Taquon Graham, De’Vante Nealy helped Temple dominate District 17-5A, outscoring opponents 340-90 while going 6-0 for the second consecutive season. Therefore, it was fitting that the Wildcats dominated the all-district selections.
Graham, a junior defensive end, was voted 17-5A Most Valuable Player, and Nealy, a senior running back, was chosen Offensive Player of the Year as Temple had 15 first-team all-district picks. The Wildcats’ Mike Spradlin was Coach of the Year.
Seven Wildcats joined Graham on the first-team defense: senior linebackers Corey Mann and Quintin Smith, senior outside linebacker Travell Latouche, senior end Leonard Ferris, senior cornerback Jalen Rios, junior safety Ben Norman and sophomore tackle Robert Jackson. Mann and Smith made 134 and 128 tackles, respectively, for the season. Norman and Rios were unanimous selections.
Six Temple players joined Nealy on the first-team offense: senior wide receivers Davion Curtis and Aaron Freeman, senior center Rylan Mikeska, senior left tackle Darren Harris, senior right guard Jermaine Townsend and junior tight end Zach Rumfield. Harris, Rumfield and senior kicker Jose Garcia were unanimous picks.
Graham was 17-5A’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season and improved this year. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder compiled 11½ sacks, 23 tackles for losses and caused three fumbles in the regular season as Temple limited opponents to 230.1 yards per game. Graham, who established the Defensive Player of the Year honor as a preseason goal, didn’t learn about his MVP selection until Monday.
“It came as a big surprise. I really didn’t expect to be MVP of the district,” said Graham, whose season ended Friday when fifth-ranked Temple (12-2) lost 59-46 to No. 3 Richmond George Ranch in a Class 5A Division I state quarterfinal. “I was thinking about trying to finish our playoff run.”
“That’s a big honor for a defensive guy. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a defensive kid be district MVP,” Spradlin said. “It’s well-deserved. I’ve never had a kid any more focused than Taquon. He’s got it all. He’s never satisfied.”
The 5-7, 155-pound Nealy, a first-year starter, accumulated 1,379 regular-season yards rushing with 18 touchdowns and finished with 1,839 yards and 22 scores.
“I’m real proud of De’Vante. We asked him to do a lot and he’s been a warrior,” Spradlin said. “He epitomizes toughness.”
Five Wildcats were second-team selections: junior quarterback Reid Hesse, senior right tackle Philip Lynch, senior fullback Dru Gomez, junior safety Ashton Logan and Rumfield as a deep snapper.