High-SchoolFootball: Franklin Stephens
December, 13, 2011
By Mark Tennis & Doug Huff | ESPN.com
Ryan Gibson/ESPNHSGrayson (Ga.) junior Robert Nkemdiche might be the nation's top football player.
Preparation for the 2012 preseason rankings has already begun and one team that clearly has a shot to start No. 1 in the nation is current No. 4 Grayson (Loganville, Ga.).
Although the Rams will have to replace a starting quarterback, they have a great deal of talent coming back from this year’s team, which captured its first Class AAAAA title last weekend with a 24-0 shutout of Walton (Marietta, Ga.).
While senior quarterback Nick Schuessler capably ran the offense for the 15-0 Rams, the team hung its hat on a young defensive unit that surrendered fewer than 40 rushing yards per game -- by far the best average allowance in the Class AAAAA state ranks.
This stingy defense limited a previously-unbeaten Walton team to 58 yards on the ground in the state title game win. Walton's offense was led by the state's top rusher, Tyren Jones, who had averaged 160 yards per game before meeting the stout Rams defense .
Returning next season for the Rams will be 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who is considered the nation's top junior recruit. The class of the '13 class is joined by several other proven talents and several members of a touted junior varsity squad. Others returning include defensive ends Zach Barnes and Wayne Gallman plus defensive backs Ryan Carter, David Kamara, Austin Meadows and Kasey Gaines.
While Grayson appears to be a solid top-tier FAB 50 team to start next season, other teams returning key talents include No. 2 Armwood (Seffner, Fla.); No. 3 Trinity (Louisville, Ky.); No. 7 Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas), No. 9 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas); No. 10 Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.); No. 11 De La Salle (Concord, Calif.); No. 12 Lake Travis (Austin, Texas); and No. 15 Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.).
While we still wait for four states complete their seasons this weekend, let the 2012 preseason hype begin.
FAB 50 SPOTLIGHT PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tiapepe Vitale, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
Injuries early in the season propelled Vitale up the tailback depth chart for the FAB 50 No. 11 Spartans and he’s become the team’s top threat.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior surged for six touchdowns in this past Saturday’s 49-13 win against San Ramon Valley (Danville, Calif.) in the CIF North Coast Section Division I championship at the Oakland Coliseum. He also rushed 19 times for 181 yards.
The huge effort marked the fourth straight game in which Vitale has gone over 100 yards even though he has been on the sidelines in the second half due to the team’s big leads. In his past two playoff outings he had 14 carries for 108 yards and three scores against Pittsburg (Pittsburg, Calif.) and 19 totes for 190 yards and two scores against Freedom (Oakley, Calif.).
Vitale and the rest of the Spartans, who won their 20th straight section title, will go for their third straight CIF Open Division state bowl crown on Saturday against FAB 50 No. 13 Westlake (Westlake Village, Calif.) at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
RISING NEWCOMER OF THE WEEK
No. 31 Tucker (Tucker, Ga.) 15-0
The Tigers moved into the FAB 50 after capturing their second Class AAAA state title in four years and the school's first-ever unbeaten team.
A potent offense -- No. 1 in AAAA state ranks -- averaged over 45 points per game through the first 13 wins but the defense carried Tucker to the final two playoff decisions over previously-unbeaten foes -- a 17-16 semifinal squeaker over Northside Warner Robins (Warner Robins, Ga.) and a 22-7 title win over Lovejoy (Lovejoy, Ga.).
The Tigers led Lovejoy 22-0 before allowing a late fourth quarter score. Tucker’s defense also intercepted two passes and recorded a safety.
For the season on offense, the Tigers rushed for over 4,000 yards and outscored opponents 652-to-170.
Tucker coach Franklin Stephens became the first African-American to win two Georgia High School Association state titles. His alma mater, Burke County (Waynesboro, Ga.), also won its first Class AAA state title.
Southeast Region rules in preps much like SEC does in college
For the first time this season, the Southeast region proved to be so powerful in the FAB 50 that more than the top 20 teams appeared in this week’s rankings.
In most weeks during the season, there were an average of 18 teams that were in the FAB 50 from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
This week, all 20 region-ranked teams were in the FAB 50 along with Walton (Marietta, Ga.), which was No. 49 in the FAB 50 but was “on the bubble” for the Southeast Region.
Reasons for the Southeast region being so strong are similar why the Southeast Conference is so strong in college football. Every state in the region has a rabid fan base and there are a lot of talented players in every state that dedicate to the sport.