Viva Loudoun college intern Joe Bushrod a graduate of Loudoun County High School and current student at Old Dominion University, has been scouting the returning Loudoun football players and will offer his top 5 at each position.
Previously Joe covered the Top 5 quarterbacks, top 5 offensive guards/centers, and top 5 offensive tackles. Today he continues with his top 5 defensive linemen and the No. 1 returning player at this position is Nick Merletti of Briar Woods.
1. Nick Merletti (SR) Briar Woods 6’5 250
Nick Merletti is the type of player that reminds me of an old-school defensive linemen. I say that because of his tendency to stick his nose in and get dirty in the trenches. When battling at the line of scrimmage, Merletti has the strength to win at the point of attack. My favorite thing about Merletti as a player is how he utilizes his hands with a powerful punch and rip to beat his blockers. Consistency is a large part of his game and a big part of why he lands No.1 on our list. This intelligent player on the field really defines the term student-athlete as he posts a 4.2 grade point average in the classroom.
2. JJ Jackson (SR) Woodgrove 6’4 220
Jackson has a high motor, and if unblocked will be in on the play. He loves to use the speed rush to beat offensive tackles so slow linemen are a guaranteed a loss vs. Jackson. He is an intense player, who knows how to tackle and hits with power. Even when offenses try to attack Jackson by combo blocking with tackle and tight end, he still can make a stop in the run game. I suggest that you never leave him unblocked as he will have a large impact on the play if it is not run to perfection. A perfect example is the Loudoun Valley game last season when Jackson was left alone on the backside of a rollout pass and he was able to get to the quarterback for a sack 10 yards deep from the line of scrimmage.
3. Yazeed Atariwa (SR) Dominion 6’5 250
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Yazeed Atariwa is a big prospect with the ability to move with great agility and fluidity in his strides. When he is matched up against any offensive linemen in the Dulles District, Atariwa is most likely to win at the point of attack. Just as Atariwa on offense is often found driving defensive tackles back into their linebackers, on defense he enjoys blowing up offensive guards into their running backs. I predict he is only tapping into his potential as a player. Somewhere a college coach needs to find this kid, make him live in the weight room, and develop him into a prototype 4-3 defensive end.
4. Tony Gallegos (JR) Stone Bridge 5’8 250
This 1st team All-Liberty District player last season was also the second leading tackler for the Stone Bridge Bulldogs. That is not a statistic that you normally get out of a defensive lineman, especially from a nose guard. The reason he has such a knack for making tackles is due to his awareness — Gallegos, for example, is an ace at sniffing out a screen and blowing it up. Whether that screen be a wide receiver smoke screen, tight end slip screen, or a basic screen to the tailback, Gallegos is usually the quickest to diagnose it. Ideally he fits into a 3-4 scheme at nose guard due to height and abilities. His footwork and athleticism consistently show up on tape and he will continue to make plays for Stone Bridge whether at nose, 1-tech, or a 3-tech defensive tackle.
5. Jashawn Banks (JR) Broad Run 5’10 200
Rounding up the last spot on our talented defensive line group is Spartan Jashawn Banks. Multitalented is one way to describe Banks. Offensively he can carry the ball and do so with power. Although his position says defensive end, he can drop into coverage and play as a 3-4 stand up outside linebacker. In my opinion the latter is the best position for him as he ages and begins to be recruited for college. Seeing how he still has two years of high school left, you can look forward to more quick footwork as he rushes around offensive linemen. Now don’t be fooled by the “light” 200 pound label as on a memorable play last season, he split Briar Woods top offensive linemen Nick Merletti and Jared Coker, on his way to blowing up the blocking back, and leading in on the tackle.
Others to Watch:
*Aaron Crawford (JR) Stone Bridge 5’10 250
*Mark Birmingham (SO) Briar Woods 6’3 205
*Jack Hawkins (Jr.) Broad Run 6’2 260