Ramal West’s hair has finally grown back.
He jokes about it now, but it was no laughing matter three years ago.
During a 7-on-7 practice for the Wilde Lake football team in the summer before his sophomore year, West took an elbow to the head and immediately knew something was wrong. He wasn’t in excruciating pain, but he had an abnormal indent on his head.
“That was a life-changing feeling man,” West said. “It was a traumatizing experience.”
A few weeks later, West was in an operating room getting cranium surgery. He had fractured his skull and would miss his entire sophomore season.
When he woke up, he noticed they had shaved his head for the surgery.
“Man, I woke up and I had something plugged into my brain or something, and they unwrapped my head and I was so mad,” West said with a laugh.
West’s hair grew back — he can now sport his full compliment of hair styles — but his talents as a defensive back also quickly returned. After a solid junior season for the Wildecats, West was superb during the spring 2021 season, leading one of the top defenses in Howard County by returning three interceptions for touchdowns.
For his efforts, West has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Football Defensive Player of the Year.
“My injury taught me that anything can be taken from you in the snap of a second,” West said. “Winning this [award] is such a blessing. This wasn’t even something I was striving to get this year, but it’s just an honor.”
“That was probably one of the scariest moments of my coaching career,” said Wilde Lake coach Brian Henderson. “That was such a long recovery period, but Ramal is probably one of the most resilient student-athletes I’ve ever come across. He’s just an outstanding young man.”
West started playing football when he was 5, but his freshman season at Wilde Lake was his first time playing defensive back. He started on varsity as a freshman but had to sit out his sophomore year to recover from surgery.
“That was a hard pill to swallow,” West said. “I thought my 10th grade year was going to be my sprout year, so missing that year really hurt me. But it also helped me see the game from a different perspective, and that kind of helped me the following year.”
It took him about four months to start feeling like himself again. His eyes and face were swollen from the surgery, and he lost weight due to a smaller appetite.
He was cleared to play the following season, but some of his family members didn’t want him to play. His mom would even come to practices at the beginning of his junior year, worryingly watching from the side.
“My mom and my family didn’t want me to play again, but this is something I love doing,” West said. “To this day, I’m willing to risk my life doing this, because I love this sport with everything in me.”
West had a good junior season — earning second-team All-County honors — but he excelled in the postseason, and so did the Wildecats.
After a difficult 2-7 regular season, Wilde Lake went on an improbable playoff run in 2019. The Wildecats upset No. 1 River Hill and made it to the Class 3A state quarterfinals. He had two interceptions in the win over the Hawks and another pick in the victory over Manchester Valley the following week.
West said the 14-10 win over River Hill as a junior is the highlight of his high school career.
“That’s the best game of my whole entire life,” he said. “No one thought we were going to win because they punished us during the regular season, so it was a great experience for me to say that I caught two picks in that game. It felt so great to know that we were the underdogs and we accomplished something most other teams couldn’t accomplish.”
West, who is committed to play at Division I FCS Stony Brook, was slotted at cornerback for the first few games of the spring 2021 season, but his coaches moved him to safety and he made the transition seamlessly.
He ended the year with 26.5 tackles in six games with a fumble recovery and three interceptions — all of which he returned for scores. He had two pick-sixes in the Wildecats’ win over Long Reach — one from 51 yards out and another from 98 yards — and another pick-six in a shutout win over Atholton. He also caught four passes for 99 yards and a touchdown on offense.
“He’s always finding himself around the football,” Henderson said. “Ramal has great size and speed. That’s a winning combination for a defender in the secondary.”
It wasn’t just West who had a standout year for the Wildecats’ defense. In six games, the Wildecats allowed only 49 points (8.2 per game), which ranked third in Howard County. Alongside West on the play-making defense were Enosh Minney (28 tackles, four sacks, five interceptions), Amari Hutson (22 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles), Keondre Dorsey (29.5 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles), Will Parker (38 tackles, seven sacks) and Travis Cannon (19 tackles, 6.5 sacks).
“We had so many good players on defense,” Henderson said. “They all really played well together, and they all had fun playing together. There are a lot of high standards and expectations around here on defense, and they lived up to them.”
Similar to Henderson, Wilde Lake defensive coordinator Arthur Robinson said West’s injury in June 2018 was “one of the scariest moments” of his coaching career. He said watching West come back from cranium surgery and play the way he did this spring was “remarkable.”
“Watching him make the plays he did this season and knowing where he came from and what he had gone through to make it to this point — and then to win Defensive Player of the Year — it’s just special,” Robinson said.
“Ramal deserves this honor more than anybody.”
