Dunbar’s Devin Roche, St. Frances’ Derrick Moore and Spalding’s Kellan Wyatt are VSN’s best in football; Mervo’s Nixon is top coach
by Derek Toney
Area high school football returned in 2021. There were some stumbles with the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellations and or forfeits, but the proverbial finish line was reached.
VSN is honoring the best of the best from the first “complete” season since 2019. Devin Roche dazzled, leading Dunbar to another state title. The junior is the 2021 VSN Football Offensive Player of the Year.
St. Frances Academy’s Derrick Moore and Kellan Wyatt from Archbishop Spalding were dominant while guiding their respective teams to wildly successful seasons. The seniors are the 2021 VSN Football Co-Defensive Players of the Year.
And, in a season that even a Hollywood screenwriter could not make up, Patrick Nixon guided Mervo to an unforgettable and historic fall. He’s the 2021 VSN Football Coach of the Year.
Here are their stories.
2021 VSN FOOTBALL
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DUNBAR HIGH SCHOOL
Days before the start of the 2021 season, Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith sent a text to a local reporter.
“Remember the name Devin Roche,” it read.
By season’s end, Roche had conjured memories of Poet icon Tavon Austin. The junior quarterback is the 2021 VSN Football Offensive Player of the Year.
Roche accounted for 3,440 all-purpose yards and 40 touchdowns for the Baltimore City school which captured its 11th state title with a victory in the Class 1A final at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The 5-foot-8 dynamo accounted for 308 yards, rushing and passing, and three touchdowns in a 38-6 victory over South Carroll, securing the only undefeated season by an area squad in 2021.
His calling card performance came against eventual 4A/3A state champ and Baltimore City rival Mervo in week three. Mainly a running back, Roche moved to quarterback, a position he had not played since his early days playing youth ball.
Roche finished with 308 yards (passing and rushing) and threw two touchdown passes in the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds of regulation as Dunbar overcame a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime.
The Poets won, 48-46, in overtime. Roche, who rushed for 189 and threw for 119, accounted for 36 of Dunbar’ 40 points in regulation.
Mervo coach Patrick Nixon said Roche’s elusiveness allows him to extend plays outside the pocket.
“He was really effective with his arm,” said Nixon.
Dunbar averaged 47.2 points over its final 10 games with Roche playing quarterback.
Roche, who has an early scholarship offer from Maryland, said often during the season he’s “a running back,” like Austin, arguably the best football player from Baltimore City the last quarter-century. Austin, who holds the state record in career rushing and touchdowns, is in his 9th season in the NFL.
“He’s the real deal…I know when one comes along and he’s one I knew he would be the man,” said Smith.
2021 VSN FOOTBALL
CO-DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
ST. FRANCES ACADEMY
Derrick Moore lived up to the preseason hype for the area’s No. 1 ranked team. The senior is the 2021 VSN Football Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Moore finished with 52 tackles (23 for loss) and 11 sacks for St. Frances, which finished No. 4 nationally by USA Today and was the consensus area No. 1 for the fourth straight year. The Panthers played two games this past spring after the fall 2020 campaign was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moore, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end and four-year varsity letter winner, is a consensus national Top 15 prospect at his position. Several national recruiting sites point at his athleticism, quick hands and ability to shed offensive tackles.
De La Salle (CA) coach Justin Alumbaugh, whose team lost to St. Frances during the season, said Moore is “one of the best defenders,” he coached against.
“He’s got great speed and physicality,” said Alumbaugh, whose program is regarded among California’s best. “He’s the entire package, just an incredible player.”
St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam said Moore tries to emulate the late Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White.
“The transformation has been nothing but amazing,” said St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam. “We knew he was different than the average football player that comes into this building.”
Originally committed to the University of Oklahoma, Moore signed with College Football playoff semifinalist and Big Ten champ Michigan after the departure of Sooner coach Lincoln Riley for Southern California. Moore will join former teammates Blake Corum and Nikhai-Hill Green.
The Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year, Moore will play in the Under Armour All-American Game Sunday afternoon.
