Top players by position: Tucker adds a top linebacker to already tough defense

(Branden Camp/Special to AJC)

Tucker reached the Class AAAAAA championship game with a defense that allowed just 10.9 points per game. Eight starters are back, plus newcomer Michael Harris, a transfer from Lovejoy, the Region 4-AAAAAA runner-up to Tucker. Harris was the region’s defensive player of the year. Harris returned to DeKalb County, as he played for Miller Grove as a sophomore.

Harris is one of GHSF Daily’s 10 best linebackers in Georgia this season.

*Michael Harris, Tucker (6-2, 210):Harris was first-team AJC all-state in 2016, when he had 137 total tackles – 12 for losses – while at Lovejoy. Rated the consensus No. 13 ILB prospect nationally, Harris committed to Auburn in July.

*JaQuez Jackson, Peach County (6-1, 215):Jackson, a Georgia Tech commit, was Peach County’s best defender last season, when he picked up 128 total tackles – 13 for losses – for a 12-2 team. He was first-team AJC all-state in Class AAA and all-middle Georgia. He’s a consensus three-star recruit.

*Caleb Johnson, Northside-Columbus (6-4, 245):Johnson made first-team all-state with the GSWA last season, when he had 110 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions, one that he brought back 90 yards for a touchdown. He also forced five fumbles, blocked a punt and was credited with a safety. Rated a top-50 outside linebacker nationally (though he might play D-line in college), Johnson reportedly favors Tennessee and Georgia.

*Ernest Jones, Ware County (6-2, 205): Jones was the Region 2-AAAAA defensive player of the year in 2016, when he also was first-team all-state with the AJC and GACA. He had 56 tackles, seven behind the line. Jones is committed to South Carolina.

*Zakoby McClain, Valdosta (6-0, 205): With 88 solos and 35 assists, McClain was the leading tackler on Valdosta’s Class AAAAAA championship team and was first-team GSWA all-state. He had 20 tackles for losses. McClain is a top-250 national recruit with offers from LSU, Auburn and others.

*Owen Pappoe, Grayson (6-0, 207): Pappoe is the consensus No. 1 prospect in the state among juniors. He was the second-leading tackler as a sophomore on perhaps the state’s best defense as Grayson won the highest classification. Pappoe’s leaders reportedly are Clemson and Florida State.

*J.J. Peterson, Colquitt County (6-2, 210): Although his output wasn’t sensational in 2016, Peterson was Colquitt’s best all-around player last season. He was in on 59 tackles with 5.5 sacks and five other stops for losses. He also scored on two long receptions and a 98-yard kickoff return. Rated the state’s No. 2 outside LB prospect and No. 8 player overall, Peterson reportedly favors Alabama and Auburn.

*K.J. Phillips, Woodward Academy (5-9, 190): Phillips, a first-team all-state pick in 2016, was Woodward’s leading tackler as a junior and sophomore and has a realistic shot of hitting 300 solo stops and 500 total tackles for his career. Woodward is 35-6 in that time, the best three-year run for a school that is more than 100 years old. He’s just 5-9, which might keep him out of major Division I football, but he has mid-major offers.

*Quay Walker, Crisp County (6-4, 220): Walker, an Alabama commit, played somewhat in the shadow last season of fellow linebacker Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant, who is off to Auburn, but their tackle numbers were almost identical. Walker had 109 – 19 for losses- or the 13-1 team, the best in Crisp history. Walker had “only” eight sacks, half of Bryant’s total, but he’s got another season to get even.

*Quin Williams, Morgan County (6-1, 205): Williams has been honorable-mention all-state the past two seasons and figures to break through this fall. He had 68 tackles, 19 for losses, and 14 QB hurries in 2016, when his Bulldogs won their first region title (8-AAA) since 2003. Rated the consensus No. 28 outside LB prospect nationally, Williams reportedly favors Oklahoma, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn.

Coming Wednesday: Defensive backs

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