Due to the nature of the spring 2021 season, with some teams playing as few as three games and no team playing more than six, the Howard County football coaches decided not to select a traditional All-County team this year. Instead, each coach was asked to name a Senior MVP on both sides of the ball from the spring 2021 campaign.
Defensive Senior MVP: Nyukechen Agbor-Baiyee, linebacker
As the Raiders’ inside linebacker, Agbor-Baiyee finished second on the team with 27 tackles, 4.5 of which for a loss.
“He was the heart and soul of the defense,” said Atholton coach Eric Woodson. “He’s the type of middle linebacker who is gonna stop the run and light that fire in the defense. He’s a quiet kid off the field, but he turns that switch on. He’s tough and gritty.
Standout performers: Christian Parkins (30.5 tackles, six tackles for loss); John Prajka (15.5 tackles, interception); Kevin Smitson (17.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL); Malik Hemmeian (13.5 tackles, INT); Dillan Watkins (INT); Harlem Morton (9.5 tackles, two sacks).
Defensive Senior MVP: Dylan Watson, linebacker
No player in Howard County had more tackles than Watson this season. The middle linebacker tallied 56 tackles in five games, including 16 for loss. He also had a sack and two forced fumbles.
“Dylan was one of the best football players in the county this year,” said Centennial coach Billy Martin. “He made multiple impact plays per game and was able to cover the field sideline to sideline. Dylan brought incredible energy to both practices and games, and he made our team go. Dylan’s dedication and hard work contributed to both our program’s and his personal success this season.”
Standout performers: Kevin Hammond (29 tackles, seven TFL); Brendan Hlibok (27 tackles, eight TFL); Praise Bright (22 tackles, two TFL); Jake Thomas (15 tackles, three TFL); Evan Miller (two sacks); Mofe Adewole (nine tackles, four TFL, sack).
Defensive Senior MVP: Trisden Bovello, defensive back
Bovello picked off multiple passes for the third straight season this spring. The defensive back tallied two interceptions on top of his 11 tackles in the Gladiators’ three games. Bovello, who also played running back and wideout on offense, ended his varsity career with 14 interceptions. He was a first-team All-County pick in 2019 and a second-team selection in 2018.
“Trisden was a three-year starter on varsity at defensive back and moved over to play safety this past season. He really excelled at the position,” said Glenelg coach Tim Cullen. “Trisden was the quarterback of our defense and made big plays in the passing game as well as the running game. His hard-nosed style and positive attitude will be missed next year.”
Standout performers: Pierce Pusheck (23 tackles, two TFL, forced fumble); Niko Garbis (19 tackles, four TFL, three sacks); Lucas Suri (13 tackles, three TFL); Bisi Owens (two INTs).
Defensive Senior MVP: Linus Sekedjah, linebacker
As the Golden Bears’ inside linebacker, Sekedjah totaled 20.5 tackles, four of which for a loss, and added an interception to lead Hammond’s defense.
“Linus was a two-year starter at inside linebacker and was the heart of our defense,” said Hammond coach Will Bell. “Linus is natural leader and one of the hardest workers in our program. He’s a smart, physical and tough player.”
Standout performers: Nathaniel Lamb (34.5 tackles, two TFL); Austin Stewart (33 tackles, four TFL); Carter Jones (28.5 tackles, four TFL); John England (two INTs).
Defensive Senior MVP: Nathan Cochran, linebacker
“Nathan is a weight room warrior, first one in and last one out,” said Howard coach Ross Hannon. “He’s an emotional player with great quickness and toughness, two traits needed for a great linebacker.”
Standout performers: Carson Robinson (42 tackles, four INTs); Coby Robinson (45 tackles, INT); CJ Marthins (DT); Daniel McPherson (DE).
Defensive Senior MVP: Mike De La Garza, linebacker
From the inside linebacker position, De La Garza led the Lightning with 37 tackles in four games.
“Mike was a really great leader for us,” said Long Reach coach Jamie Willis. “He came into this year and led and did everything we asked of him. He had an outstanding spring season. He really grew as a person and as a football player. He was outstanding for us, made all the calls, got our kids lined up and helped all the young kids learn.”
Standout performers: Connor Perrigan (22 tackles, six sacks); Mike Reid (15 tackles); Julian Biggs (12 tackles).
Defensive Senior MVP: Jack Baxter, defensive line
As one of the most well-respected defenders in the county, Baxter led Marriotts Ridge with 30 tackles. The Shepard University commit also had seven tackles for loss and one sack in the four games he played.
