The Silver Bluff football program has produced it’s fair share of prominent names in the course of establishing itself as one of the top Class AA programs in the state. This season, the Bulldogs will take the field in need of new leaders, having lost seniors such as Gyasi Yeldell, Shaquez Wright, Jaylen Lawrence, RJ Stallings and James Jacks.

What head coach Al Lown and Silver Bluff do have is a veteran presence in the form of running back and linebacker DeAngilo Drayton. The 6-foot, 177-pound junior was a part of the team’s run to the Lower State title game in 2012 and its appearance in the Class AA Division II state championship game last season. Drayton was an integral part of the offense, as well as a key cog on the defensive side of the ball.

His leadership and defensive prowess are what makes Drayton the No. 10 member of The Standard 10.

At linebacker, Drayton adds a much needed presence on defense. He didn’t open last season at the position, but a Week Four move found him lined up at linebacker. The spot came with added pressure considering the fact the Bulldogs’ defensive scheme tends to funnel the action to Drayton’s area of the field. He performed admirably in his new home and even led the team in tackles with 101.

“I like playing defense,” said Drayton, who admitted he had more fun at linebacker than running back. “You get to go out there and make big hits. It feels good to know you are responsible for stopping the other team from scoring.”

Limiting the scoring was something Drayton and the Bulldogs did quite often last season. Silver Bluff held opponents to an average of 13.7 points per game en route to a 12-2 record.

With some big questions on the offensive side of the ball, Lown expects the defense to carry the team early in the season.

“We’re really going to have to depend on DeAngilo and those guys early on,” he said. “He’s going to have to step up, which I believe he can do. He’s a workaholic. He’s gotten a lot bigger and stronger. I’m hoping the time he has put in will pay off.”

The Bulldogs’ bread and butter on offense is their run game, and Drayton was a big part of it. He shared time rushing the ball with Wright, Stallings and Myles Corbitt. Silver Bluff’s stable of rushers took a hit with the loss of seniors Stallings and Wright. The tandem each had more than 1,000 yards rushing last season and combined for 31 touchdowns.

However, Drayton and Corbitt are still around, and the duo combined to give Silver Bluff another 1,000 yards of rushing production. Drayton finished the year with 482 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, a number expected to increase substantially with the less crowded backfield.

“He’s going to get a lot more action running the ball for us. We are going to be more of a power Wing-T offense this season as opposed to the explosive attack we had last season,” Lown said.

Not only will Drayton get more carries, there’s also a chance he will serve as the backup quarterback for the team. Junior Brandon Hill is expected to be the starting quarterback this season – barring any drastic changes when practice starts. Lown said the team flirted with the option of putting Drayton under center. Instead, the staff elected to go with Hill, who played on the junior varsity squad last season.

“We talked about playing (Drayton) at QB. He might still be the backup, Lown said. “We’re going to stick to our Wing-T and see how things work out for us.”

Drayton will also have a key role as a leader on the team. He’s one of the Bulldogs who has experienced the success of reaching championship games and the despair of defeat. It’s a mixture Drayton said he hopes will pay dividends when it comes to guiding some of the younger players on the team.

“It could be a lot of pressure to know you have to be one of the players to lead, but I’m pretty confident,” Drayton said. “Making the championship game last season was like the best feeling in the world. It’s amazing to see what you can achieve with hard work.”

That’s the lesson Drayton plans to deliver to the team. He said the two losses on the Bulldogs’ record last season are what taught him the most.

“You’ve got to play the whole game. We didn’t play well in the first half of the Strom Thurmond,” Drayton said of the game he missed with a concussion. “The championship game taught me that one play can change everything. That’s what I hope to get some of the younger guys to understand.

Although Drayton’s one of the players to watch this season, his head coach warned fans won’t get to see the best part of Drayton as an athlete and person.

“He’s really going to be a big part of the team this season,” Lown said. “He’s a great character kid, does well academically. He’s paid his dues and will certainly have the respect of the others on the team. People will show up and see him and say ‘He’s this and that,’ but they don’t see the work he has put in off the field. It’s really great to see his work ethic. That’s what makes him who he is.”

Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @EricJ_Russell.

This story is the first part in a series highlighting the top 10 Players to Watch in the Aiken area for the rapidly approaching high school football season.

• Today — No. 10 DeAngilo Drayton, SB

• Tuesday — No. 9

• Wednesday — No. 8

• Thursday — No. 7

• Friday — No. 6

• Saturday — No. 5

• Sunday — No. 4

• July 28 — No. 3

• July 29 — No. 2

• July 30 — No. 1

The order was determined by Aiken Standard sports editor Noah Feit, staff writers Jeremy Timmerman and Eric Russell, North Augusta Star news editor Scott Rodgers and staff writer T.J. Lundeen, as well as ASTV broadcasters Ed Girardeau and Ken Brace.