Football has seen better days in the county, with the exception of Croatan’s 8-2 overall record.

West Carteret and East Carteret are both 3-7, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of individual talent on the field this season. A few minutes watching either team, and it’s clear the future of county prep football is bright.

For instance, there are 23 kids on this column’s “Keep Pounding” all-county football list, and 13 are underclassmen. That being said, the best offensive lineman, defensive lineman and pass-rusher on the list are all seniors, so take from that what you will.

With 22 selections, it’s prudent to split the selections between one week for offense, including a slot for kicker, and another for defense. There are 11 total selections for Croatan, seven for West and five for East. That’s not a reflection of this column’s opinion of each program, it’s just the way the dice rolled this year.  

Selections were made based on a combination of individual statistics, strength of competition, team success and sportsmanship.

As a note on statistics, Croatan is the only team that has updated its seasonal numbers on The News-Times has compiled statistics for all games save for two road contests for East and one for West.

This week, it’s all about the defense, with three positions for defensive line, four for linebacker and four for defensive back. Look for the offensive selections in next week’s issue.

Without any further ado, here is the 2019 “Keep Pounding” all-county defensive team: defensive linemen Will Bodnar and Trey Clarke of West and Zach Hoy of Croatan; linebackers Connor McLeod and Dakota Grey of Croatan, Anthony Piccini of West and Jathan Parker of East; defensive backs Jaden Rittenhouse of West and Andrew Mendolia, Paul Skinner and Evan King of Croatan.

Below is a brief breakdown of why each player was selected. As a note, all statistics are current through last week’s games.

Starting in the trenches, the nose tackle spot goes to Bodnar for his county-high 96 tackles, including two for a loss. The two-year starting senior also has two fumble recoveries as the best example of an ‘A gap’ defender in the county this year.

Hoy’s 6-3, 240-pound frame is often a hindrance to his statistical output, as teams like to run away from the hulking defensive end. Still, the senior has 41 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks as a leader for a defense that allows a county-low 14.9 points per game.

Clarke is another rangy pass rusher on the defensive line at 6-2, 175 pounds. In addition to 37 tackles, seven for a loss and three sacks, the senior has also proven to be the most opportunistic defender in the county with one forced fumble and three recoveries that ties him for first place among the three teams.

Unlike his teammate Hoy, McLeod packs the same power and strength into a 5-7, 170-pound package. The junior has been excellent off the edge this season, tallying 57 tackles that rank second in the county, eight tackles for a loss that rank third and 2.5 sacks that tie for fourth.

Grey is listed as a defensive end for Croatan, but I have him on the edge as a pass-rushing linebacker for this list. After all, his 10.5 tackles for a loss ranks first in the county and his four sacks rank second. He also has 52 total tackles that rank second on his team and third among the three schools.

Similarly, Piccini is listed as an outside linebacker, but the senior plays inside on this list. Ranked second on his team in tackles, Piccini has 47 to go with three tackles for a loss and three fumble recoveries that ties Clarke for the county lead.

Parker is one of the true two-way players on this list, spending time on both lines of scrimmage as a blocker and pass rusher. The junior leads the county with seven sacks, as well as 34 tackles, including three for a loss.

It’s funny that both cornerback positions are going to Croatan considering the Cougars never throw the ball themselves. However, the program is allowing a county-low 67.7 passing yards per game. It also forced Dixon, which is averaging 236.2 yards per game through the air, to a season-low 156 passing yards in a 34-13 win over the Bulldogs on Oct. 11.

Skinner is the leading tackler among county cornerbacks this season with 37, along with three tackles for a loss. King, on the other hand, is tied for the county lead with two interceptions to go with 16 tackles.

Sticking with Croatan, Mendolia gets the nod at safety as the leading defensive back tackler for the Cougars with 38 and three for a loss. The 6-2, 175-pound junior also has an interception.

Rittenhouse is a little busier than usual these days as the new signal-caller for West. There, he is 23-of-43 (53 percent) for 384 yards, two touchdowns and four picks. On defense, the junior has a county-high 45 tackles for defensive backs, including two for a loss, and one interception.

(Send comments or questions to or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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