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The 15: Local College Football Players To Watch

September 15, 2015

The 2015 college football season is in full swing, and a number of talented players who played their high school ball in Maryland are scattered around the country showcasing their skills for some of the nation's top Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision teams. With that in mind, here's a look at the 15 college players with local ties, listed in no particular order, to watch this season.

1. Sr. Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama (Gilman)

Two years removed from playing wide receiver and moving to the defensive side of the ball, Jones (5-foot-10, 196 pounds) flourished at cornerback in 2014 and earned second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors. Jones, who finished with a team-high 13 pass breakups and three interceptions last season, entered his senior campaign as one of the anchors of an Alabama defense that figures to remain among the nation's elite. He received an extra boost of motivation this offseason after not being named among the 42 players to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, which recognizes the nation's top defensive backs. 

2. Jr. Yannick Ngakoue, DL, Maryland (Friendship Collegiate)

Maryland Terps Football 2014: Yannick Ngakoue
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

As a sophomore last season, 6-foot-2, 255 pound Ngakoue had a coming out party and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention after notching six sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Ngakoue now looks to take his game to a higher level and be part of the solution for a Terps defense that ranked 12th in the 14-team Big Ten Conference last season. He'll have plenty of chances to do just that by filling the void Darius Kilgo, Andre Monroe and Keith Bowers left on the line after being lost to graduation.

3. Jr. Greg Pyke, OL, Georgia (Boys' Latin)

After playing sparingly during his first two collegiate seasons, Pyke started all 13 games at right guard as a third-year sophomore in 2014 and exceeded his three-star rating coming out of high school. Standing at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, the Baltimore native quickly made his presence felt on one of the SEC's top lines, paving the way for the Bulldogs to rush for a conference-best 257.8 yards per game. Pyke, named Georgia's Most Improved Player of the Year, headlines a rugged Bulldogs offensive front ready to build on last season's impressive showing.

4. Jr. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (Good Counsel)

If the Hokies hope to restore the glory of years past, Fuller's continued ascent as one of the nation's top cornerbacks will go a long way toward doing that. A preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, 6-foot-1, 196-pound Fuller registered 54 tackles, 15 pass breakups, two sacks, two interceptions and fumble recovery while playing with a wrist fracture most of last season. Now fully healthy after offseason surgery, the third-year Baltimore product appears primed to take the reins of a Virginia Tech secondary that lost its leader, Kyshoen Jarrett, to the NFL.   

5. Sr. Donovan Riley, S, Virginia Tech (Poly)

Hard-hitting, playmaking safeties have been a staple of longtime Hokies head coach Frank Beamer's and defensive coordinator Bud Foster's exotic scheme. With Jarrett's team-leading 88 tackles and three interceptions gone, Riley seems like the most qualified candidate to step in and solidify the vacancy. The 5-foot-11, 211-pound Baltimore native made significant strides last season and showed he's ready for that responsibility, amassing 53 tackles, two interceptions, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

6. So. Darius Victor, RB, Towson (Northwestern-Prince George's County)

Towson Football 2014: Darius Victor (set)
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Climbing out from underneath the shadow of former Tigers running back Terrance West didn't faze Victor during his first full season as a starter. Despite playing on a Towson team that went 4-8 and trailed for most of 2014, Victor (5-foot-8, 210 pounds) still garnered first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors, rushing for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries. Victor, the 2013 CAA Rookie of the Year, will again be counted on to carry the load for the Tigers as they seek their third FCS playoff berth in five years.

7. So. Ja'Whaun Bentley, OLB, Purdue (DeMatha)

Coming into a Big Ten program as a true freshman doesn't exactly lend itself to getting an opportunity to start right away, but that didn't stop Bentley from doing so at Purdue last season. The 6-foot-2, 260-pounder was one of the few bright spots during an otherwise disappointing season for the Boilermakers, recording 76 tackles, three fumble recoveries, one punt block and one interception. This season, Bentley returns hoping to improve a defense that ranked 10th in the conference while trying to lead Purdue to its first bowl game in three years. 

