During the offseason, we’ll check on one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation this fall.
This week’s team: Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Va.)
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 50. The Tigers continue to produce touted skill players, and this season should be no different. At the head of the pack is Zack Jones, a wide receiver/defensive back who caught 49 passes for 993 yards and 16 scores as a junior. He has committed to Virginia, where his brother, Perry, is a team captain and running back. The Tigers have a chance to make a statement in August when they entertain South Carolina power Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) in a showdown of defending state champions. Byrnes was ranked No. 30 last season in the FAB 50. Oscar Smith went unbeaten versus in-state competition in 2011 and reeled off 14 straight wins after losing to FAB 50 No. 21 Gilman (Baltimore). The Tigers have won eight straight district titles in the competitive Tidewater area and will be the team to beat again in 2012.
Team Strengths: Besides Jones, the Tigers return the team's top tackler in pass-rushing defensive end Kanyia Anderson , who recorded 110 tackles, 22 sacks and forced six fumbles. Two touted underclass prospects include freshman running back DeShawn McClease and sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Bradshaw (5-11, 170). Both already are on the radar of college recruiters. Another running back gaining attention is junior Marcus Smith (5-8, 170). All three will need to step up to replace J.C. Coleman, who signed with Virginia Tech. The other main offensive concern is at quarterback with productive J.J. Williamson off to Hampton University. His backup, Dashawn Blow (5-8, 175), is primed for the job. Other players to watch include sophomore defensive lineman Drew Varner, sophomore linebacker Marquise Cook and freshman kicker Brad Davis.
Another Virginia team to watch: Salem (Virginia Beach, Va.) gave Oscar Smith its biggest in-state scare last season before falling 35-34 in the Eastern Region Division 6 championship and finished 11-2 overall. The SunDevils return touted quarterback Bucky Hodges, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior who has committed to Virginia Tech. Hodges completed 64 percent of his passes last year for 2,142 yards and 26 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Leading the defense is top linebacker Andrew Motu'apuaka, who recorded 97 tackles and had three interceptions as a junior. When all is said and done in the Tidewater area, Salem could hold bragging rights over Oscar Smith and other contenders.