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South Carroll’s Brandon Athey finds renewed passion on way to Carroll County football Defensive Player of Year | Fall 2021 All-County

South Carroll senior Brandon Athey is the 2021 Carroll County Times Defensive Football Player of the Year.
South Carroll senior Brandon Athey is the 2021 Carroll County Times Defensive Football Player of the Year. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Coming off an injury, and stuck in the middle of a pandemic, South Carroll linebacker Brandon Athey started to question his desire to keep playing football.

Ultimately, he leaned on his friends and family to reignite his passion for the game and spent last spring training for one final run. The decision to come back for a senior season paid off in a major way, as Athey led a stingy Cavaliers’ defense all the way to the state championship game and his efforts helped him earn the 2021 Carroll County Times Defensive Player of the Year award.

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“My sophomore year I suffered an injury to my elbow that made me ask myself about the risks of playing,” Athey said. “On top of that, the pandemic made me question what I wanted to do with myself. I wasn’t sure I was ready for varsity football. During the spring season, I dedicated my time training with some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in Maryland and rebuilt my confidence from the ground up.”

That newfound confidence was bad news for opposing offenses. Athey developed into a playmaker for head coach Mike Kraus’ aggressive blitzing defense. The senior showed an instinct for finding the ball and making plays in the other team’s backfield.

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By the end of the season, he was Carroll County’s leader in both tackles (143) and sacks (13).

“I’ve always looked at it as an instinct type of thing. Just knowing where you need to put yourself to create opportunities isn’t really something you can learn,” Athey said. “However, I was able to expand my arsenal of moves from the help of my coaches and my [teammates] to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me.”

Kraus said Athey’s ability to play fast and downhill was a key part of the success of his defense. He said his quiet leadership was critical to getting the defense to play for each other.

“Pressure has always been a concept of our defense and Brandon thrived in it,” Kraus said. “Having not played in the faux spring/fall season, he had to learn the defense on the fly and he welcomed the opportunity to play fast and downhill. [The success] didn’t happen by chance. His defensive line teammates and coaches made it all possible by ‘Doing Their Job,’ a mantra of our team defensive philosophy.”

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Liberty's Samuel Evans runs with the ball as South Carroll's Brandon Athey chases on the play during a football game at South Carroll High School on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.
Liberty's Samuel Evans runs with the ball as South Carroll's Brandon Athey chases on the play during a football game at South Carroll High School on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

With Athey leading the defense, the Cavaliers held nine opponents to seven points or less, including securing a pair of shutouts. What sticks out in Athey’s mind though is the team’s ability to close out games.

Against FSK, South Carroll came through with a fourth-down stop to close out an undefeated regular season. Athey had a late sack and pressured the quarterback on the final defensive stand to help force the incompletion on fourth down that ended the game.

“What separated our defense from the pack was the speed and general IQ [of the group],” Athey said. “[Combine that] on top of the heart we had — it all added up to a defense that you just can’t break.”

The bend but don’t break approach was never more apparent than in the final moments of a big midseason test against Liberty. The defense needed to protect a narrow lead after giving up a long touchdown run to Tommy Nelson on the Lions’ previous drive.

Trailing 28-23, the Lions drove inside the Cavaliers’ 10 and looked poised to end South Carroll’s bid at perfection. Athey led the defensive charge on a fourth down stand by pressuring the Lions’ quarterback into a quick throw that fell incomplete and preserved the victory.

“I personally saw the game as the turning point of our season because of the character brought out of us during that game,” Athey said of the victory over Liberty. “We kept that character throughout the rest of the season and we all started working for the team.”

The Cavaliers rode the momentum from that game all the way to the state final, an experience Athey said he will never forget.

“It’s definitely an honor to now be remembered as one of the best teams in school history,” Athey said. “It’s something I feel that my teammates and I will always look back at and be proud of. I’ll always look back at it as what the result is if you put in hard work and dedication.”

South Carroll seniors Ryan Barnard, left and Brandon Athey are the 2021 Carroll County Times Offensive and Defensive Football Players of the Year.
South Carroll seniors Ryan Barnard, left and Brandon Athey are the 2021 Carroll County Times Offensive and Defensive Football Players of the Year. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

First Team

Markel Brown, Manchester Valley, junior, defensive line

Luke Collins, Liberty, junior, defensive line

Jackson Moore, South Carroll, senior, defensive line

Sean Patrick, South Carroll, senior, defensive line

Frank Webb, Westminster, senior, defensive line

Brandon Athey, South Carroll, senior, inside linebacker

Austin Curlett, Century, senior, inside linebacker

Jack Sabo, Westminster, senior, inside linebacker

Matthew Sviatko, Manchester Valley, senior, inside linebacker

Kevin Connor, Manchester Valley, senior, outside linebacker

Noah Strzelczyk, South Carroll, senior, outside linebacker

Dean Beaumier, Liberty, junior, defensive back

Nick Diehl, Francis Scott Key, senior, defensive back

Logan Miller, South Carroll, senior, defensive back

Kyrece Walker, Westminster, sophomore, defensive back

Erik Harrell, Century, senior, all purpose

Second Team

Evan Robinson, Westminster, senior, defensive line

Payton Roebuck, Liberty, sophomore, defensive line

Matthew Rollman, Manchester Valley, senior, defensive line

Ben Simmens, South Carroll, junior, defensive line

William Sinnott, Manchester Valley, senior, defensive line

Jacob Shaw, South Carroll, senior, inside linebacker

Vinson Smith, Manchester Valley, senior, inside linebacker

Nate Boore, South Carroll, junior, outside linebacker

Matt Heath, Westminster, junior, outside linebacker

TJ Oosterhous, Manchester Valley, senior, outside linebacker

Sam Evans, Liberty, junior, defensive back

Jaeden Heiser, Francis Scott Key, senior, defensive back

Carter Mazalewski, South Carroll, junior, defensive back

AJ Rodriguez, South Carroll, junior, defensive back

Josh Ahulamibe, Century, senior, all purpose

Final Stat Leaders

Tackles: 1. Brandon Athey, South Carroll, 143; 2. Matthew Sviatko, Manchester Valley, 105; 3. Jack Sabo, Westminster, 104; 4. Ben Simmens, South Carroll, 89; 5. Dean Beaumier, Liberty, 80.

Sacks: 1. Brandon Athey, South Carroll, 13; 2. Frank Webb, Westminster, 10; 3. Jackson Moore, South Carroll, 9; 4. Ben Simmens, South Carroll, 9; 5. Sean Patrick, South Carroll, 8.

Interceptions: 1. Carter Mazalewski, South Carroll, 5; 2. Logan Miller, South Carroll, 4; T3. Nate Boore, South Carroll, 3; T3. Nick Diehl, Francis Scott Key, 3; T3. Sam Evans, Liberty, 3; T3. AJ Rodrigues, South Carroll, 3; T3. Kyrece Walker, Westminster, 3.

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