LUMBERTON — After publishing a preseason top 15 list for the top football players in Robeson County, it’s only fair to re-stack the players based on how they played this season.
The all-county award winners and those at the top of the list before the season stayed among the top players in the county, but below there was a slight shuffle. Here’s how the top 15 players in Robeson County stack up after the 2017 season, according to The Robesonian’s sports reporter Jonathan Bym
1. Jerome Bass, Red Springs
Bass was ranked No. 1 in the preseason rankings and lived up to the preseason billing as the leading tackler in the county, while also being a force on the offensive side of the ball for the Red Devils. Bass guided Red Springs to a fourth-place finish in the Three Rivers Conference and his 56-yard touchdown run late against Salisbury secured a first-round playoff win for the program since 2012.
2. Braylan Grice, Lumberton
A one-man show for the Pirates this season, Grice led the team in rushing and passing yards. With the injury to his top running back and inexperience on the offensive line, it was the junior quarterback who burdened the load on offense for Lumberton. Grice was slated No. 3 in the preseason list, and bumped up to No. 2 with his play this season and will have his eyes set for more going into next season with a lot of tools returning.
3. Lee McLean, Red Springs
Rightfully earning most improved player of the year in the county was McLean as he became the county’s leading rusher this season. The sophomore tailback, along with Bass, was one of the Red Devils’ main rushing threats and was one of the many sophomores that started on the young roster. McLean bumped up from No. 14 in the preseason rankings.
4. Jordan Waters, Fairmont
Staying in the same spot as he was in the preseason, Waters did not disappoint this season, even with a change at quarterback for Fairmont. Waters came just short of his receiving yardage and touchdown marks from last season, but the Golden Tornadoes under quarterback Derrick Arnette scored less than 11 points per game this season as compared from the year before.
5. Breighlan Swindell, Lumberton
Second behind Bass in tackles this season, Swindell emerged as the top guy on the Lumberton defense that featured several athletes in the linebacking corps. Swindell was unranked in the preseason poll, and became a consistent leading tackler in every game for the Pirates during the 2017 campaign, and came up with late game heroics in the Pirates’ first of two wins on the season against West Brunswick.
6. Noah Wheeler, St. Pauls
Coming off an offensive player of the year campaign last season the expectations were high for Wheeler as a senior, and those expectations weren’t met until the second half of the season when the St. Pauls offensive playbook was simplified and his play took off from there. Wheeler had the individual game of the season in the county with a seven-touchdown performance against West Bladen. He was the No. 2 player in the preseason rankings.
7. Darius Wright, South Robeson
Wright came onto the scene early in the season and was a consistent 100-plus yard and two score a game back for the Mustangs as they earned another state playoff berth and hosted a playoff game for the first time since 2013. In the preseason rankings, Wright was on the outside of the list, but his play quickly got him on the scouting report for many teams he faced with his ability to break free for a big run.
8. Luke Oxendine, Purnell Swett
As the Sandhills Athletic Conference leading passer, Oxendine jumped up one spot from the preseason rankings from No. 9. This season the senior quarterback tossed for nearly 1,000 more yards, threw 12 more touchdowns and rushed for eight more scores than he did as a junior. He was a key part as the Rams returned back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
9. Darrius Brown, South Robeson
Brown was a two-way impact player for South Robeson this season. With his play in the defensive backfield and in the run game, the Mustangs had a steady constant in Brown. After being pegged seventh in the preseason poll, Brown dropped two spots, but with the emergence of Wright in the run game his offensive load was lightened this season.
10. Chandler Brayboy, Purnell Swett
As Oxendine’s top target with his speed and sure hands, Brayboy was able to have a successful and healthy junior season. He led the county in receiving yards this year with much of that coming after the catch. Brayboy wasn’t picked in the top 15 in the preseason, but his play for the Rams’ offense earns him a spot now the season is over.
11. Sidney McKeithan, Fairmont
Behind Bass and Swindell, McKeithan was one of the top tacklers in Robeson County with over 100 during his senior campaign. McKeithan was tabbed No. 12 in the preseason and bumps up one spot after the year. With an improved defensive effort from a year ago for the Golden Tornadoes, he was a solid centerpiece that kept the defense going.
12. Derrick Arnette, Fairmont
With two deep threat targets on either side this season, Arnette’s transition to quarterback was a smooth one. The senior led the county in passing yards and had his good and bad moments in his new position. But his ability to stretch the play out of the pocket made Arnette a fun player to watch as he went from being an unranked in the preseason list to find him a spot on the rankings.
13. Kalan Locklear, Purnell Swett
Locklear racked up tackles and tackles for loss this season as a defensive end going up against teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference that liked to run the ball. The senior finished with 20 tackles for loss and closed his career out with a strong game against Heritage that featured five tackles for loss and 16 total tackles. He was picked No. 11 in the preseason poll.
14. Kwashek Breeden, Lumberton
With the ability to out-jump nearly every defensive back that he went up against, Breeden was the top target for Grice this season and finished third in the Sandhills Athletic Conference in receiving yards. The junior receiver went unranked in the preseason rankings, but became a common offensive producer for the Pirates this season and has garnered attention from several colleges as well.
15. Caleb Inman, St. Pauls
Inman moved to the backfield from the slot receiver position with the multiple injuries to running back Marqueise Coleman early in the year, and was able to carry the other half of the the rushing load from Wheeler. Inman was unranked in the preseason poll, but after a solid senior year running the ball for the Bulldogs into the first round of the state playoffs, he gets the final spot in the top 15.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.