CUMBERLAND — It’s a clean sweep for four-time running Maryland 1A state champion Fort Hill, as six Sentinels and their head coach will be honored with the 2016 high school football awards, led by Times-News Area co-Players of the Year Brayden Brown and Nathaniel Graves, at next Sunday’s Dapper Dan Awards Banquet.
Joining Brown and Graves as award winners will be their Fort Hill teammates Troy Banks, this year’s recipient of the Morton W. Peskin Sr. Offensive Player of the Year Memorial Award, Brayden Poling and Luke Hamilton, co-recipients of the Pepsi-Cola Defensive Player of the Year Award, Brayden Conley, the recipient of the second John B. “Jack” Gilmore Lineman of the Year Award, and for the fourth straight year, and seventh overall, Todd Appel, the Dapper Dan Area High School Football Coach of the Year.
The 2016 state champion Fort Hill team will also be feted by the Dapper Dans, as will a member of the first two state championship teams in this four-year run, as University of Maryland running back Ty Johnson, the Area Football Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014, will return to the dinner as the recipient of the George W. Stevenson/Nicholas A. Perlozzo Memorial Award, the Dapper Dan’s top award as the person who brings the most national recognition to the Allegany County area in 2016 through athletics.
As for Brown, who on Wednesday, Feb. 1, signed an NCAA National Letter of Intent to continue his education and football career at the University of Connecticut, becomes the second player in history to repeat as Area Player of the Year, succeeding his former Fort Hill teammate Johnson. When Brown and Graves are honored as co-Player of the Year it will mark the third time in area history the award has been presented to co-recipients.
In 1993, Fort Hill’s Gavin Palumbo and Beall’s Adam Patterson were co-recipients, while in 1998, Moorefield’s Brent Metheny and Fort Hill’s Jared Fradiska were co-Players of the Year.
• For the second straight season, the electrifying Brown, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound senior, exceeded the 2,000 all-purpose yardage mark, rushing for 1,309 yards on 100 carries (13.09 yards per carry) and scoring 16 touchdowns with a long gain of 65 yards. He also caught 17 passes for 361 yards (21.2 ypc) and four touchdowns, with a long of 52.
Brown averaged 30.9 yards and scored a touchdown on 13 punt returns, with a long return of 79 yards, and averaged 46.6 yards on five kickoff returns, scoring a touchdown, with his longest return covering 78 yards. In all, he amassed 2,305 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging 17.05 yards every time he touched the football.
As a lockdown cornerback on defense, Brown had 20 solo tackles and 55 total, with three for loss and three interceptions. He was rarely thrown on according to Appel, and because of that Graves, who was the Fort Hill free safety, was able to cheat to one side of the field to pick off eight opposing passes himself.
Brown originally made a verbal commitment to play at Coastal Carolina before being recruited and signed by UConn head coach Randy Edsall. He was offered by seven other schools, including Army and Delaware.
• In two years, Fort Hill did not lose a game that Graves, at 6-1, 198 pounds, started at quarterback, going 25-0 in that span. His senior season he completed 40 of 60 passes (66 percent) for 782 yards (19.55 ypc) and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He rushed for 474 yards on 63 carries (7.52 ypc) and scored 11 touchdowns, his longest gain being 58 yards.
He had 1,286 all-purpose yards and accounted for a team-high 24 touchdowns, passing and rushing.
Defensively, Graves was the center fielder at free safety, picking off eight passes and gaining 190 yards on returns. He had 35 solo tackles and 95 total his senior season, with four going for loss, and one quarterback sack.
“He understands the free safety position better than any other player we have had at Fort Hill,” Appel said. “He was physical versus the run and he had great ball skills when other teams threw the ball. He had 13 interceptions the past two years because of his ability to understand other teams’ offenses and their quarterback.”
• Banks, a 5-9, 195-pound junior, was Fort Hill’s so-called back-up fullback behind last year’s Offensive Player of the Year Raen Smith. Yet Banks finished the season with more yards gained than any other Fort Hill fullback, rushing for 1,003 yards on 119 carries (8.42 ypc). In the Sentinels’ 35-14 win over Havre de Grace at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium that tied Urbana for most consecutive state championships, Banks rushed for 189 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries.
Banks scored 16 touchdowns on the season, with a long gain of 67 yards, losing just one fumble.
“Troy Banks is super competitive, smart, super reliable and most of all unselfish,” Appel said. “In our biggest games this year — South Hagerstown, Sherando, Allegany, and Havre de Grace — he was the starting fullback or got most of the reps.”
• Junior linebacker Brayden Poling (5-11, 195) repeats as a co-Defensive Player of the Year, having been co-recipient last year with Allegany’s Kristian Robinette. For the third straight year he led Fort Hill in tackles, with 96 solo and 210 total. He had 13 tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks, nine pressures and four hurries. He intercepted one pass, forced four fumbles and recovered one.
“Brayden Poling may be the smartest instinctive defensive football player I’ve ever coached in my 24 years,” said Appel. “He has led our team in tackles as a freshman, sophomore, and now as a junior. He knows adjustments, formations and tendencies of the other team as much as our coaches do.”
• Hamilton, the relentless 6-0, 213-pound junior defensive lineman, had 73 solo tackles and 181 total. He had 15 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback sacks, pressured the quarterback 36 times, hit the quarterback 14 times, and also had 15 solo tackles and 26 total on special teams.
“He is the most intimidating defensive football player that we have,” said Appel. “Other teams do not like running in his direction. He might be the most physical football player in the state of Maryland. He is better than anyone else in the area with things that are not measured by stats. On offense he had 59 pancake blocks and was at the point of attack 90 percent of the time.”
• Just as relentless as Hamilton, Conley, a 5-11, 202-pound defensive lineman, had 63 solo tackles, 158 total, 18 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback sacks. He pressured the quarterback 54 times, hitting him 16 times and forced three fumbles. On special teams he had 18 solo tackles and 31 total, blocking a punt and a field goal.
“In the past two years Brayden Conley has led our team in sacks,” Appel said. “Last year he had 14 and this year 18. He is the all-time leading sack leader in Fort Hill history with a total of 34.
“Offensively, Brayden Conley was the best guard in the area. He is strong, fast and powerful. He could take people off the ball and also get out in front of people like Brayden Brown and Brayden Poiing on the sweep and throw devastating and key blocks.”
• Appel has directed Fort Hill to four consecutive Maryland 1A state championships with a record of 54-1 in that time. In nine years as the Sentinels’ coach, Appel’s teams are 106-12, for a winning percentage of .898, the highest in Fort Hill football history.
Further coverage of the 2016 high school football award recipients will be featured in the Saturday, Feb. 25, Cumberland Times-News Sports Magazine.
The 69th Dapper Dan Awards Banquet will take place Sunday, Feb. 19, 4 p.m., at the Ali Ghan Shrine Club. For Dapper Dan ticket information, call The Sports Shoppe at 301-722-5490.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.