In all his years coaching at Gilman and now at St. Frances, Henry Russell can’t remember a defensive end leading the team in tackles. Eyabi Anoma is the first.
A 6-foot-5, 240-pound blast off the edge, Anoma never quit on a play, no matter how far he had to chase the ball. With 98 tackles, he led a defense that gave up just 65 points all season and allowed only one opponent to score more than a single touchdown. He also had 22 sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered three as the No. 1 Panthers (12-0) went undefeated through the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference for the second straight year and won the first conference playoff in five years.
“He plays with a great motor,” Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt said, “and he strikes me as the inspirational leader of the defense. You watch him on tape, in our game specifically, he makes a play or a tackle for a loss or a sack, and it seems to really get the rest of the teammates going. He’s a momentum player that you want to contain.”
In his first season of football a year ago, Anoma emerged as a force on the Panthers defense, growing in every game. A second-team All-Metro selection, he exploded late in the season as one of the top defensive end prospects in the country. In April, he was rated a five-star prospect and the nation’s No. 2 overall rising senior in the ESPN 300. He’s currently ranked No. 4 overall and No. 2 at defensive end.
An Under Armour All-American, he is considering a long list of Power 5 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Florida, Penn State and Ohio State.
“From the moment we lost to IMG last year [in the season finale], he was ready to get better,” Russell said, “and have not only himself get better, but have our whole team improve and get better. He took that mentality with him in the offseason. In the weight room, he worked incredibly hard. He was always the one getting extra work lifting weights and he put on a few pounds of muscle in the offseason, and I think that helped him become more dominant this year.”
Well-known for finishing plays, Anoma helped the Panthers earn the No. 11 ranking in USA Today’s Super 25. Relentless in his pursuit, he has great speed, length and athleticism that allow him to run down plays from the back side.
“I think his best quality is the way he chases the football,” Schmitt said. “I think he’s a good pass rusher. I think his maturity needs to come against the run, but frankly he runs down plays, which I think great players do. You have a choice to run at him or run away from him and he creates a lot of problems, because when you run away from him, his pursuit is excellent. He’s probably the best pursuit D-lineman I’ve coached against in a long time, the way he chases the football downfield and, in a lot of ways, creates fumbles, big hits and momentum-changing plays. We had to block his second movement, and a lot of people struggled to do that.”
Anoma was selected to play in the Maryland Crab Bowl on Dec. 17 at Bowie State, but he will not be able to participate because the Panthers have a game the following week. St. Frances is one of four teams invited to the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series on Dec. 23 in Phoenix. Anoma will play in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.