One of the most exciting aspects of a new season of prep football is attempting to identify the next big things in the area. While we all know the usual suspects, Outside the Huddle makes it a point in our football and basketball season previews to take a look at some of the players who could become household names this year.
Here are six juniors that OTH feels are prime candidates to burst onto the scene in 2021.
LB DAMON BENTLEY, EAST NOBLE
Bentley saw limited action a year ago as a sophomore, but he is set to take over at a starting linebacker spot in 2021 with Jacob Van Gorder, a tackling machine, having graduated.
At under six feet tall, Bentley does not have the physically-imposing body that is going to strike fear into opponents’ hearts at first glance, but neither did Van Gorder. Bentley has learned and grown behind some top players and coach Luke Amstutz is confident he can slot in at the middle level of the defense and contribute immediately.
RB JONTAE LAMBERT, NORTH SIDE
One of the more underappreciated players in the SAC in 2020 was Ja’suan Lambert, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Legends last season.
Ja’suan is gone, but younger brother Jontae is ready to step up and shine.
Jontae averaged 8.2 yards per rush in limited action a season ago, but has electrifying, big-play ability every time he touches the ball. He is extremely quick through the hole and can make defenders miss with regularity.
Expect to see North Side run a lot of zone read in 2021, with Jontae lined up in a variety of spots to maximize his talents.
QB ELI MATTOX, CONCORDIA LUTHERAN
With Brandon Davis graduated, Mattox takes over at quarterback with a lot on his shoulders. On paper, the Cadets have limited proven weaponry returning. Luckily for Concordia, Mattox has shown the ability to be a stud behind center.
The junior has one of the strongest arms in the SAC and will likely be put into a lot of situations in which he will have the chance to make some big plays. In four games last season, including a pair of starts, Mattox had 8.7 yards per completion and connected on just 36 percent of his passes. Those numbers should jump significantly in an offense that will look to him to get the ball downfield.
RB JAKE ROEMER, WOODLAN
Two years ago, Roemer was the Warriors’ leading rusher in a 4-7 campaign. He amassed 100-yard efforts against the likes of Southern Wells, Jay County and South Adams and finished with close to 600 yards on the season.
Unfortunately for Roemer, an injury sidelined him for the entirety of 2020.
Back and healthy, Woodlan will look to ride Roemer to some improvement in the ACAC in year two under Coach Mike Smith. The junior is a bruiser who is one of those running backs that a team can ride as he piles up 20-25 carries a contest.
RB DEZMEND SHAW, NORTHROP
Shaw did not see much varsity action as a sophomore. His lone three carries of the season came in a shutout loss to Bishop Dwenger in October.
While he rarely saw the field last season, Shaw will seldom leave it in 2021. He will man a starting linebacker spot for the Bruins on defense and be the team’s primary short yardage back. Shifty and elusive with physicality in bunches, Shaw’s time has come for Northrop.
RB/QB/S BROCK SHORT, FAIRFIELD
With four of Fairfield’s top five running backs gone from a squad that went undefeated in the regular season, Coach Matt Thacker will be looking to some new faces to lead the triple option.
Short will definitely be in the mix. Whether that is at running back or quarterback, time will tell. Thacker has been non-committal on who will be the starting QB this season, with Short in the conversation. Either way, Short will definitely eclipse his 159 yards rushing from a year ago.
But it is at the safety spot where Short could make the biggest impact. One NECC coach said that Short was the best underclassman his team played against in 2020. He amassed 77 tackles, 3.5 TFL and an INT as a sophomore and also served as Fairfield’s primary kick returner.