Football Players To Watch: Central Ohio features plentiful crop of talent
The announcement by Pickerington North senior Jack Sawyer on Aug. 14 that he won't play this season means the state's No. 1 college football recruit will go more than a year without competing in a game.
Sawyer, an Ohio State recruit who sustained a torn MCL in his left knee in the first round of last year's playoffs, made his decision two days after the Big Ten canceled fall sports.
While Sawyer plans to enroll early at Ohio State and could play in the spring for the Buckeyes -- if the Big Ten moves forward with spring football -- close to a dozen other Ohio players from the class of 2021 also have committed to Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
The next two highest-ranked 2021 recruits in the state, according to 247sports.com, are Pickerington Central senior Lorenzo Styles Jr., who has committed to Notre Dame as a wide receiver, and Hilliard Bradley senior Jack Pugh, who has committed to Wisconsin as a tight end.
Both Styles and Pugh are considered four-star recruits, as is Marysville junior linebacker Gabe Powers, who is the top-ranked recruit by 247sports.com in the 2022 class and has committed to Ohio State.
Another member of the 2022 class who is a four-star recruit is Westerville South wide receiver Kaden Saunders, who committed to Penn State in July.
Dublin Coffman will have as deep of a talent pool as any team in the area with Devon Williams (LB, Minnesota), Bryon Threats (RB/LB, Cincinnati), Hammond Russell (DL, West Virginia) and Daniel Warnsman (OL, Eastern Michigan) already committed.
Although the City League began the season on an indefinite suspension imposed by Columbus City Schools because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Independence's Shawn Munnerlyn (WR/DB, Rutgers), Marion-Franklin's Giovanni Scales (DB, 28 Division I offers) and Walnut Ridge's Jamarius Dinkins (DL, 12 Division I offers) and Javarus Leach (RB) all are impact players.
Below is a look at some of the area's top players, by position:
*QUARTERBACK -- Westerville Central has a strong returning senior class after making the playoffs last fall, with quarterback Judah Holtzclaw leading the way following a season in which he passed for more than 2,000 yards.
Another Division I playoff team that returns its quarterback is Dublin Jerome, which features senior Ryan Miller after he threw for 18 touchdowns and rushed for 10 scores.
Olentangy Berlin senior Jacob Moeller should be among the area's top Division II quarterbacks after passing for 2,051 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushing for six scores.
In Division III, Watterson senior Jake Hoying (2,056 yards passing) should lead the way.
Centennial senior Jaylen Gilbert, Walnut Ridge senior Howard Thornton and Columbus South senior Ronmel Robinson also are talented returnees if the City League reinstates football.
*RUNNING BACK -- Many of central Ohio's top big-school running backs from last season have returned.
Leading that group are Pickerington Central's Nick Mosley (1,427 yards, 23 TDs), who is a Bowling Green commit, as well as Threats (1,125 yards, 16 TDs), New Albany senior Mechi McCaulley (1,355 yards, 9 TDs), Groveport seniors Jalil Underdown (10 TDs) and Jashaun McGraw (11 TDs) and Hilliard Darby senior Connor Jones (13 TDs).
Canal Winchester's Stephan Byrd is a junior who has posted back-to-back seasons of more than 1,000 yards rushing.
From the CCL, DeSales senior Quintell Quinn rushed for 1,808 yards and 20 touchdowns and Hartley senior Marcelis Parker could be ready to step into a leading role after being a special mention all-district selection on defense in Division III.
*WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END -- Styles gives Pickerington Central a speedy and experienced wide receiver after he helped the program win its second Division I state title in three seasons last fall.
Westerville Central has one of the area's top wide receivers as well in senior Luke Swaney, who had 45 receptions for 628 yards and nine touchdowns.
Westerville South's Saunders is one of the area's top recruits from the junior class after helping the Wildcats reach the Division II playoffs last fall.
Senior Xavier Lopes returns for Dublin Scioto after finishing with 49 receptions, and Olentangy senior Jace Middletown is back after having 43 catches.
Watterson seniors Andrew Bettendorf (39 receptions) and Tyler Young (39 receptions) should be among the top wide receivers in Division III.
Pugh should be among the area's top tight ends along with Watterson's Davis Boone, who had 37 receptions last fall.
*OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE LINE -- Even with Sawyer not on the field, there is plenty of talent from Pickerington in the trenches.
North senior defensive lineman Elijah Hawk has 11 scholarship offers, and Central defensive tackle C.J. Doggette also has been getting college interest.
On the offensive line, Central senior Keaton Snyder and junior teammate Kyle Imboden should both be among the area's best.
Coffman has senior college recruits on both sides of its line, with Warnsman committed to Eastern Michigan on offense and Russell committed to West Virginia on defense.
