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The Woodlands’ Michael Purcell picked AGH Defensive Player of the Year

December 25, 2016 GMT

While quarterback Eric Schmid had The Woodlands’ offense in cruise control during the playoffs on the way to the Class 6A Division I championship game, senior Michael Purcell was the “quarterback” of a defense that led the way for the Highlanders to have their best season in more than a decade.

Purcell finished with 90 total tackles this season and set a program record with 17 sacks, helping The Woodlands to a 15-1 record and earning the Air Force commitment the Chronicle’s All-Greater-Houston Football Defensive Player of the Year award.

What Purcell meant to his team was evident in the Highlanders’ state semifinal win over Allen. The four-time state champions thrice cut the deficit to 13 points in the second half, but they couldn’t get any closer. Purcell had three sacks and three tackles for loss in the game, helping propel The Woodlands to the finals for the first time since 2003.

“At the end of the game, he was completely spent,” coach Mark Schmid said. “There was not an ounce of energy left in him. He left it all on the field, and that’s what you want out of your captains and big-time players.”

Q: This defense held six opponents - including defending Division II champion Katy - to seven points or less this season. What made the unit so good?

A: “We played really well as a team. We had good coaches and we knew each of our jobs individually. We had some great individual performances, but when we know where we fit as a defense and we can do all those jobs and trust each other, that really helped us out.”

Q: Six Highlanders defensive players made first-team all-district in 2015, but you were the only one returning. Did you take it upon yourself to step in as the leader?

A: “Really, it just kind of seemed natural for me to step into it as a returning starter, team captain. I figured it’s my job to step up and lead the team.”

Q: Is it almost a responsibility at this point to make sure The Woodlands has a standout defense?

A: “I wouldn’t really call it a responsibility, but I do say we take pride in good defense. It’s kind of what people expect. So pride, tradition to keep it going. But I wouldn’t really call it a responsibility. