Before the start of the season, Reservoir senior Shawn Hamilton was anxious to be the guy everybody noticed on defense.
He had visions of sacking opposing quarterbacks and punishing running backs and being a dominant defensive end. The only problem was Hamilton had started the previous two seasons at nose guard — a key position for any top defense, but not the one that builds up eye-opening stats.
“Coach [Sean] Jones and I sat him down and said, ‘Listen Shawn, I understand it’s your senior year, you might get some sacks, get some opportunities, but if we keep you at nose [guard], nobody can run away from you,’” said Gators coach Bryan Cole.
Despite playing on the interior of the defensive line, Hamilton put up some gaudy totals that looked similar to a lot of linebackers and defensive ends. Through the first 11 games, Hamilton notched 80 tackles, including 30 solo tackles, which was the most for any interior lineman. He also ranked third in the county behind two linebackers with seven sacks, and had 20 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“I think it all worked out,” Hamilton said about staying at nose guard.
It’s because of those stats, as well as being a leader for a Reservoir team that finished 7-3 in the regular season and won its first ever 3A East region title, that Hamilton has been named the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Defensive Player of the Year.
Hamilton says the honor is something he’s been “dreaming of since I got into high school. My brother [Josh] couldn’t get it, so I’ll get it for him, for my school, for myself and for my family. I feel like I helped the team out so much I needed to get this. I worked so, so hard in the offseason and through the summer to get this and help my team make another playoff run. This is just vindication.”
“We asked Shawn at the end of the year if he still wanted to play defensive end, he said no, he’s good,” Cole said. “Sometimes it doesn’t always work out perfectly like that, but I think we had an idea watching his last two years how good he could be.”
After spending a year on JV, Hamilton became an immediate starter at nose guard for the Gators as a sophomore. He was undersized and he admits now it was “scary,” but Cole says he fit well at the position from the start and has the lineage with his brother Josh, who graduated in 2011, having been a nose guard for the program.
“He’s been a staple of our defense for three years. He came in and nose guard was the position we thought he would be best at. He was quick, athletic as a sophomore, and we thought he could play there and he did and played well,” Cole said. “... But since then, he’s grown, he’s gotten bigger and faster and he’s got a huge frame. He just dominated.”
Hamilton says he took the next step in his progression over the summer working with his brother and going to the gym twice a day. A county finalist as a 220-pound wrestler last winter, he also honed his hand-fighting skills.
“Over the summer, I knew it was my senior year and I had to push myself to the limit every day,” said Hamilton, who also started as a guard on the offensive line. “I went to the gym twice a day, I worked footwork and speed drills with my brother. Once the season started, I just let loose.”
It was clear from the start of the season that Hamilton was going to be difficult to stop. After allowing two quick touchdowns early in the first quarter against defending county champions Howard in the season opener, Hamilton and his defense stepped up and shut down the Lions the rest of the way. Howard finished with just 14 points, a regular-season low, and mustered just six first downs.
Cole noted that it was a coming-out party for Hamilton, though he feels it really started mid-way through his junior season in a game against the same Lions. But even he says he never envisioned Hamilton playing as well as he did this year.
“I thought after last year he was going to have a great year. We didn’t expect what happened. We thought he was going to be solid. We didn’t expect him to have that many tackles,” Cole said. “I think what happened is he got bigger, stronger and faster, and the part of his game that helped him reach this level was his ability to get off blocks and shed blocks. He’s fast enough to run down running backs. Shawn was making tackles at the sideline and doing it from the nose guard position.”
Hamilton’s defense was as dominant as any defense in the county, as it allowed less than 13 points per game and allowed nine points or less in eight of 13 games. But more important was finally breaking through for a deep playoff run despite starting the season 0-2.
Reservoir reeled off seven straight wins after that to lock up the No. 1 seed for the 3A East playoffs and beat J.M. Bennett to set up a region championship game against Glenelg, which the Gators won, 10-7, to capture their first ever region title.
“It meant a lot to me to do something we haven’t done before,” Hamilton said of the playoff run.
The run came to a crashing end when they fell to eventual 3A state champions Damascus in a state semifinal, but Hamilton looks back on the season and his career with a smile.
“[Reservoir football] is like a lifestyle to me. My brother came in and played football and his junior and senior year he had some great years and helped make the team better. It made the teams after them play to a certain standard,” he said. “I came and hopefully took that to another level.
