As the football postseason officially begins this week, we’ve dug into our own playbooks to uncover some of the county’s top unsung players. We’ve assembled our under-the-radar players who have played critical roles in their team’s regular-season success and will be called upon to continue their production in the postseason.
David Lerom, S, Plant, Sr.
Plant coach Robert Weiner knew he had a good player in Lerom during this summer’s 7-on-7 season. What he didn’t know was how big a role Lerom would play in the fall because he was on the depth chart behind safeties Drew Madhu and Paris Bostick.
But when the Panthers’ starters went out with injuries — Madhu missed two games with a concussion and had nagging shoulder and meniscus injuries and Bostick missed three games, two with an ankle sprain — the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Lerom filled in nicely.
He’s now third on the team in tackles with 68.
“He’s played a significant role in every game,” Weiner said. “It’s interesting that a guy who technically isn’t even a starter is third on your team in tackles.”
With Madhu and Bostick back, Lerom continues to play a key role. His addition has allowed Bostick, a James Wilder clone at running back, more snaps on offense and has kept Madhu fresh.
Jaylen Dinard, WR, Wharton, Sr.
In today’s society, Dinard might be deemed a rarity — a kid who toiled quietly until his opportunity arrived.
No higher than fifth on the receiving depth chart in 2010, Dinard (5-foot-8, 140 pounds) has emerged as “the quarterback of the receivers,” Wildcats assistant (and nine-year NFL veteran) Kiwaukee Thomas said.
He enters the playoffs with the type of diminutive frame and numbers (12 catches, 110 yards, one TD) opponents might easily dismiss, which would play right into the ’Cats’ collective paws.
“If you could take what he does and put it in our linemen and (defensive) linemen, we’d be much better,” coach David Mitchell said. “He’s one of those little guys that plays big.”
Matt Finnesy, LG, Gaither, Sr.
As the Cowboys’ only returning starter on the offensive line, Finnesy figured to play a role in new coach Jason Stokes’ game plan.
“I knew we were going to have to depend on him,” Stokes said, “but I didn’t realize how much,” he added with a laugh.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound no stats all-star has lined up at all five line positions this year, but he has most recently found a spot on the left side. The running game — which racked up a season-high 234 yards two weeks ago against Gaither’s toughest opponent, Tampa Bay Tech — runs through him.
Mike Stephens, CB/KR, Durant, Sr.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Stephens might not be the biggest Cougar in the pack, but he’s the iron man of the team, coach Mike Gottman said.
“He’s been banged up, but he’s one of our top players and does whatever we ask him to do,” Gottman said.
Last week Stephens made his impact on special teams, immediately answering King’s opening touchdown by taking the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for the tying score. Defensively, he has been averaging almost five tackles per contest. And this week, he’ll play some halfback to help fill in for injured starting backs Jarmarlon Hamilton and Zach Hooper.
Eduardo A. Encina, Laura Keeley and Joey Knight, Times staff writers