The AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State Defensive Backs

Well, in the words of Kenny Loggins, this is it. This is the last of our series defending the selections which were made to the Aspirations Fitness Institutions-Kentucky Prep Gridiron Freshman and Sophomore All-State Football Teams. We here at KPG have some people to thank which we will do at the end. As a position group in the Class of 2020, there are people who could argue we saved the best for last, particularly in light of one of the selections and the type of Championship game he played in Lexington this past week-end. The last of our series of articles 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, and in this Class, we selected two of each. To refresh for what we were looking at each position, in assessing 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, where we could find them, and, if possible, we preferred some length on our corners. 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, and culminating here with the class of 2020. So, here are the AFI-KPG Sophomore, All-State, defensive backs…

JeVon Leavell, 5’9″ 160, Hopkinsville High School

Photo Credit: bgdailynews.com

Talk about pedigree, JeVon Leavell is the nephew of Keith Tandy, who is one of the top corners in the NFL and plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, in judging corners, it is a poor reflection on the defense, as a whole, if the corners are leading the team in tackles. What does it say about your first two levels of defense if the third level defender is making all the tackles? I can assure you its not a good reflection on the first two levels. JeVon started all year for a HHS team which made one heck of a playoff run all the way to the State Quarters, after starting off 1-6, before losing to the eventual Class 4A State Champion, Franklin-Simpson, in a game played at Franklin, Kentucky. However, it should be noted that the young Tigers jumped out on Franklin-Simpson and had them down, at one point, 20-0, and had the lead in the ball game as late as the 3rd quarter and were within one score deep into the 4th. So, look out Class 4A, the young Tigers are not far away from being an opponent on the schedule you dread having to play. JeVon had 20 tackles on the year, 16 of which were solo with 2 interceptions. Those statistics don’t tell the tale, however, as he led the Tiger defense in pass deflections and passes successfully defended and most opposing coaches would concede that, by the end of the year, he was the side of the field they elected to avoid. He locked it down on his side this year and the Tigers, as a team, only allowed 1,329 yards in 13 games played, in spite of playing several teams with accomplished passing QBs. Leavell is one of the best pure athletes in Kentucky and, in 8th grade, had the fastest 40 time at the Kentucky Future Stars’ tryout. It will be interesting to see what Leavell runs in the 40, this offseason, when the Tigers get into strength and speed testing as part of its offseason regimen. Leavell, on offense this year, showed tremendous burst and speed into the 2nd level as a RB and was a player the coaching staff would have liked to have seen there more this year. The staff shared with me his importance on defense limited his offensive play because they couldn’t risk him getting tired or injured on offense and it affecting his play or responsibility patrolling the Tigers’ back four. Leavell has very good top end speed, fluid hips, and lightning quick back pedal, with fluid transitions. Leavell flips his hips smoothly and gets on top of vertical routes and uses his vertical leaping ability and inside position to shut down the down-field passing game, while having the quick twitch ability to stop on a dime and break on the routes which attempt to angle underneath him. Going forward, Leavell is a player the Tigers are going to have to play on both sides of the ball. Had AFI-KPG Freshman All-Stater, EJ Austin, not passed away, Leavell and he would have given the Tigers the ideal two corners for years to come. As it is, they at least got Leavell’s side locked down and we know Mr. Tandy is mighty proud of his nephew, and with good reason. Leavell is an All-Stater, all day long.