Also on the offensive line, Westerville Central senior Will Jados has committed to Miami University and Westerville Central senior Brandon Kennedy, Gahanna Lincoln senior Tommy Bailey and Olentangy senior Toby Wilson all have offers.
Hartley's Daniel Tooson is one of the area's top juniors on the defensive line.
*LINEBACKER -- Joining Powers as big-school linebackers to watch are Coffman's Williams, Westerville Central senior Zeke Healy and Darby's Jones.
Williams has committed to Minnesota, while Healy had 25 tackles for loss last season and Jones returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
One of the area's top sophomores could be Kobi Gorman, who will start for Pickerington Central and already has been receiving college interest. Teammates William Dukes IV and Tyler Gillison also should be impact players.
DeSales seniors Jason Velazquez and Quinn and Canal Winchester senior Blaine Riley give their programs strong centerpieces around which to build.
Junior Doak Buttermore transferred from Granville to Upper Arlington after his father, Justin Buttermore, took the UA coaching job.
*SECONDARY -- Coffman has an impact defensive back with senior Sheron Phipps transferring in from Thomas Worthington after having six interceptions last season.
Also in Division I, Pickerington Central seniors Garner Wallace (Northwestern commit) and Styles, Upper Arlington senior Shea Keethler (4 interceptions) and Olentangy Liberty senior Drew Thornton (3 interceptions) also should be among the top players.
Berlin senior Justin Rader returns after having five interceptions, as does Olentangy senior Caleb Gossett after having four interceptions.
Westerville South's Brandon Armstrong is one of the top prospects in the 2022 class.
*SPECIAL TEAMS -- Among the area's top returning kickers are Coffman senior Casey Magyar and Pickerington North senior Tanner Pope.
Magyar made all 41 of his extra-point attempts and seven field goals during the regular season and was named first-team all-district. Pope was 7-for-9 on field goals and 30-for-32 on extra points while making second-team all-OCC-Ohio Division.
Olentangy Orange junior Jack Behre, UA junior Zac Yoakum and Olentangy junior Haydon Olcutt are among the other returning kickers.
Worthington Kilbourne senior Mitchell Tomasek and Berlin's Moeller should be among the area's best punters. Tomasek averaged 47 yards per punt and placed 16 inside the 20 last season.
Below are 10 central Ohio high school football players to watch heading into the 2020 season:
Canal Winchester, Jr., RB
With two prep seasons to play, Byrd already has rushed for 2,757 yards and 33 touchdowns. He has 11 scholarship offers, including from Cincinnati, Michigan, Minnesota and West Virginia.
Westerville Central, Sr., QB
While leading the Warhawks to the Division I playoffs last fall, this first-team all-district quarterback completed 153 of 264 passes for 2,110 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for four scores.
Watterson, Sr., QB
The son of former Ohio State quarterback Bobby Hoying has made a name for himself the last two seasons, throwing for more than 1,300 yards as a sophomore and completing 181 of 320 passes for 2,056 yards with 13 touchdowns last fall.
Hilliard Darby, Sr., LB/RB
The OCC-Cardinal Division Defensive Player of the Year last fall, Jones is a two-way standout. He had 95 tackles and four interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, and rushed for 806 yards and 13 scores.
Pickerington Central, Sr., RB
The offense of the defending Division I state champion Tigers figures to hum again with this senior running back carrying the load. A Bowling Green commit, Mosley rushed for 1,427 yards and 23 touchdowns on 234 carries last fall.
Hilliard Bradley, Sr., DL/TE
Considered a four-star recruit at tight end, Pugh committed to Wisconsin in May. Last season, he finished with 13 receptions and had 43 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks as the Jaguars won four of their final six to finish 4-6.
DeSales. Sr., RB/LB
This two-way standout was first-team all-state in Division II at running back after rushing for 1,808 yards and 20 touchdowns on 258 carries. At linebacker, Quinn made 90 tackles as the Stallions went 9-3.
Westerville South, Jr., WR/DB
A Penn State commit, Saunders could be poised for a breakout season after catching 20 passes for 370 yards and four touchdowns. He helped the Wildcats make the Division II playoffs last fall.
LORENZO STYLES Jr.
Pickerington Central, Sr., WR/DB
One of the most versatile players in central Ohio, Styles has committed to Notre Dame as a wide receiver. Last season, he rushed for 252 yards, had 43 receptions for 585 yards and six touchdowns and added two interceptions.
Dublin Coffman, Sr., RB/LB
A first-team all-district running back, Threats announced Aug. 14 that he had committed to Cincinnati after rushing for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns on 123 carries while adding three touchdown receptions last fall.
The Friday Night Live 2020 Central Ohio High School Football Preview Guide will be available Sept. 3. The annual guide is being published a week later than normal because of the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.