The SoCon’s Top 20 Playmakers: Part One
By Russell V.
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The Southern Conference has a rich tradition of producing elite football talent, and that trend will continue this fall.
David England stated it best when he started his top 20 playmakers of the ACC article: “To define an impact player is no small task. Some would consider an impact player a game changer. Others would say it is a natural born leader on the field.”
So, this brings up the question – who is the top playmaker in the Southern Conference? Heck, while we are at it, why not take a look at the top 20 playmakers in the conference?
We all know about the conference’s history of playmakers –from the likes of Dexter Coakley, Adrian Peterson and Terrell Owens to Armanti Edwards, Jayson Foster and Randy Moss. Even Sunday night’s Hall of Fame preseason game had plenty of SoCon flavor to it, as former greats Andre Roberts, Travaris Cadet, Corey White, Kadarron Anderson and Laron Scott showcased their talents on national television.
So begins our journey, as we search from Birmingham to Charleston and everywhere in between to find the best playmaker in the SoCon. Let’s start part one of our search in Cullowhee, shall we?
20. Rock Williams, LB, Western Carolina
The rising senior linebacker from Michigan not only has one of the better names in the conference; he also was the second-leading tackler in the SoCon last season, finishing with a career-high 115 tackles. Williams finished with double-digit tackles in six contests last season, including a 19-tackle performance against Elon. The man is a tackling machine.
19. Darien Robinson, RB, The Citadel
Robinson exploded onto the scene last year after Terrell Dallas went down for the season in the first game of the 2011 campaign. All the rising junior did was run for 862 yards (averaging 78.4 yards a game, good for sixth in the conference) and nine touchdowns as he led the Citadel attack. With Dallas returning to the backfield and quarterback Ben Dupree continually improving, the Bulldogs have a very formidable ground game heading into the 2012 season.
18. Blake Thompson, LB, Elon
Thompson is the Phoenix’s new defensive leader as he makes the transition from safety to linebacker. While playing safety, he compiled 60 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a sack. He’ll be expected to take over the role Joshua Jones played for the Phoenix last year, which could be easier said than done – Jones finished last year with 112 tackles, 17 TFL and an interception. It’ll be interesting to see how the 6-1, 207-pound rising senior handles the transition. He will be key to Elon’s success on defense.
17. Donovan Johnson, RB, Wofford
Lost in Eric Breitenstein’s dominance is the excellent play of Johnson. He finished with 967 yards and nine touchdowns, while averaging 8.8 yards per rush last season. On top of that, his 80.6 yards per game ranked fourth in the conference. The best unknown running back in the conference is the perfect complement to Breitenstein – the lightning to his thunder. And people wonder why the Terriers are so good year in and year out.
16. Jerick McKinnon, QB, Georgia Southern
First off, yes, McKinnon is listed as a quarterback, but part of the reason I love the rising junior is his versatility. Throughout the course of the 2011 campaign, McKinnon rushed, threw and caught a touchdown, and even had two interceptions during the Eagles’ victory over Maine in the playoffs. Georgia Southern has found the perfect way to use the athlete, making him just one of a wide variety of weapons in the Eagles' potent offensive attack.
15. Alvin Scioneaux, LB, Wofford
While many (myself included) expected Ameet Pall to dominate on the defensive side of the ball for Wofford, it was actually Scioneaux who led the defense last fall. The rising junior had a 2011 to remember, totaling 85 tackles, 8.5 sacks (second-best in the conference), 17 TFL (tied for best in the conference) and five fumble recoveries (also tied for best in the conference). Good luck topping those numbers in 2012.
14. Derek Douglas, DE, The Citadel
The 6-1, 275-pound rising junior emerged as one of the best defensive linemen in the conference last season. The Bulldogs’ team MVP ranked among the SoCon’s best in TFL (fifth) and sacks (15th), while earning first team All-SoCon honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL during spring practice and will miss some of the 2012 season. Here’s to a quick recovery.
13. Joshua Williams, DE, Chattanooga
I present to you the best defensive lineman in the SoCon not named Brent Russell. Already UTC’s career sack leader with 21.5, Williams looks to improve upon his conference-high 9.5 sacks last year – which were also good for 16th in the nation. At 6-3, 235 pounds, the rising senior has proven to be more than a handful for offensive linemen across the SoCon. They’ll be very happy when he graduates after this season.
12. Colin Anderson, TE, Furman
Perhaps the least talked about weapon in the conference, the former walk-on quarterback is one of the premier tight ends in the nation following his 40 catch, 696 yard, seven TD performance in 2011. At one point last season, he caught touchdowns in five consecutive games. Anderson has proven to be a matchup nightmare for defenses and was even named to the SoCon Academic Honor Roll. What can’t he do?
11. Fabian Truss, RB, Samford
Speaking of versatility, Fabian Truss is not just one of the better running backs in the conference; he is one of the better kick returners as well. He led the conference with 177.4 all-purpose yards per game and his 84.7 rushing yards per contest was good for third in the SoCon last year. The rising junior is already a must-watch every time he steps on the field: how exactly do you improve upon that?
Part Two Coming Tomorrow