DeVito Tisdale, 6’1″ 185, Bowling Green High School

They call him Vito. He is the 2nd highest ranked prospect in Kentucky’s Class of 2020 according to 247Sports.com’s composite ratings and is ranked 109th nationally. He is a 4 star, rated recruit in his class according to 247Sports.com and sports offers from APSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisville, and Purdue. He projects as a safety, in college, though he made this team as a corner which is one of the positions at which he has been deployed by the Purples of Bowling Green High School, in addition to RB, OLB, and safety. I first featured him back on June 9, 2017 in an article entitled Bowling Green’s DeVito Tisdale. In that article, I related that Vito is…widely considered the number 1 player in Kentucky in both football and basketball in his class. Two statistics which most football talent evaluators will tell you directly correlate are vertical jumping ability and running speed. As for verticality, we feel it would be appropriate to insert that Vito dunked a basketball in a state playoff game, while a 7th grader, in traffic.  Vito was a RB in middle school and carried BGMS to a Division I, State Championship, with slightly more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 34 TDs as an 8th grader.  What we didn’t realize, at the time, but appears now to have been a bit of foreshadowing, is we should have noticed his over 100 tackles he made on defense that year. Notwithstanding his bodacious accomplishments carrying the football in Middle School, Vito has transitioned nicely in to the Purples’ defensive back 7, playing at BGHS as a safety/OLB hybrid at times and slipping over and playing some corner too. Vito has a wingspan of 6’4″ and a forty time of 4.6 flat, and with his 6’2″ height and 185 pounds of substance, colleges are recruiting Tisdale as a safety, or so I am told. The fact that Vito plays so much linebacker should give you an idea about his willingness to come up and get involved in the run game. Now, Vito’s tackle numbers, like Leavell’s, are not going to really describe how great his play was this year because the first two levels of Purple defenders are tackling people before they reach Vito. Just as a for instance, one of the top players in this year’s senior class, Justice Dingle, had 109 tackles from his linebacker post with 80 being solo tackles, for the 10-3 Purple squad who lost to South Warren in the 2nd round of this year’s KHSAA playoffs. On the year, Vito had 28 tackles with 18 being solo tackles, and Vito is a 4 star-rated, back four defender. See, I told you there was nothing deficient about Leavell’s tackle numbers! Vito picked off 3 passes, recovered a fumble, caught 13 passes out of the backfield, while running the ball 59 times for 414 yards from scrimmage. There just can’t be a legitimate All-State Defensive team in Kentucky which considers the inclusion of 2020 players that excludes Vito Tisdale, so we included him. Why not? Everyone else ranking Kentucky’s 2020 class does and, surely, will continue!

Reese Smith, 5’11” 175, Boyle County High School

Photo Credit, Alex Slitz, Lexington Herald-Leader

Big time players show out on big stages and in big games. That perfectly describes Reese Smith, who in Boyle County’s Class 3A Championship Game against Corbin, which Boyle won 40-21 (Congratulations!), scored 4TDs and picked off 2 passes. That would be 4 of the 6 TDs scored by Boyle County. Now, the Championship Game’s MVP award was given to AFI-KPG All-State QB, Reed Lanter who completed 16 of 24 passes, including seven of his first nine, for 223 yards, and 5 TD passes. The award could have, just as easily, gone to Smith who personally accounted for 4 of Boyle’s 6 TDs. We would like it noted that the selection committee of this fine, online publication, selected both these players on its Sophomore, All State team well in advance of the Championship game. Had we not, the performance the two of them, rendered on the Commonwealth’s biggest stage, might well have warranted some last minute additions.  Smith, on the big stage this weekend, caught three of AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater, Reed Lanter’s five TD passes and returned one interception 40 yards for a score. Reece finished the game with five catches for 120 yards, in addition to his two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six. Reece had 22 tackles on the year, coming into the Championship game, with 4 of them being solos, and had 6 interceptions, prior to the two he pilfered in the Championship Game, to help secure for his team, Coach Smith’s 6th State Championship and the 8th for the Rebels overall. Reece was an Honorable Mention All-Stater last year, as a freshman, which is very rare because this is our first year selecting freshman and sophomore All-State teams, and we are the first to ever undertake such an endeavor. That means an All-State team, which generally only rewards Juniors and Seniors, either AP or Louisville Courier-Journal, honorably mentioned a freshman. If that were done very often, we might not exist at all. Coach Chuck Smith, in an interview with the Lexington-Herald Leader said [Reece] has…been a great player all year long and he loves the big stage…Of course, he had it today and he just went off. He’s a great player, he really is. He’s a future Mr. Football candidate. That is pretty heady praise from what may be Kentucky’s best High School football coach in the Commonwealth at the present time. Who are we to argue with Chuck Smith? Well, compared to him, a collection of nobodies, who happened, in this instance, to have been proven very right! Congratulations to Boyle County and Reece Smith for his being an AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater at defensive back.

Ben Bentley, 5’9″ 170, Belfry High School

Brother Cole Bentley with Bobby Petrino.