8. RS-Jr. Levern Jacobs, WR, Maryland (Suitland)

Prior to the start of his junior year in 2014, Jacobs violated Maryland's student code of conduct and was suspended for the entire season. Steffon Diggs' early departure to the NFL now leaves Jacobs as perhaps the top-receiving threat for the Big Ten's seventh-ranked passing attacking from a season ago. Jacobs (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) is no stranger to being the go-to guy, though, as he led Maryland in receptions (47) and receiving yards (640) to go along with three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013. 

9. Sr. Connor Frazier, QB, Towson (Damascus)

For the first time during his three seasons at Towson in 2014, Frazier started all 12 games under center and had mixed results. A dual-threat, Frazier completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,499 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions while adding 681 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Because of his up-and-down play, Frazier could share the quarterback duties with junior Heath Dahlgren or redshirt freshman Ellis Knudson this season. If that happens, Frazier could also spend time at receiver, where he's lined up in the past.

10. RS-Fr. Damian Prince, OL, Maryland (Bishop McNamara)

Last season was a wash for Prince, a former five-star prospect by Rivals.com, as he did not see action during a single game as a true freshman. This season, however, the 6-foot-3, 328-pound Oxon Hill, Md., native is penciled in to start at right tackle and will be out to make up for lost time. Prince should have a pretty solid grasp of the Terps' playbook and protection schemes by now, having practiced at left tackle and left guard in 2014 before shifting to the right side.

11. RS-So. Dorian O'Daniel, OLB, Clemson (Good Counsel)

Although he only started one of Clemson's 12 games at outside linebacker last season, O'Daniel made his mark in other facets. He compiled a team-high 13 tackles on special teams, including four during a 73-7 trouncing of instate rival South Carolina State Sept. 6, 2014. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, the Olney, Md., native still has room to grow and fill out as he looks to play an even bigger role in Clemson's defense during his redshirt sophomore season.

12. Jr. Rachid Ibrahim, RB, Pittsburgh (Avalon)

Ibrahim didn't get many carries during his first two seasons at Pittsburgh, but when he did, the Rockville, Md., native made the most of them. While the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Ibrahim only had 33 rushes a season ago, he led Pittsburgh with an 8.0-yard-per-carry average and ripped off the team's second-longest run of the season (50 yards). Even with the flashes he showed, Ibrahim may again be the odd man out, as the Panthers return three of their top four rushers from last year's team.

13. Sr. Brian Gaia, G/C, Penn State (Gilman)

For most players who move from one side of the line of scrimmage to the other, there are growing pains. Gaia, who spent his first two seasons on the defensive line in Happy Valley, went through a learning period during 12 starts at right guard last year. To help the Nittany Lions cut down on a Big Ten-worst 44 sacks yielded, the senior from Pasadena, Md., added five pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3, 298-pound frame.

14. So. Shane Cockerille, FB, Maryland (Gilman)

In July, the Terps announced Cockerille, a former ESPN.com four-star recruit, would be moving from quarterback to fullback. The third-year sophomore failed in his attempt to prove himself as a viable passer during Maryland's spring game April 11, going 5-for-21 for 91 yards and an interception. That effort prompted the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Cockerille to approach head coach Randy Edsall in June about a position change, which should finally get him some consistent playing time on offense.

15. Fr. Jalen Christian, WR, South Carolina (Damascus)

When Christian signed his national letter of intent with South Carolina Feb. 4, it was fait accompli, given the Gamecocks were the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to offer him a scholarship in ninth grade. Christian (5-foot-9, 177 pounds) brings lightning-quick speed and a steady set of hands to South Carolina, where he will add to a Steve Spurrier offense that racked up the second-most passing yards in the SEC last season (261.2 yards per contest). 

Issue 213: September 2015