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Mtn. Ridge's Will Bannon wins Lineman of the Year

Mar. 22—FROSTBURG — It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

Few have personified Mark Twain's words as well as Will Bannon.

When the Mountain Ridge defensive end and left tackle came to camp this fall, the 6-foot-1 senior told his coach Ryan Patterson that he bulked up to 195 pounds.

The day of Mountain Ridge's state championship defeat to Fort Hill in Annapolis, he admitted that he swapped the "9" and the "5" — the Miners returned to the title game with a 159-pound left tackle.

Bannon held his own on the offensive end, but he terrorized opposing quarterbacks on the other side of the ball, racking up double-digit sacks.

It was on defense that the senior made his mark and became the runaway pick for the John B. "Jack" Gilmore Memorial Award Lineman of the Year by the area's head coaches.

Bannon will receive the award at the 75th Dick Sterne Memorial Dapper Dan Sports Banquet on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m. in the Ali Ghan Shrine Club Ballroom.

"Love that kid," Patterson said. "Another one that is literally the kid you say here's a wall, run through it, we'll ask questions later, and he'd run through it and try to do it again if he didn't knock it down.

"He's flat out one of the toughest kids we had in our program."

Bannon received all but one vote, with Fort Hill right guard and interior defensive lineman Logan Vanmeter nabbing the other.

Throughout Patterson's time at Mountain Ridge, the coach has often said that he wants his defenders to play like their hair is on fire — meaning that he wants his kids to play fearlessly and aggressively.

No player on his defense played like his hair was on fire like Bannon.

The undersized end led the Miners with 11 sacks to go along with 58 tackles (42 solos), 17.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a pass breakup.

He had multiple sacks in four games, racking up 2.5 against Williamsport on Oct. 20 and two versus Catoctin (Sept. 7), Allegany (Sept. 15) and Keyser (Oct. 27).

While not much went right for Mountain Ridge in a 37-14 loss to Fort Hill on Oct. 6, Bannon never stopped playing, recovering a pair of fumbles. Bannon also forced a fumble against the Sentinels in the state championship game.

"He was great off the edge," Patterson said. "Great bend. Great length. When you have a motor like his, you're going to find your way to the quarterback. When you get kids like that, sometimes they're susceptible to getting run at, but it's not true. He locked down one of our edges all year.

"Love to have a kid who you have to tell to calm down, 'Don't get thrown out of the game.' I'd much rather have that than a kid you have to motivate to play hard."

On the offensive side of the ball, Bannon gave up nearly 150 pounds to the Miners' previous left tackle Peyton Miller, who is now at Division 1 University of Massachusetts.

That didn't stop Bannon from being effective, as offensive coordinator Sefa Pua'auli maximized the fiery tackle by using him in zone blocking schemes.

"We got Will out in open space, and it was a vital part of our offense," Patterson said. "He fought like hell every play all season long."

Bannon wasn't just a two-way player. The senior was also a special teams standout on the line as the Miners' long snapper.

"In the Allegany game (a 16-13 Miners win), Tyler Cook is rightfully the hero, he kicks the winning field goal," Patterson said. "Will Bannon dominates the game offensively, defensively and he was the snapper on the field goal. He did everything without wanting any glory or anything like that."

Bannon is the prototypical Mountain Ridge program player of the last three years, who worked his way from George's Creek onto the football field — the same path All-Area back Jaden Lee took to consecutive title games in '21 and '22.

The senior may not have played for accolades, but he ends his high school football career with one as the 2023 Lineman of the Year.

"He grew up hanging out with Jaden Lee," Patterson said. "I assume they stood around and threw rocks at each other all the time, boxing. There are some tough ass kids from George's Creek."

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.