“Jack Baxter was a dominant defensive presence for us all four years at Marriotts Ridge,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Marcus Lewis. “He was an outstanding leader and student as well. He was not afraid to hold himself and his teammates accountable. In my opinion, he is the best defensive player in Howard County. Shepherd University is getting an outstanding student-athlete and a better person.”
Standout performers: Nate Harris (26 tackles, five TFL, two sacks); Drew Ross (25 tackles); Tyler Gladstone (22 tackles, three TFL, two sacks); Martin Lunsford (21 tackles); Brian Blackman (20 tackles, three TFL); Cole Tran (20 tackles, INT); Kam Young (11 tackles, INT).
Defensive Senior MVP: Sam Mitchell
“He was the heart and soul of the team,” said Mt. Hebron coach Shawn Frederick. “He just had this personality that people gravitate to him. He’s always positive, and he has a strong work ethic. He plays hard, and he doesn’t bring any negative energy to what’s going on.”
Standout performers: Terry Tun (DL); Elias Kim (DL); Chris Buehlman (DL); Anwer Ayubi (DB); Troy Galabuzi (LB); Everett Armstead (LB/DL); Lukas Van Jones (DL/LB).
Defensive Senior MVP: Tyree Dantzler, defensive line
Dantzler led the Scorpions in both sacks and tackles for loss as one of the most experienced members of the defense.
“Tyree anchored a young defensive line and his leadership proved to be essential in our success,” said Oakland Mills coach Tom Brown. “He’s continuing his career at Hudson Valley Community College in the fall.”
Standout performers: Antoine Holmes (LB); John Tatum (DB); Kanye Holland (DB).
Defensive Senior MVP: Justin Cotton, defensive end
Cotton tied for the team lead with 36 tackles while leading the Gators with three sacks. A versatile player who moved all over Reservoir’s 3-4 scheme, Cotton had 36 tackles (23 solo, 13 assist), three sacks, six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in four games.
“Justin Cotton is the definition of a selfless team leader,” said Reservoir coach Bryan Cole. “Justin has gone above and beyond the call of duty placed on him by the coaching staff including carrying the success of our defense the last two seasons. ... The impact that Justin had on our defense will be tremendously missed, and we look forward to his continued success at the next level.”
Standout performers: David Spikes Jr. (36 tackles, eight TFL, sack); J’Abin Roberts (29 tackles, seven TFL, two sacks); Brian Keys (29 tackles); Ellis Tompkins (24 tackles, four TFL, two sacks); Mason McClendon (21 tackles, INT); Daniel Ellerbe (two sacks); Orion Walker (INT).
Defensive Senior MVP:Zach Igwebe, linebacker
Igwebe ended his exemplary high school career with another outstanding season. On defense, Igwebe led a unit that allowed only 14 points in five games (2.8 per contest) and pitched four shutouts. He had 43 tackles (8.6 per game), including seven tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. On the offensive side of the ball, Igwebe was one of the top rushers in the county with more than 500 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In his career, Igwebe, who is going to play at Wake Forest University, totaled 196 tackles (116 solo and 80 assists) and 1,739 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 325 carries for a team that went 30-7 overall in that timespan. He was a first-team All-County pick at linebacker in 2019 and a second-team selection in 2018.
“Zach has had an outstanding career here at River Hill,” said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen. “He has a great work ethic and outstanding leadership qualities. Zach has a high football IQ and is always around the football. He made big plays in the key games. In our games against Marriotts Ridge and Wilde Lake, Zach had 14 tackles, five for a loss, one sack, one fumble caused and one interception. In those games, he also had 253 yards of total offense and two touchdowns. In my opinion, Zach was the best overall player in Howard County this season.”
Standout performers: Daniel Fahmy (38 tackles, four sacks, INT); Michael Crisitello (30 tackles, three TFL, FF, INT); Nick Laumann (25 tackles); Devron Johnson (13 tackles, three INTs); Devin Campbell (18 tackles, INT); Christian Myers (13 tackles, two sacks); Kyle Martin (16 tackles, two sacks).
Defensive Senior MVP: Travis Cannon-Cherry, defensive line
Alongside West, Cannon-Cherry helped lead a dynamic Wildecats defense. The senior lineman was second on the squad with 6.5 sacks while also registering 19 tackles.
“Travis is a three-year varsity football player for the Wildecats and had a breakout senior year,” said Wilde Lake coach Brian Henderson. “He’s an outstanding defensive lineman that got better every year and was a reliable, hardworking young man that will be missed.”
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Standout performers: Enosh Minney (28 tackles, four sacks, five INTs); Amari Hutson (22 tackles, five sacks, three FFs); Keondre Dorsey (29.5 tackles, six sacks, three INTs, three FFs); Will Parker (38 tackles, seven sacks).