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2014 FAB FIVE: The defensive stalwarts

Published 2:54pm Thursday, July 31, 2014

In The Outlook’s third installment of its Fab Five lists, we’ll take a look at the top defensive stars to watch in 2014 on Friday nights.
You can consider the players on this list as defensive anchors, whether they are the tone-setter or the player most likely to make a game-changing play when needed most.
Without further ado, here are The Outlook’s choices for the five defenders to watch in 2014:

5.  Thristian Millien, DT, Horseshoe Bend
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 250 pounds
2013 stats: 60 tackles (eight for loss), two sacks, one forced fumble
The low down: Word around New Site is that the Generals are set to be much improved in all facets. According to HBHS coach Jason Franklin, one of the units that has really stood out was the defensive front.
The Generals’ defensive front was able to do what it wanted during spring action, and by all accounts that improvement doesn’t appear to be a fluke. Millien serves as the anchor of the Generals’ front line and if he continues his trend of statistical improvement, the Generals will be able to free up their linebackers to make plays and make lives miserable for offenses.

4. Tyrik Norris, DB, Benjamin Russell
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 185 pounds
2013 stats: 40 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble
The low down: The Wildcats have lost a fair bit from the defensive side of the ball, and an area of great loss was in the secondary, where top corners Eric Varner and Diorte Russell and part-time safety Bryant Horn has graduated.
However, the player who led the team in picks is back, and he has the chance to set the tone for the back end in 2014. As one of the premier athletes in the area regardless of sport, the talent is there and given that his 2013 season earned him an honorable mention selection to the Class 5A All-State team, the production is there. All Norris has to do now is make the leap as a senior.

3. Ariko Stewart, DB, Reeltown
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 174 pounds
2013 stats: 54 tackles, four picks, one sack, one forced fumble
The low down: The hard-hitting Rebel is no stranger to defensive excellence, having earned a first-team nod to the Class 2A All-State team on defense as a sophomore (92 tackles, five picks). So, while his junior stats may not show it, 2013 was a bit of a down year for Stewart.
However, according to Rebels coach Jackie O’Neal, Stewart has had a strong offseason, and barring the injury troubles that marred last year for him, should be one of the more dominant defenders in the area. He’ll definitely be one of the most physical.

2. Tre Royal, LB, Central of Coosa County
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 210 pounds
2013 stats: 83 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries
The low down: For the past two seasons, Royal has been one of the more unheralded defenders in the area. He’s accumulated 14 sacks over the past two seasons, which is the most among local players over that time frame. Primarily a speed rusher, Royal flashed the ability to take over games several times in 2013. He closed the year with four straight double-digit tackle games.
This year, Royal is moving to linebacker so that – according to Cougars coach Richard Bell – offenses can’t run plays away from him anymore. If he can take advantage of the opportunities, the normally explosive and hard-working Royal may have a season to remember in Rockford.

1. Anfernee Jennings, DE, Dadeville
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 245 pounds
2013 stats: 171 tackles, 43 quarterback hurries, eight sacks, one interception, one forced fumble
The low down: The Alabama commit is pretty well set to lead the Dadeville defense next season. As that side of the ball’s unquestioned top player – as well as the marquee name – Jennings will be expected to have an even better year than his 2013 season, which earned him a first-team selection to the Class 4A All-State team.
As the Tigers have lost several key contributors at linebacker and the secondary from last season, an even greater onus is on Jennings to be the impact player for Dadeville. If his recent trend of production is any indication, you can expect him to be everything and more for the Tigers as they attempt to defend their region crown.
Next up on The Outlook’s Fab Five list: the offensive players to watch in the 2014 season