Ben Bentley, by far and away, was in on more tackles than any back four defender we have featured in either class. On the year, Bentley was in on 76 tackles, only 18 of which were solo tackles, so his solo tackle numbers were in line with the other All-Staters (Leavell 16, Tisdale 18, and Smith 4). This means that, while it doesn’t perceptually bode well for a back four guy to be making close to 80 tackles in 13 games, in Bentley’s case, after reviewing film, we saw where Ben had great range and was able to come up and get in on plays which resolved within the Defense’s first two levels, as opposed to a plethora of ball carriers reaching the defensive third level. Speaking of reaching a defense’s third level, Bentley, who is one of the fastest and most explosive players in the Class of 2020, carried the ball 4 times for 110 yards this year with two rushing TDs. This told the committee Bentley’s offensive touches were limited owing to his perceived value to his team’s defensive efforts, much in the way HHS limited JeVon Leavell’s offensive touches. The selection committee expects both Bentley and Leavell would do well to show up this Spring and next Fall in really good shape as they both are going to, probably, play Iron Man football as Juniors. When watching film, we noticed Bentley had fluid hips, transitioned quickly from back pedal to flipping to an inside position in defense of vertical routes, while exhibiting the spacial quickness and change of direction to come up and get in on underneath plays too. Bentley went into his sophomore year weighing in the neighborhood of 145 pounds, so his filling out to around 170 is an indication of several different things. First, the strength & conditioning program is doing its job. Second, Bentley is maturing physically. Third, Ben Bentley is putting in the work. When it comes to knowing the work required to play college football at the FBS, elite level, Ben hasn’t far to look for inspiration. Ben’s brother, Cole Bentley, plays football at U of L, so, like Leavell, Ben has the proper genetics and pedigree to indicate his being able to perform, at the highest level, is much more likely than just a regular Joe Slappy. Allow me to expound on that. Stephen Dubner wrote in a blog entitled Football Freakonomics: Born or Made that we should… [c]onsider this fact: of the roughly 1,900 players on NFL rosters this season, 20 of them have fathers who also played in the NFL, or about 1 percent. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But there are more than 20 million men in the U.S. of NFL age – and only 1,900 of them are in the NFL! Using Dubner’s numbers, those who have a father in the NFL have a greater than 1% chance of making the league. Those without, have a .000095% chance. Can’t say bloodlines and genetics are meaningless. The physical disparity between the two Bentley boys is striking as Cole, who also prepped at Belfry High School, is 6’4.5″ and weighs 290 pounds as opposed to Ben’s 5’9″ and 170 pounds. Of course, Cole is an offensive guard, as opposed to Ben’s playing in the defensive backfield. Regardless, Cole Bentley was determined, in the opinion of the selection committee, to be a clear All-State player which is why he was included on our AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State Football Team.

Well, there it is, the first Freshman and Sophomore All-State Football Teams ever attempted in the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I really have to thank the selection committee who participated in this and graciously gave their time and input into selecting these teams. I would also like to thank coaches around the Commonwealth, who weren’t on the selection committee, but, nevertheless, were willing to gather information for us and answer direct questions the committee may have had about certain players. We didn’t get every deserving player, there were All-State players we missed and that is a guarantee, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of the committee, that much be rest assured. Finding and recognizing every single deserving player would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. It simply would have been a nearly impossible undertaking. We proclaim confidently the players we did recognize were very deserving and their selections imminently defensible. For young players coming up and hoping to make these teams in the future, as we hope to continue on in this endeavor for years to come, the analysis provided at the beginning of each position group as to what skill sets the committee believed denoted All-State caliber play should give you an outline as to what skills, for each position, you should be trying to develop offseason. Use the analysis to look honestly at your play and develop those areas you find, through honest self-examination, deficient and continue to hone your strong suits. Continue to grind and perform and we promise we will make every effort to both look for and, ultimately, find you. I would also like to thank the Aspirations Fitness Institution and its CEO Chris Vaughn, without whose support this endeavor could never have been undertaken. Finally, I thank the All-State players whose athletic feats and hard work inspired all of us over this past season to reach within ourselves to summon up performances which represent the very best of what we could ever hope to be physically capable. These were the Class of 2020 and 2021 All-State football players and exactly whey they were selected for inclusion on the AFI/KPG Freshman & Sophomore, All-State, Football Teams.  We here at Kentucky Prep Gridiron can’t wait to see what is next for all of you and look forward to your continuing to thrill us with your play while filling us with excitement and wonder at how you accomplish, on the gridiron, all that you do.  Until we meet again, this is Fletcher Long, for Kentucky Prep Gridiron, reminding all football players, both on and off the field, to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

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