EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the fourth part of The Enquirer-Journal’s ongoing series previewing Union County players at each position group for the upcoming football season. To catch up on the rest of the series, please visit enquirerjournal.com/sports.
Getting to the quarterback has become the focal point for defenses in the modern game, and that statement hold true in Union County. If a team can generate pressure and cause havoc in their opponents’ backfield, they’ll have the advantage more times than not. With that said, here are five defensive linemen from around Union County to watch when the 2021 fall season kicks off in August.
Malachi Howell Sr., Porter Ridge
Returning for his final season this fall, Porter Ridge senior defensive end Malachi Howell will be defending his Union County Defensive Player of the Year award while leading the Pirates front seven. In the spring, Howell earned first-team all-county honors after leading the team in tackles (46), tackles for loss (11), sacks (3) and forced fumbles (2) in seven games.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Howell has a long frame that he uses to knock offensive linemen off balance before chasing the quarterback. Howell reports receiving college scholarship offers from Division 2 schools Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne.
If Howell can have another highly-productive season, Porter Ridge should be one of the favorites to bring home the league’s first conference title.
Cody Hardy Sr., Parkwood
One of the most productive defensive linemen in the county over the past two seasons has been Parkwood rising senior Cody Hardy, who will return for his third varsity season this fall.
In 2019, Hardy racked up 87 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks in 10 games. This spring, he followed it up with 51 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in five games.
Hardy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he out-classed bigger guys in the 285 pound division as a wrestler this past season, winning the 2021 3A individual state title in that weight class. Hardy has a combination of size, strength, athleticism and leverage skills that will allow him to continue dominating opposing offensive linemen this upcoming football season and add to his legacy as a decorated multi-sport standout. He reports football offers from Division 1 programs Army and Navy thus far through his Twitter account (@Cody_Hardy44).
Bryce Davis Jr., Monroe
One of the top underclassmen defensive ends to suit up this spring was Monroe’s Bryce Davis, who will be a junior this upcoming season.
In his first season of varsity football, Davis led all county players with eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss to go with 43 total tackles. The 6-foot-2 defensive end had two or more sacks in three games during the 2021 spring season.
Davis will be expected to lead Monroe’s front seven this season, as fellow linemen Romel Wright and Javarius Brown graduated this offseason. Davis should be among the top candidates in the county to hit the 10-sack mark this season — had eight in 10 games this spring.
Brady Villa Sr., Marvin Ridge
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Villa has an ideal frame for a defensive end, and he’s shown he can be very productive when given the opportunity.
Playing varsity football for the first time this past spring, Villa totaled four sacks, seven tackles for loss and a forced fumble as Marvin Ridge finished fourth in the Southern Carolina Conference standings at 4-2.
Along with fellow senior Devin Reed, who had four tackles for loss and two sacks this spring, Villa should help the Mavericks put together a strong defensive front. Marvin Ridge allowed an average of 13.5 points to opponents this spring, which ranked third in the SCC behind Weddington and Charlotte Catholic.
Denmar Chambers Sr., Sun Valley
Chambers broke out during Sun Valley’s 0-6 campaign this spring, racking up a team-high 3.5 sacks as one of the team’s lone defensive bright spots. While he only has six games of varsity experience under his belt, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman should be set for another productive season this fall.
Chambers is a two-sport athlete who excels for the Sun Valley track and field team. Just last month, Chambers won two individual state championships, placing first in the 3A state championship meet in the shot put and discus. Chambers’ discus throw of 158 feet, 7 inches was 11 feet longer than the next closest competitor.
With that type of body strength, Chambers could be one of the breakout stars of the 2021 fall season. If can dominate opposing offensive lines like he did his opponents during the track and field season, he should help the Spartans win at least one game this fall.