By David Fong
Regional Sports Editor
COLUMBUS — Sam Jackson admits that when he was first approached about the idea, he didn’t like it.
But he quickly learned to love it.
“At the time, I was a little upset,” said Jackson, a senior on the Troy football team. “I didn’t really like it at all.”
But then Jackson did what he always does.
“I told them I would do whatever was best for the team,” he said.
This past offseason, the Troy coaching staff approached Jackson about the idea of moving from strong safety — a position he played for his first three years — to outside linebacker/defensive end. While Jackson may not have been keen on the idea at first, he warmed up to it quickly, having a monster season that culminated Tuesday in him being named the Ohio Division II Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Ohio. He was one of more than 30 players from the area to earn All-Ohio honors in voting by a statewide media panel.
He’s the first Troy player to be named the state’s top defensive player since Jason Manson — Jackson’s position coach this season — was named Division I Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 1996.
“I honestly don’t even know what to say,” Jackson said. “It’s really an honor. To be mentioned with a guy who has been inducted into the (Trojan Athletic) Hall of Fame and who has been my position coach all year is really one of the biggest honors I could have received.”
After making the move, Jackson responded with one of the most impressive seasons in school history. Jackson finished with 168 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and, on special teams, five tackles inside the 20-yard line on kickoffs. He helped lead Troy to its third Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division title in a row and its third Division II playoff appearance in a row.
“Obviously him getting this kind of award tells you what type of player he is, but much more than that, what type of kid and what type of person he is,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “I’ve had conference players of the year and district players of the year — but I’ve never had a state player of the year. Sammy earned it. The numbers he put up this season were ridiculous, especially when you consider he was playing on the outside, on one side of the field. To get 168 tackles doing that is pretty impressive.
“When we talked to him about changing positions from the one he’s been playing the past three years, his first comment was, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team. That’s just what kind of kid he is. He’s the kind of kid who always puts the team first. Not only did it help us as a team, but obviously it worked out pretty well for him.”
Jackson said winning All-Ohio honors was something Troy defensive backs coach Ben Merkert — who actually first suggested moving Jackson to linebacker, even it meant losing one of his top defensive backs — predicted.
“It was hard for me to make the move at first, because I had grown so close to Coach Merkert,” Jackson said. “He was someone who I had gone out to lunch and dinner with. I was extremely close to him — and I still am. But when I talked to Coach Merkert in the offseason, he said being first-team all-conference and first-team all-district was good, but if I made this move, he said I was going to win so many more awards.”
Including, it turns out, one of the top honors in the state.
Joining Jackson in earning first-team All-Ohio honors was Troy senior running back Jaydon Culp-Bishop. Senior tight end Spencer Klopfenstein, senior offensive tackle Nathan Garber and senior inside linebacker Blake Burton all were named special mention.
Culp-Bishop finished his senior year as one of the top running backs in school history. In 12 games, he carried the ball 281 times for 2,457 yards — the second-best single-season total in school history — and 38 touchdowns. He also had seven kickoff returns for 223 yards and two more touchdowns.
Klopfenstein had 30 receptions for 434 yards and one touchdown. Burton had 166 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries, one blocked punt and three forced fumbles. Garber was the highest-graded player on a line that cleared the way for Culp-Bishop’s stellar season.
Piqua senior offensive lineman Caeden Clark earned special mention. He graded out at 92 percent and had 23 pancake blocks. Also earning special mention were Tippecanoe junior kicker Ben Sauls and senior linebacker Mason Gostomsky. Sauls hit 96 percent of his extra points and was perfect on field goal attempts. Gostomsky had 79 tackles, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception.
Miami East senior offensive lineman Brenden Dalton was named to the first team, while senior running back Justin Brown and senior linebacker Vincent Villella both were named to the third team and Caleb Snyder earned special mention.
Dalton, who earned All-Ohio honors for the second year in a row, was the Vikings’ top offensive lineman. Brown carried the ball 95 times for 1,101 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also 14 receptions for 388 yards and four touchdowns.
Villella, who also was named All-Ohio for the second year in a row. He had 74 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception. Snyder had 58 tackles, eight sacks, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
For Versailles, senior defensive end Evan Hiestand was named special mention All-Ohio. Hiestand finished with 72 tackles, 11 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Covington senior linebacker Parker Dysinger was named first-team All-Ohio. He had 129 tackles, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Covington junior quarterback Cade Schmelzer, junior receiver Andrew Cates, junior defensive lineman Gage Kerrigan and senior linebacker Ian Wilson all were named special mention.
Schmelzer had 1,199 yards and 14 touchdowns, along with 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Cates had 30 receptions for 455 yards and six touchdowns. Wilson had 60 tackles, while Kerrigan had 65 tackles, eight sacks,two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Bethel senior quarterback Jacob Ullmer was named third-team All-Ohio, while junior linebacker Dylan Kelley earned special mention. Ullmer carried the ball 214 times for 1,284 yards and 17 touchdowns. Kelley had 130 tackles.
For Troy Christian, junior running back Jason Blake, senior offensive lineman Nick Baker, senior defensive lineman Grant Doucette, junior defensive lineman Micah Trimbach, senior linebacker Josh Hivner and junior defensive back Nathan Waltz all were named special mention.
Blake had 165 carries for 1,048 yards and 14 touchdowns. Blake was Troy Christian’s top offensive lineman and a three-year starter. Hivner had 49 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three interceptions.
Doucette had 49 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Trimach had 60 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Waltz had 41 tackles and two interceptions.
Lehman senior quarterback Elliott Gilardi and senior kicker Michael Denning both were named first-team All-Ohio. Senior defensive lineman Ethan Knapke was named to the third team, while freshman linebacker Johnny Kelly and junior defensive back Drew Barhorst both earned special mention.
Gilardi completed 119-of-194 passes for 1,443 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 125 times for 734 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Troy resident also was named first-team All-Ohio in 2017. Denning, who was second-team All-Ohio in 2017, hit on 39-of-40 extra points and 8-of-12 field goal attempts, while recording 27 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Knapke had 43 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Edwards had 84 tackles and six tackles for loss. Barhorst had 86 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong