The Sports Talk Shop: Chris’s “ALL-UNDERRATED” Football Edition (Part 1)

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Last year, I did a blog entry here at “The Shop” reflecting back on the past basketball season that was well-received and seemed to generate some very positive comments.

The idea for that blog was not to single out the best players, teams and individual plays, but to spotlight student-athletes and coaches who did something great but perhaps didn’t get the attention he or she deserved.

As with the “All-Underrated Team” I did last spring, it’s completely arbitrary and was based solely on the games that I witnessed in person—either as a broadcaster or as a spectator. It did NOT include any games or videos I watched through RCN On-Demand, HUDL or any videos I saw on social media.

With that in mind, I wanted to single out some individuals who fit that same criteria during this past District XI high school football season.

The awards go to…

MOST UNDERRATED KICKER

Whitehall’s Alex Khouri.

The Zephyrs had a rare poor season and was one of the few Lehigh Valley teams that did not qualify for the playoffs this year.  However, Khouri was one of the most consistent extra point kickers in the area and had a strong leg on kickoffs in the few times we got an opportunity to see Whitehall this past season.

MOST UNDERRATED DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN A GAME

Southern Lehigh Linebacker LB Asher Smith. In a game I witnessed as a fan, the junior really stood out in a much-needed win over Palmerton after the Spartans were upset against Saucon Valley to open the season. Smith had a team-high nine solo tackles (10 total), five pass breakups and one pick-six….he also played well, was all over the place the previous week in keeping his team in the close game in the Panthers loss and also ended up with several returned kickoffs as one of the “up men.”

MOST UNDERRATED DEFENSIVE PLAYER/SEASON

Bethlehem Catholic’s Tavion Banks and Paul Carreras

Banks was one of the preseason “running backs to watch” in both local papers, however, he impressed me even more with his defense this past fall.  Banks is one of the top cover men in league—I kept reading in the high school football capsules each week that Becahi’s secondary was a weakness and that teams will look to exploit the Hawks’ ability to give up big plays.  However, the Hawks’ passing yardage was right in line with their opponents (153 yards per game vs. 158 at the end of the regular season).  I thought Banks did a great job keying on other teams’ top receivers and Becahi had just as many big players (if not more) than many other LV teams.

Carreras deserves extra mention because he was not only a standout linebacker all year long, but he was impressive offense (and both a running and a blocking back) and even excelled in the thankless role of a punter (averaging over 37 yards per punt during the regular season—one of the top marks in the area) and filled in kicker when Penn State-bound Anthony DeSilva went down with an injury (and did an admirable job in that role, too.)  All he did on defense was lead his team in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks (77, 22 and 8, respectively, using his final regular season numbers).  Not too bad anchoring a defense that—for the third straight year—many people called the best “Front 6” in the entire Lehigh Valley.

MOST UNDERRATED IMPACT (IN THE LEAST AMOUNT OF TIME)
 
Parkland Running Back Isiah Rico.  Before last season started, I heard great things about Rico’s potential as a quality back in the Lehigh Valley.  When senior starter Joseph Guida went down with a major injury, the sophomore Rico had to step into the spotlight in what may have been the team’s biggest regular season game against Bethlehem Catholic—only to sustain several serious injuries himself in that contest.

But what impressed me the most about Rico’s season was not the numbers he posted during his brief varsity experience this fall, but rather the conversation I had with him the week after suffering the injury.  When I talked with him the before the Liberty game, he was very positive about the team’s ability to overcome losing its two top running backs (at a time when there was still much indecision about the Trojans’ quarterbacks as well).  He also was in great spirits and refused to say anything negative about the situation surrounding the injury (on a controversial hit) and really gave some great responses in what could have been a very tough situation for him.

I am sure he will go on to post great numbers in his junior and senior seasons, but I instantly became a fan of Rico going forward based on the maturity he displayed in an off-the-field conversation.
 
MOST UNDERRATED UPSET

The then-winless Zephyrs. They defeated a Central Catholic team that had won two of its first three games, including an impressive victory over a Nazareth team that was also feeling good about themselves following terrific performances the first few weeks of the season. Whitehall not only pulled the upset but did it by scoring 75 points (and several Vikings fans admitted they probably could have scored more than night if they wanted to).

Both Central Catholic and Nazareth proved to be playoff teams again this year, which further showed what a big win it was for the Zephs.  (Did I mention that I was the only Lehigh Valley football media member who had predicted that Whitehall would win that game in advance?  I won’t mention I also predicted their other upset win over another playoff team in Northampton.)

MOST UNDERRATED COMEBACK STORY

The Northern Lehigh football team. Not only did Head Coach Joe Tout and his coaching staff turned around last year’s dismal season by posting five wins, but would have easily qualified for the playoffs had the powers-that-be not reduced the 3A classification qualifiers from eight to four teams.

A playoff appearance for the always hard-working Bulldogs would have been the perfect cherry to top the dramatic turnaround, but this year’s team certainly laid the groundwork for what will probably be an even more impressive football squad for the 2019 campaign.

MOST UNDERRATED FAN BASE

Palisades. One of District XI’s smallest schools features one of the most passionate and classy fans—from students, players, parents and coaches.

We talked at length about how well this group handled the controversial situation involving the previous year’s state playoff game loss to Conwell Egan.  This year, the team was in the hunt for another Colonial League championship—yet had the dubious distinction of being in the 3A classification (which switched from eight playoff qualifying spots to just four) and faced a nearly impossible road to a potential post-season berth once the team picked up its first loss.

This group remained loyal when the team was struggling to get enough players on the field to play a few years back and have handled being one of the league’s elite teams the past few years with respect towards other schools.  It was very enjoyable to travel outside our coverage area to Kintnersville again this year to see the stadium (how can you go wrong with a pirates ship on the field?), to experience the warm hospitality I experienced and receive the nice comments they passed along to me regarding reading my blog.

More “awards” coming, next week….

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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