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Decade's best: Our picks for top players on defense

Here are our staff selections for the top five football players on defense from the past decade. As we said in the post with our choices on offense, the selections started with this idea: we should pick the players who had the best high school football careers.

That meant we were not searching for the player with area roots who had the best NFL career. It was simply, "Who did the most in his time playing high school ball here?"

On defense, we narrowed it down to five players who we thought stood out the most: (they are listed in chronological order):

Ahmad Brooks (Hylton, Class of 2002) – It was just three years that separated Brooks from Eleanor Roosevelt’s Derrick Williams, who was widely regarded as the nation’s top recruit in the Class of 2005. Yet, in that time, the Internet’s role in recruiting changed dramatically, allowing high school player, such as Williams, to be as well known as some collegians. Imagine if Brooks had that? After leading Hylton to the Virginia AAAA Division 6 title as a junior, Brooks made 207 tackles as a senior, including 144 solo and 34 for losses. The 2001 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year was the rare player about whom former Hylton Coach Bill Brown said back in high school, “He’ll be playing on Sundays.”
Readers vote*: No. 4 among defensive players

Shawne Merriman (Douglass, Class of 2002) – True story: When the Post’s high school sports staff meets to select its All-Met team each season, there are always a couple of arguments among reporters over spots. In 2001, there seemed to be no more of a slam-dunk choice for defensive player of the year than Brooks. One staffer, however, lobbied for Merriman, who, as a senior, made 155 tackles, blocked two punts, recovered two fumbles and was Douglass’s first All-Met football player in 25 years. The rest of the staff shook its collective head, and, while acknowledging Merriman would have been player of the year just about any other season, it was Brooks in 2001. Merriman’s all-pro NFL career has been a nice retort to that.
Readers vote: No. 1 among defensive players

Wesley Jefferson (Gwynn Park, Class of 2003) – The 2002 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year was one of the most heavily recruited players in the nation as senior, and rightfully so. During his final two high school seasons, Jefferson amassed 317 tackles, 23 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions, as the Yellow Jackets went 18-3.
Readers vote: No. 8 among defensive players

Eric Lenz (Urbana, Class of 2004) – Here’s where it is easy to let a player’s post-high school career dictate the way his varsity days are appreciated. Lenz’s career at Maryland never panned out, but that should not obscure what he did in three seasons at Urbana before being named 2003 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year. It’s difficult to imagine a player making an impact in more facets of the game than Lenz did. In two seasons as a starting defensive end, he amasses 161 tackles, 17 sacks and 6 interceptions, as was a two-time all-state choice. At tight end as a senior, 13 of his 29 receptions went for touchdowns. He blocked three field goals and five punts. He was also an all-state kicker as a sophomore, booting a 55-yard field in a Maryland 3A semifinal, as Urbana completed its fourth straight undefeated season.
Readers vote: No. 10 among defensive players

Marvin Austin (Ballou, Class of 2007) – Credit Austin and Benn, who as seniors were among the nation’s most sought-after recruits, for helping elevate the way D.C. public school players are perceived on the recruiting trail. Prior to their recruitments, only rare cases like Dunbar’s Vernon Davis (Maryland) or Anacostia’s Cato June (Michigan) would get sniffs from BCS conference programs. Players like Byron Leftwich (H.D. Woodson) and Joshua Cribbs (Dunbar) went to Marshall and Kent, respectively, because they couldn’t attract interest from larger schools. Now both are NFL veterans. Austin was a two-time All-Met, who had 26 tackles for loss and 29 sacks over his final two seasons. He led Coolidge to the DCIAA final as a junior, and Ballou to its first championship as a senior.
Readers vote: No. 5 among defensive players

Want more? Here's our entire all-decade team on defense. And coming soon, our top teams of the decade.

* -- Readers' totals as of noon on Dec. 16.

By Jon DeNunzio  |  December 16, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Decade's Best , Football  
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