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FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ezeagwu fulfills his task

Daniel Ezeagwu entered the 2013 football season believing he had something to prove.

The Colonial Forge senior wanted to demonstrate he was among the best players in Virginia. By the end of the Eagles’ march to the Group 6A state semifinals, Ezeagwu established himself as just that.

He dazzled on offense, defense and special teams, and he earned Free Lance–Star Player of the Year honors.

Ezeagwu earned the accolade by securing the most first-place votes among Free Lance–Star sports staff members to break a three-way tie with North Stafford running back Von Purvis and Wolverines all-around threat Joey Slye.

“I felt like I got better as the season progressed as far as understanding that I could play with the best and compete with the best,” Ezeagwu said. “And by the end of the season, the way everything worked out, I just felt relieved.”

Ezeagwu excelled at wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner for the Eagles (10–4). He was also one of Colonial Forge’s primary ball carriers.

He hauled in 50 receptions for 743 yards and nine touchdowns. He also racked up 390 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, while contributing 62 tackles, four forced fumbles and an interception on defense.

But it was his play in two of Colonial Forge’s biggest wins of the year that helped his cause.

On a rain-soaked field against North Stafford, he scooped up three fumble recoveries and returned one 72 yards for a touchdown. He added a 40-yard touchdown reception in the Eagles’ 12–0 victory.

“He’s very dynamic,” North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said. “He reminds me a lot of [former North Stafford standout] Anthony Shegog in terms of how big and how fast he is, and being that dynamic guy who makes plays on offense, defense and special teams. Honestly he was probably the difference in our game.”

Ezeagwu changed the outcome of Colonial Forge’s 23–20 state quarterfinal win over Ocean Lakes, as well. He opened eyes around Virginia when he scored on a 32-yard run, a 38-yard run and a 96-yard kickoff return.

He had a scholarship offer from James Madison prior to that game, but has picked up offers from Maryland, Old Dominion, Towson and Virginia since.

“Truthfully, not trying to sound arrogant, but I think it was an eye-opener for them down there [in Virginia Beach],” Eagles head coach Bill Brown said. “He took two of those jet sweeps and went the distance with it and he had the kickoff return for 90-something yards. I don’t think Ocean Lakes was aware of his abilities.”

AN UNEXPECTED WORKHORSE

Brown is certainly aware of the other players who were in the running for All-Area player of the year.

Purvis became the Fredericksburg-area’s first 2,000-yard runner since Brooke Point graduate Chase Barnett rushed for 2,175 in 2007. Purvis finished the year with 2,061 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns. He carried the Wolverines (11–3) to back-to-back wins over Briar Woods and Mountain View as he amassed 82 carries for 538 yards and six touchdowns in those games.

“I would laugh because you would see defenders try to tackle him low and he’d juke them out and make them look dumb,” Slye said. “Or they’d try to tackle him high and he’d run them over. I’d almost be afraid to play him because I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Purvis also started two games at outside linebacker, and was a standout return man. Mangano said entering the season he had no idea Purvis, who was a dual-threat quarterback for part of the 2012 season, would emerge as a workhorse.

Mangano said he wondered who would replace the offensive production of Shegog, wide receiver Brandon Ravenel and running back Kwesie Dadzie, but Purvis answered it with two 40-yard touchdown sprints in a scrimmage against Highland Springs.

“We graduated like 40 touchdowns,” Mangano said. “We weren’t sure where those touchdowns were going to come from. Going into the preseason I wasn’t sure Von was going to be the man. I knew he was going to be a contributor, but he really established himself during the first scrimmage and throughout the whole season.”

‘ONE IN A MILLION’

Purvis said his production was a team effort, especially late in the season when Slye began to thrive as a fullback and H-back for the Wolverines.

Purvis said, “I wouldn’t have had the holes I had if it wasn’t for him.”

And that may have been the least of Slye’s contributions. He emerged as an offensive threat in the playoffs when he rushed for two touchdowns and contributed five receptions in a 42–21 state quarterfinal win over Massaponax.

He received the most votes at linebacker and kicker for the all-5A–North team.

He racked up 101 tackles from his middle linebacker position. He was also the second-team all-region punter. He booted 80 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He connected on a 46-yard field goal in a regular-season loss to Massaponax, and he blocked four kicks and dropped eight punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

To top it off, he was the Wolverines’ emotional leader. Mangano said Slye is a “one in a million” player and person.

“He’s everything,” Mangano said. “He’s the heart and soul of our program. He is the inspiration. He is the unquestioned leader on and off the field. I’ve never coached a kid like that. He’s just physically strong, mentally strong and emotionally strong.”

Brown said he was “envious” of Slye’s kickoff ability because “they take so much pressure off the coach.” He said Slye’s kickoffs provided the Wolverines a luxury not many teams have. He said the Eagles toyed with pop-up kicks and squib kicks, but often struggled in that phase of the game. Colonial Forge allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in losses to Briar Woods and Mountain View.

Brown admires other aspects of Slye’s game, too.

“I think he is what you call a throwback football player,” Brown said. “What I mean by that is he does all those things, but he does them all with passion. He brings that passion to the table and it’s contagious because the other players feed off that. Besides all those things, he’s a tough guy. He’ll hit you right in the mouth and look at you after he does it.”

BANNER YEAR IN AREA

Ezeagwu, Purvis and Slye weren’t the only three players who garnered player of the year consideration.

There was also Massaponax standout two-way lineman Steven Sobczak, who anchored the offensive and defensive lines for the Panthers (12–1).

And James Monroe quarterback Jay Scroggins was the driving force behind the Yellow Jackets’ run to the Group 3A state title game, their third straight appearance in the contest.

Brown said the many worthy candidates are an indication that the quality of play has increased throughout the region.

“With the way it’s going in this area, if you don’t have a bunch of people who could be player of the year,” Brown said, “something’s wrong.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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