“I know I wasn’t the biggest guy on the field or the strongest, but I always made sure I was getting in that backfield every single play. ... Double- or triple-team me, nobody was going to stop me.”
Hamilton says he is considering Stevenson, West Virginia, Lehigh, among others to continue his football career in college. No matter where he ends up, though, he says he will be trying to play football as a walk on or on scholarship.
“That’s my number one thing,” he said. “Even if I go to a Division I school, I’m going to try and walk on and try out. If I don’t make it, I’ll try the next year. I’m just going to try my hardest.”
Also named to the first-team defense is:
Larry Aaron, Oakland Mills senior
It didn’t take long for Aaron, a first-team all-county offensive lineman last year, to make himself heard on the defensive side this season. The score tied at 20-20 against Reservoir in the second game of the year, Aaron stripped the ball from a Gators player and returned it 60 yards for the game-winning score.
“I think that was the perfect example of showing his athleticism. He’s 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and he can take the ball from a running back and sprint 60 yards and nobody is going to catch him,” said Oakland Mills coach Tom Browne. “Larry is probably the best athlete on the team. He’s physically gifted, can move his feet and he’s tough as nails. He could have been a first-team all-county offensive lineman as well.”
AJ Ademiluyi, Hammond senior
A two-way starter on the offensive and defensive line, Ademiluyi was a disruptive force on the line in front of DJ Adediwura and Stanley Springer. He finished the year with 48 tackles and 2.5 sacks, including 10.5 tackles for loss.
“His leadership earns the respect amongst his teammates. He was just a joy to be around,” said Hammond coach Justin Carey. “AJ’s legacy is that he is a very coachable player and takes a business approach to everything. He was a player that did anything we as coaches asked.”
Among a handful of plays that stood out, Ademiluyi chased down a Mt. Hebron running back on a fourth down play to solidify a goal-line stand in the second game of the season.
Doug Brackins, Glenelg senior
Glenelg trailed Chesapeake, 7-0, in the opening round of the 3A East region playoffs when Brackins showed exactly how dominant he could be. The Cougars had three shots from the 1-yard line to extend the lead, but three plays in a row Brackins made the stop in what would turn out to be a 41-13 win.
“He made the play three plays in a row, busting through the line and making the play. That’s the kind of stuff Doug did for us,” said Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer. “He held the leadership role. He was a tremendously hard worker. He wasn’t the most vocal kid, but he led by his actions. He never gave up on a play and gave 110 percent on every single snap.”
Felix Fonmedig, Howard senior
Playing for a defense that allowed 123 points in county play, Fonmedig played a big role. His strength and work ethic were some of the best on the team, and he finished the year with 52 tackles.
“Whether in the weight room or on the field, Felix was usually the strongest around,” said Howard coach Bruce Strunk. “He did a great job anchoring our defensive line while usually being double teamed. Felix was a happy-go-lucky kid who always made his coaches and the players laugh. The younger linemen in our program look up to Felix.”
DJ Adediwura, Hammond senior
After being a first-team all-county selection at defensive line last year, Adediwura moved to linebacker this year and simply didn’t miss a beat. He finished second in the county with 122 tackles and pitched in two sacks to lead a talented Hammond defense.
“DJ has been the heartbeat for our defense since his sophomore year,” said Golden Bears coach Justin Carey. “DJ is a very instinctual player that either from defensive end or linebacker, he always found the football. ... DJ wanted to leave behind a legacy that he was one of the best defensive players at Hammond. He just wanted to let the Hammond community and his family know he gave it everything he had.”
Kyree Press, Wilde Lake senior
Playing for a defense that secured two shutouts and was dominant at times, Press stood out amongst the talented Wilde Lake squad. He had a knack for making big plays, as he led the county with 11.5 sacks — four more than Howard’s Muddy McHemba — and also pitched in 77 tackles and two interceptions.
Kyree made big plays on the defensive side of the ball each and every game. He averaged over a sack a game and turned two of his turnovers into touchdowns,” said Wildecats coach Mike Harrison. “Kyree was an impact player on the field and his play and presence on our defense will be missed next season.”
