TAMPA — Step aside, slot receivers. Make room, mobile quarterbacks. Tailbacks, down in front. The playoffs are here, and you know what that means. It’s “defense wins championships” time. While we won’t completely nudge the offensive skill guys into the blurry background, few will argue it’s the middle ’backers, speed rushers and cover corners who hold the key to any team playing past Thanksgiving. With that in mind, here are a few defensive stars to watch this postseason.
DE Anthony Chickillo, Alonso
Size: 6-foot-4, 235 pounds
Stats: 125 tackles and 17 sacks (both team highs), two interceptions, four pass deflections, one forced fumble
Assessment: “He’s a great defensive player. He’s rangy. He can run sideline to sideline. You can’t run away from him, and you can’t run at him.” — Newsome coach Ken Hiscock
LB Eric Striker, Sr., Armwood
Size: 6-0, 193
Stats: 86 tackles and 12 sacks (both of which lead the Hawks)
Nickname: Young Vito (because he’s a big fan of Jay-Z)
Assessment: “Very fast, very physical. Doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. His speed is just …I mean, the whole team speed, we haven’t seen anything like it. I remember him from last year. He’s really, really fast. …That’s a perfect name for him because he’ll strike you.” — Sickles coach Brian Turner
MLB Schyler Miles, Jr., Berkeley Prep
Size: 6-0, 205
Stats: 93 tackles (a team best), three caused fumbles, two pass deflections
Assessment: “He’s just a true football player. He has a tremendous knack for finding the football. There’s no hesitation; he plays downhill. I think for us he’s had a tremendous season.” — Berkeley coach Dominick Ciao
DT Earl Moore, Jr., Hillsborough
Size: 6-2, 275
Stats: Tallied eight tackles and blocked the potential winning field goal on the last play in a 27-26 win at King that clinched a playoff berth.
Nickname: “He’s one of the best we’ve ever had, but no nickname,” coach Earl Garcia said.
Assessment: “He’s tough, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s big, physical, he’s the real deal,” — Largo coach Rick Rodriguez
LB Ramik Wilson, Sr., Jefferson
Size: 6-4, 230
Stats: 66 tackles and 15 sacks (both team-bests for the Dragons), six forced fumbles, two pass deflections
Nickname: Ramik the Freak It’s worth noting that Jefferson also has “the Freak Show” in WR Andre Davis.
Assessment: “He’s an animal. With his size, his sideline-to-sideline speed is pretty impressive. It’s one thing to see it on film, but to see it in person, it’s incredible.” — Plant City coach Wayne Ward
DE James Wilder Jr., Sr., Plant
Size: 6-2, 220
Stats: 42 tackles (4.7 per game), seven sacks, two pass deflections, one forced fumble
Nickname: J-Dub, but we were hoping “the Man Show” would stick after Armwood LB D.J. Hitchman said earlier this year, in reference to Wilder, “ ‘The Man Show’ is on. We know that. He does what he does and we gotta respect that, but he’s got to respect us, too.”
Assessment: “He’s going to make plays no matter what. He’s a phenom. He’s a great athlete on both sides of the ball.” — Plant City coach Wayne Ward
Five defenses to watch
1. Armwood: Hawks have allowed 41 points in five games without Jermaine McKinney
2. Jefferson: Area’s most underrated unit allowing only 12 points a game
3. Jesuit: Six opponents have been held to a touchdown or fewer
4. Tampa Bay Tech: One foe (Wharton) has scored more than 14 on Titans in past two months
5. Berkeley Prep: Exceptional for Class A level. Junior Christian Hardegree has five picks.