We are getting to the end of the features for the players selected to the AFI-KPG All-State Freshman Football Team. Today, we will feature the players we selected in the back four of our fictional defense by featuring the defensive backs, be they corners or be they safeties. When judging corners the selection committee looked for athletes with great feet, change of direction, body control, and loose hips. In watching film and highlights, we looked for corners with quick back pedal, who stayed low and could flip their hips without losing much speed. We attempted to identify corners who transitioned very quickly. By transitioning, the committee looked for corners who could go from a pedal to closing on the ball seamlessly. The quicker a player is in transition can mean the difference between a pass completion and a pass breakup or interception. The selection committee believed an ideal corner plays press, off, and zone coverage equally well. For our safeties, the committee looked for many of the same traits as a corner but to a lesser degree. For the most part, safeties are bigger then corners but, not necessarily when dealing with high school players. The committee preferred some bulk on our safeties. In identifying the attributes we desired at safety, we looked for safeties who may not be as athletic as our corners but still had a high degree of athleticism. Of course, a safety with corner athleticism was a plus because it made the safety more versatile and a player with whom the team could do more, deployment wise. As we have done with position groups healthy in members, we broke down the defensive backs and featured each respective class separately beginning with the class of 2021. So, here are the AFI-KPG Freshman, All-State, defensive backs…
Elijah EJ Austin, 5’9” 160 Hopkinsville High School (posthumous selection)
We knew him all over Kentucky as simply, EJ. He was a player who was known in football circles, across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and had quarterbacked the West Kentucky, All-State, middle school football team to victory in the East-West Kentucky game and had help lead Team Kentucky Future Stars to victory over Team Tennessee Future Stars this past summer at the Tennessee-Kentucky Future Stars Classic in Clarksville, Tennessee. In a Commonwealth where the use of hold-back football players is rampant, EJ, though a freshman varsity football player at Hopkinsville High School, turned 14 July 2, 2017, right before enrolling in 9th grade. EJ was only 13 when he played for Team Kentucky Future Stars, a good year and a half to two years younger than the average participant. He started in the defensive backfield in the first varsity game for which he dressed, one of only two freshman on the Tiger roster who could make that claim. You may notice he was posthumously selected to this team which means EJ passed prior to his selection. The committee, though sympathetic to the tragedy which took his life, didn’t want to set a precedent of selecting kids to the All-State football team who tragically perished during the year. Tragically, kids unexpectedly dying during the year isn’t all to uncommon across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. When we were discussing him, several members said he should only be on the team if his play, and not his tragic circumstances, warrant his inclusion. EJ played in only five games, prior to his passing. In those five games, EJ faced Class 5A, State Semi-finalist, South Warren; Class 2A, State Finalist, Mayfield; Class 3A, State Quarter-finalist, Caldwell County; Class 5A, District 1 Champion, Christian County; and a Class 3A team in Paducah Tilghman who lost in round 2 of the Playoffs to an E-Town team which was a State Semi-finalist. The final combined records of those five teams, this season, was 50-16. As a committee, we asked ourselves this question: if a freshman DB who started 5 Varsity Games, which is 20 quarters of varsity football, entitling him to a varsity letter, registered 23 tackles, 16 of which were solo, with 3 interceptions, against five teams the caliber EJ played, would he have made this team, if alive? The answer was a unanimous and resounding yes. That being said, and as the numbers in the hypothetical were EJ’s actual numbers, we decided that, while it would be improper to simply select an All-State football player because he died tragically during the season or year, the proper precedent to set was to not prejudice a player, who would have made the team had he lived, simply because he died tragically. EJ Austin not only was the best freshman defensive back many of us on the committee had ever seen play, his body of work, in just 5 games, was sufficiently productive to warrant his selection to this team. EJ had it all, great feet, change of direction, body control, loose hips the use of which made him transition in near seamless and effortless fashion. EJ died October 7, 2017, a part of many of us, who loved him, died too. I wrote a piece about him which fully described my personal feelings for him on this site entitled, EJ Austin now a “Townsman of a Stiller Town”…published the day after his passing. If you want to read more about that I recommend the article to you, a link to which is herein provided. Make no mistake, I surely loved him. My personal feelings put aside, EJ’s play, and his play alone, earned him the distinction of being selected to this All-State football team. https://kentuckyprepgridiron.com/ej-austin-now-a-townsman-of-a-stiller-town/
Frank Turner Jr., 6’1” 190 Franklin County High School
Frank Turner, Jr. had just an incredible year. I first met Frank when he played for Team Kentucky FBU in the 7th grade. He was a RB then, so suffice it to say he can motor. Now, being frank with you (pun intended), Frank Jr. played LB this past season for Franklin County High School and registered 93 tackles, 58 of which were solos, for a Class 4A, District 4, Eagles team which finished the year 5-6. Frank is a guy who could have made this team, and by his numbers probably should have made this team, at the LB position. Problem is the position of linebacker was crowded with super players in the Class of 2021 and some deserving LBs, like Seth Mounts and Frank Turner Jr., had to be moved to other positions, or positions where they could legitimately be forecast to play, some day, in order to make room for other, equally worthy players. Remember, up above, we set forth for what we were looking at the safety position. We were looking for corner athleticism, only bigger. Well, Frank is a 6’1″ 190 pound freshman whose father both played and coached in college, so Frank came by the athleticism and bulk naturally and will only get better, and bigger, as he matures. Clearly, for our committee’s purposes, Frank fit the description of a corner-type athlete, only bigger. It appeared to us on film that Frank Jr. possessed a quick back pedal and, when we saw him drop into coverage, he appeared to stay low and flip his hips to get over the top of routes run into the space behind him very quickly. Frank also showed the ability to close out on the underneath stuff when in coverage. Frank, to us, as we viewed film of him in coverage, seemed to go from pedal to closing seamlessly and had quick transitions and loose hips. We saw Frank press up on slots and TEs, we saw him play off well, and saw him effectively play zone coverage. We saw Frank, on this team, as a SS/Rover/Monster type player. He was sort of a 5th linebacker to us, if you will. Most importantly, for our purposes, Frank was just a freshman football player who had too good a year, and possessed too many of the athletic qualities for which we searched to keep him off the team, so we put him on here.
