By Carl Holcomb, Moorefield Examiner, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
BAKER, W.Va. — Having an instinct for the ball, passion, perseverance and heart to play the game are some of the characteristics this year’s recipient of the 2017 Carl Lee Award honoree, East Hardy senior Brett Tharp, shares with the plaque’s namesake.
The award goes annually to the state’s best defensive back of the year, selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, which will be presented at the 72nd Annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 6 in Charleston.
Tharp was selected as the Class A all-state football captain as a wide receiver this year, but defensively led the Cougars to the state semifinals for the third consecutive season with a team-best 149 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, nine interceptions, eight forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
“It means a lot. This is the first time I’ve ever got it. I love playing defense and just doing my job out there, going to get the ball, forcing fumbles, interceptions and everything,” Tharp said. My passion for football, I love it. I wish I could go back out there and do it for another four years.
“I am hoping to go on and keep my passion for football going like I did in high school,” he continued. “I am looking to go to James Madison or maybe Bridgewater. Whatever they need me to play, I will do it. I will play wide receiver, but I like playing defensive back, because I like to hit and go get the ball. Getting this award means everything, I worked hard all year and all four years to come up to this point.”
There was a tremendous indication his senior year would be amazing, because he garnered 22 tackles in the 2016 Class A state championship game. This is the first time in school history that one of the top prestigious football awards has been given to an East Hardy High School student-athlete.
“I think it is a well-deserved award for him. Class A players don’t win awards like that very often, but that speaks volumes to the type of player he was. Even playing Class A, he was recognized as the best defensive back in the state,” said East Hardy football coach Chad Williams. “It’s a tremendous honor for him and for the program as a whole, we’ve never had a kid win one of those awards.
“We’ve had several come close several times. It’s a great award for us and just for Class A football in general, but most importantly for Brett and the work he has put in here. Brett is an incredibly passionate player, not just in football, but in any sport he is playing. He is one of the most competitive kids I have ever seen.
“Very passionate at times to a fault, but I’ll take a kid like that any day. You don’t have to worry about him being ready to go. He wants to win and is as passionate about winning as anyone I’ve been around. He’s got a tremendous nose for the ball. He fits very well in our scheme where we can use him in a lot of different ways.
“It’s nice to be able to play a kid from defensive back to linebacker to defensive end and knowing he can do it from any spot. More than anything his nose for the football and his knack to find that ball and create that turnover with the 21 turnovers he forced this year. He’s just all over the place, just a great combination of instincts, athleticism and competitiveness.”
This award is named in honor of Carl Lee, a South Charleston native who played at Marshall University and was selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Lee was a three-time All-Pro defensive back for the Vikings during an 11-year career in Minnesota from 1983-93 with his final NFL season in 1994, ending with the New Orleans Saints.
Lee came back to West Virginia and was the head football coach at West Virginia State University for 10 seasons and is now the project director at the South Charleston Recreation Center specializing in youth football and basketball activities helping the community youth development.
Tharp understands how a receiver will execute a route and utilizes that knowledge to become the best defensive back.
“All you have to do is know what they are going to run, make sure you study and know all their plays so you can defend it. When the ball is up in the air and you know you can go get, then go get it,” he said. “Don’t let them out-jump you. You are the deepest guy back there once they get past the linebackers. You are the next guy, so you have to step up and make a tackle or make the play in the air. You’ve got to stop them from scoring, so you can score.
“Playing receiver, you know how they are going to run routes and make breaks, so you can make cuts and stay with them and not lose them. If it is first, second or third down you want to try and go get it, but if it is fourth down you just want to bat the ball down.
“They are either going to punt it or throw it at you. If it is long, you want to bat it down, so you aren’t deep in your own territory. In our defense, I can be a linebacker or safety. If I’m a linebacker, I try to get up to the line so they don’t get any yards. If I’m a safety, I try to read the ball and get to the outside and fill the holes so they can’t go anywhere.”
Tharp has certainly shown what a tremendous asset he is at the defensive back position during his career for East Hardy and the recognition of the Carl Lee Award confirms it.
“I said it from day one that he was the best defensive back in the state regardless of class. I’m glad to see him recognized as such. I hope some of the colleges will recognize him as such too. Wherever he decides to go, I’m sure he will get an opportunity,” Williams concluded.
Tharp is a three-sport student-athlete competing in football, basketball and baseball.
On the educational side, Tharp holds a 3.8 GPA and is a member of the Future Farmers of America, Student Council Association and National Honor Society. Tharp is looking to extend his career at James Madison University or Bridgewater College.