Zac Robinson, Howard senior
A Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Robinson was the clear leader for the Howard defense that lacked senior leadership this fall. While his leadership stood out amongst his teammates and coaches, his play on the field spoke volumes, as he finished the year with a county-high 125 tackles after racking up 64 last season.
“Zac was a very steady player for us the past two years. He is fast and very strong,” said Lions coach Bruce Strunk. “At middle linebacker, Zac gave us consistent play between the tackles. His great pursuit and attitude provided a young defense with leadership. Zac is another of our blue-collar players who practiced as hard as he played.”
Daaron Williams, Marriotts Ridge senior
Williams transferred from Catonsville High School and was “as good as advertised,” said coach Marcus Lewis, as he became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He stepped in and immediately was disruptive force game in and game out for Marriotts Ridge, the county’s best defense. He led the Mustangs with 92 tackles — good for sixth most in the county — and was the fan’s choice for player of the year on defense.
“Daaron brought energy and enthusiasm to the county’s leading defensive unit,” said Lewis. “His high energy level and desire was infectious on his teammates. ... Every day he brought energy and enthusiasm to the practice field. He just loves the game. While he wasn’t here for long, he definitely left his imprint on the place and will be talked about for years to come.”
Bryson Craven, Howard junior
A two-way player at wide receiver and cornerback, Craven had a knack for making a big play when his team needed it most. He caught five touchdown passes on offense, and on defense he led the county with nine interceptions — including three in a shutout over Mervo in the playoffs — after picking off four passes a year ago. He also racked up 64 tackles.
“Bryson was our best defensive back and one of our best athletes. He would usually be matched with our opponents’ best wide receiver,” said Howard coach Bruce Strunk. “Because we were very, very young at defensive back, Bryson provided leadership to the young guys during their development. Our expectation is that Bryson grows into a leader for next year’s team.”
Bladen Miller, Marriotts Ridge senior
Miller, a three-year varsity starter who finishes his career with eight interceptions, was a leader on a defense that allowed just 83 points in 11 games. In addition to his 46 tackles and four interceptions, he showed off his versatility by returning six punts for 102 yards, an average of 17 yards per return. He was also a second-team selection a year ago.
“Bladen provided experience, leadership and was a stabilizing presence on our defense,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Marcus Lewis. “Everyday he brought a consistent, concentrated effort to the field and led by example. ... His legacy is he was a main piece in the turn around process of the Marriotts Ridge football program.”
Miller is also a starter on the varsity lacrosse team, where he was a second-team all-county selection as a defender.
Jasen Parkins, Atholton junior
Playing on a defense that prided itself on making big hits and being physical, Parkins defined that roll perfectly for new Atholton coach Bruce Cummings.
“He was the tone setter for the physicality of our defense,” Cummings said. “He also served as the playmaker for us on defense with three defensive touchdowns. Jasen is an awesome football player.”
The two-year varsity player racked up 46 tackles and intercepted four passes, standing out from the start of the year.
“The first game of the season against Marriotts Ridge, Jasen came down and put a big hit on the ball carrier and made him fumble,” Cummings said. “I think being familiar with the physicality on this level gave him a head start which should make him be a man among boys this upcoming season.”
Stanley Springer, Hammond senior
Springer ran for 304 yards and two scores at running back this season, but he stood out on the defensive side of the ball. He registered 46 tackles — including six for loss — and added two sacks, but it was off the field where he meant even more.
“Stanley Springer has meant so much to our team. He was one of my team captains, and Stanley earned this right by his undeniable hard work ethic,” said Hammond coach Justin Carey. “Stanley is a football junky and looks for different ways to get better. He has been a utility man for us the last two seasons, so he always found ways to make it on the field. Stanley leaves behind his student of the game mentality. He’s is one of the smartest football players I’ve coached.”
Cooper McGeehan, River Hill sophomore
The only sophomore to be selected as a first-team all-county player on either offense or defense, McGeehan is already a two-year starter for River Hill. He intercepted two passes playing defensive back, but his special teams play is among the county’s best, as he missed just one extra point in 27 attempts and averaged 33.7 yards per punt. He also nailed his only field goal attempt from 23 yards out.
“Pretty much all phases of special teams he’s out there,” said Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen. “He also started at wide receiver and had six catches and was a great blocker. Defensively, we moved him all around but he mostly played outside linebacker and strong safety and played really well for us on the edge. ... The future is bright for him.”