Fans vote Porter-Gaud’s Lafayette Player of the Year

It all translates for Tobias Lafayette.

The techniques he uses to get open on offense are the same moves he’s ready and waiting for on defense. Even before the snap, he can read the defensive coverage as well as anyone on the field because he was a cornerback before he was a receiver.

That speed you see as he breaks away down the sideline or chases someone down, that’s the same explosion you can find on the track in the spring. High stakes or big moments are nothing to a guy who’s played in countless important games on the basketball court.

You could label him by certain sports, specific positions. But it’s probably best not to categorize him at all. Lafayette is, most simply, an athlete. He’s a play maker. And, this fall, he’ is the fan’s choice for the 2019 East Cooper Player of the Year.

“Watching him come out of his shell has been a lot of fun this season,” Porter-Gaud football coach Brad Bowles said. “I think he knew he was capable of that. He had it deep down. It was just about putting him in positions to bring that out of him.”

Lafayette began the summer playing solely defensive back. He showed flashes at practice, though, that convinced Bowles and the Cyclones staff that he was being underutilized. So they got creative in finding different ways to get the most out of maybe the best athlete on the team.

Lafayette thrived playing both ways. He finished the season as the team leader in interceptions and knockdowns at cornerback. He also led the Cyclones in yards, receptions and scoring.

“All the regular aspects like speed and good hands translate over,” Lafayette said. “But also knowing coverage from defense helped on the offensive end because it was easier for me to find holes and helped me realize how to run my routes depending on how the defense was playing me.”

The defensive side came more naturally to Lafayette at first. He’d been there longer. It took hours of extra work after practice, developing routes and timing with Cyclones quarterback Matt Kelly to find a comfortable rhythm offensively. Before long, though, Lafayette stopped thinking about one side or the other and just played football. He rarely came off the field, returning kick and punts too.

“He’s always ready to make a play no matter what side of the ball he is on,” Kelly said. “I loved playing with him because he pushes me to become a better athlete. He made me want to make a cooler play than the one he made the prior possession, which was a continuing battle. That’s the type of dude Tobias is, a competitor no matter what he’s doing.”

Lafayette began to receive regular practice reps on offense by the second week of the regular season. He exploded the following week for 132 yard and two touchdowns against Wilson Hall. He scored again the following week against Laurence Manning. He had interceptions in both of those games as well.

He earned East Cooper Player of the Week honors in the regular-season finale against rival First Baptist, posting a team-best 133 yards on offense, and adding two interceptions, a fumble recovery and four tackles on defense.

Lafayette finished the season with 40 catches for 703 yards and 13 touchdowns. Add that to the 47 tackles and five interceptions on defense, and a couple hundred more yards and another touchdown on special teams.

“The key for me was just being able to retain the plays quickly, being able to be plugged into any position and be successful in that position,” Lafayette said. “Also, staying after practice to learn my quarterback, Matt Kelly, and connect with him made it 10 times easier. Asking questions about plays I didn’t know helped that transition too.”

Lafayette is now expected, as a senior and a returning contributor, to lead the Porter-Gaud basketball team this winter. He’s a similar type of player on the court — quick, versatile, athletic. His most valuable quality, though, also similar to football, is his leadership potential. Learning how to lead on the basketball court last year made him a better leader for the football team in the fall. Executing that this fall has in turn set him up to be one of the main voices on the basketball team this season.

“Those big moments in basketball helped me learn to keep a level head and understand the situation at hand,” Lafayette said. “It helped me as a leader to keep my teammates under control and not let them get flustered under the big lights.”

The 2019 East Cooper Player of the Year is selected solely by fan voting. Each Player of the Week this season, also selected by fans, was automatically entered into the Player of the Year contest, along with five at-large selections. Lafayette finished just 22 votes ahead of runner-up Solly Bess of Philip Simmons. Wando’s Will Bumgarner finished third and Oceanside’s Keegan Williams fourth in total votes.