Christopher Forehand Jr., 5’7” 150 Louisville Trinity High School
Christopher Forehand Jr. began the year on the freshman squad at Trinity and was called up in October for the Shamrocks’ playoff run which ends today with the championship game against St. Xavier at Kroger Stadium. An incredible 21 players, the most ever called up, were summoned to the Mother ship as it were. Now, I have gotten some criticism that our selection criteria is unfair to kids at programs like Trinity because they don’t play freshman. First of all, three Trinity freshman football players made this freshman team so I am not sure what is kicking up the fuss. Secondly, the last time I checked, Trinity is a private school you picked to attend. Picking the Alabama of High School football comes with advantages, but there are some disadvantages too. One disadvantage might be going unnoticed, sitting on the bench, your freshman season. Comes with the territory. You know the saying, you win some, you lose some. Forehand Jr. is a player I am familiar with from his playing with the Kentucky Future Stars, which is one reason a parent may want to insure his son attend Future Stars tryouts and compete if selected. Forehand is a lockdown corner who only allowed one pass to be caught on him all summer, while practicing with the HS at Trinity, before being sent down for seasoning to the freshman squad. Forehand has fluid hips, transitions quickly and seamlessly, from back pedal to over the top, without the loss of speed with excellent coverage skills, whether he is in zone coverage, playing on in press coverage, or playing off. He either flips over the top or closes out underneath quickly and smoothly. Forehand is a kid who makes quick and appropriate decisions in coverage indicating he has a high football IQ, while still being capable and willing to come up and support the defense’s effort in the run game. Christopher had 23 solo tackles and 4 picks playing for a freshman team that went undefeated at 8-0 and would have beaten a full 3/4s of the Varsity squads in Kentucky. Forehand has ended the year on the Varsity roster and that is why Jefferson, White, and he have been included here.
Bryce Yates, 5’10” 135 duPont Manual High School
Bryce Yates, who’s very lucky I didn’t edit out of the photograph attached to this feature the fact he cheers for the Gators, possesses the physical attributes and skills we were looking for in a cornerback at this level and, we think, the next. Bryce also has played QB, so we can’t rule that out as an offensive position for him going forward in his High School career. Bryce is the son of a football coach…so check the box marked football IQ. Yates, before playing a down of HS football, played for both Team Kentucky FBU and played for the Team Kentucky Future Stars. Bryce has exactly the skill set for which you look in a DB, and in the opinion of our selection committee, particularly at corner. Bryce is 5’10″ 135 who ran a 4.9 hand timed, forty in middle school. Bryce was timed in middle school in the pro agility shuttle (5-10-5) at 4.46, which is a time that indicated, to the committee, he transitioned well, with quickness and agility. The committee also believed the 4.46 shuttle time, which is likely even quicker now, as we will see this summer on the camp/combine circuit, indicated he possessed the spacial quickness to flip his hips and get over the top of vertical routes making him a hard corner to shake. That spacial quickness also meant to us Bryce had an ability to stop on a dime, come out of a back pedal, and support the defensive effort against the rush from scrimmage, where he reads it. The committee also believed Bryce to have the ability to quickly achieve top-end speed to close on either a ball-carrier or underneath route in a hurry, where the need arises. Yates got some varsity run this year, after being called up from off a freshman squad which went undefeated, meaning there are brighter days ahead for a team which had a tough year in the 6A Classification, finishing 3-8. The selection committee believes you will look back on this selection as being right on the money, wait and see.
Roman White, 5’9″ 165 Louisville Trinity High School
Roman White, like Forehand Jr. and Jefferson, began the year on the freshman squad at Trinity and was called up in October for the Shamrocks’ playoff run which ends today with the championship game against St. Xavier at Kroger Stadium. An incredible 21 players, the most ever called up, were promoted to the varsity. White’s brother, Ryan White, just finished his senior year at Vanderbilt, as a 5-10, 190 pound safety, so Roman has the pedigree to play either safety or corner. White is a guy the Louisville members of the selection committee were completely and particularly sold on being included on this team. They informed the rest of the committee White possessed fluid hips, transitioned quickly and seamlessly from back pedal to over the top, without the loss of speed, had what was described to us as excellent coverage skills, whether he is in zone coverage, playing on in press coverage, or playing off. We were able to talk to coaches who either coached or coached against Roman, as well as access other pertinent information, and, to a man, White impressed them with his ability to get over the top of vertical routes or close out underneath quickly and smoothly. Roman White will suit up and take the field today in the Class 6A Football State Championship Game against Saint Xavier at Kroger Stadium. White has ended the year on the varsity roster and that is why Jefferson, Forehand, Jr., and he have been included here.
Well, these are the Class of 2021 defensive backs for the AFI/KPG Freshman, All-State, Football Team and why they were selected. Next up, and last but certainly not least, we will break down the selections for the defensive backs selected to the Sophomore team, so keep checking the site. Until then, this is Fletcher Long, for Kentucky Prep Gridiron, reminding football players both on and off the field to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!