2021 VSN FOOTBALL
CO-DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
ARCHBISHOP SPALDING HIGH SCHOOL
Kellan Wyatt emerged as the conduit for arguably the area’s best defense. The senior outside linebacker is the 2021 VSN Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Wyatt, 6-2, 215 pounds, had 51 tackles (nine for loss) and five sacks for the No. 3 Cavaliers (10-1), who posted their first undefeated regular season since 2006. The Anne Arundel County school dominated the MIAA A Conference in the regular season.
It started with Wyatt, who also played rush defensive end. The Cavaliers allowed 27 points (83 overall) in MIAA A competition.
Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt said Wyatt, a four-year letter-winner, was “relentlessly consistent.”
“There was a commitment to our program that was really special. He was constantly asking questions in meetings,” said Schmitt. “He was all in.”
The Cavaliers, who allowed 58 points in a late season victory in 2017, began its evolution into a championship defense in 2018 with Wyatt playing strong safety as a freshman. He tallied 77 tackles (57 solo) and three interceptions in his first two seasons.
Spalding allowed just 7.5 points (three shutouts) this past season.
Wyatt, an All-MIAA A pick, will play next season for the University of Maryland where Schmitt believes he will contribute as a freshman.
“He’s such a fit for college because of his length and versatility…defenses morphed weekly by what offense they’re playing,” said Schmitt, a former starting center for the Terps. “He could play against an offensive tackle, he can cover a slot, he was a special teams player. I think he’s a guy that will play immediately.”
20201 VSN FOOTBALL
COACH OF THE YEAR
In a season of turmoil, tragedy and triumph, Patrick Nixon was the calming influence. The 11th-year coach is our 20201 VSN Football Coach of the Year.
The Baltimore City school won its first state championship, claiming the Class 4A/3A crown at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mervo (11-1) overcame an early two-score deficit to defeat previously undefeated Dundalk, 22-13.
Dedicating its season to senior wide receiver/returner Elijah Gorham, who passed away in October, the Hillen Road school became the first Baltimore City program, other than Dunbar, to win a championship since 2006 (Edmondson, Class 2A).
“There were opportunities to fold, but we didn’t,” said Nixon, whose team finished No. 7 in the final VSN Top 20 poll. “I am really overly proud and happy for Elijah and his family. We said that we were going to dedicate the rest of our season to him and I’m happy we didn’t disappoint him.”
During the summer, 40 helmets were stolen out of Mervo’s equipment room. The Mustangs’ only loss was a 48-46 overtime decision against Dunbar in September, which scored two touchdowns in the final 2:30 of regulation.
Early in the second half, Gorham landed hard in the end zone trying to catch a pass. He was transported to a local hospital where he had emergency surgery.
Three weeks later, Gorham passed away. The state medical examiner said a traumatic brain injury contributed to his death.
Nixon, a father figure to many of his players, had to be a source of strength for a mourning Mervo school community.
“I never for one second thought that was going to happen,” said Nixon of Gorham’s passing Oct. 11. “I knew God was going to see him through this, but God needed him more upstairs than down here.”
The Mustangs won their final nine decisions to complete a historic and improbable season. Mervo lost in the 3A state semifinals in 2019.
The state title was the crowning moment for Nixon, who became interim coach in the final weeks of an 0-10 season in 2009. Long on talent but woefully short on results, Nixon had to start from ground zero when he became the Mustangs’ permanent coach in 2010.
“It was bad for a reason. The kids didn’t like each other, no respect for coaches, grades and attitudes were awful,” said Nixon, who became Mervo athletic director in 2011. “We started getting small wins, not on the field.”
The Mustangs won their first City title in 2014, starting an impressive run. Mervo is 69-13 with four City titles over the last seven seasons.
Nixon, who’s 93-42 as Mustangs coach, credited his staff including Najee Brown, James Clash, Al Cotton, Aaron D’Shazo, Matthew Goynatsky, Harry Gray, Allan Harvey, David Jefferson and Tavon Smith.