide receiver Brooks Foster

VIRGINIA TECH: Cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris, and possibly one more.

WAKE FOREST: Linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn

Georgia Tech season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Overview: At the beginning of the season, doubt and questions surrounded Paul Johnson and his triple-option offense, and the Yellow Jackets were picked by the ACC media to finish fourth in the Coastal Division. Surprise. Georgia Tech enters the Chick-fil-A Bowl No. 14 in the BCS standings and confident after beating rival Georgia for the first time in eight tries. Johnson earned national recognition in his first year as head coach for putting the team in contention to win the division despite a new offense, a new defense and a roster below the maximum 85 scholarships. Johnson inherited a team with 76 scholarship players, including three senior walk-ons. He also did it with one of the youngest rosters in the country, as 16 freshmen or sophomores are likely to start in the bowl game against LSU. Seven true freshmen have played for Tech this season, including four who started. Johnson dispelled the notion his offense was "3 yards and a cloud of dust" with 64 plays of 20 yards or more. It IS a run-based offense, though, and despite an inconsistent offensive line that lost its best player to injury, the Yellow Jackets are third in the nation with 282.3 yards per game.

Offensive MVP: B-back Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer leads the ACC in rushing (110.7 yards per game), ranks second in all-purpose yards per game (136.8) and second in touchdowns scored (13). He has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game nine times this season, including four straight to end the regular season.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Michael Johnson. He ranks third in the ACC in tackles for loss (15.0) and fourth in sacks (7.0). The 6-foot-7 Johnson broke up seven passes, forced two fumbles, recovered a fumble, blocked a Mississippi State field-goal attempt and returned an interception for a touchdown against Miami.

Turning point: A helmet-to-helmet call on true freshman Cooper Taylor in a 20-17 loss at Virginia Tech may have cost the Yellow Jackets the tiebreaker. It was a call Johnson still disputes and it helped the Hokies in their 76-yard game-winning drive.

What's next: The Yellow Jackets have a chance to improve their record to 3-0 against SEC opponents when they face defending national champ LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. A win would give Georgia Tech its first 10-win season since 1998.

All-ACC 2008

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

OFFENSE

QB -- Russell Wilson, NC State
RB -- Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
RB -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
TE -- John Phillips, Virginia
OL -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
OL -- Matt Tennant, Boston College
OL -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
OL -- Edwin Williams, Maryland
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, UNC
WR -- D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest
K -- Graham Gano, Florida State

DEFENSE

LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
LB -- Mark Herzlich, Boston College
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
DL -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DL -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DL -- B.J. Raji, Boston College
DB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
DB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
S -- Trimane Goddard, North Carolina
S -- Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

SPECIALIST

C.J. Spiller

PUNTER

Travis Baltz, Maryland

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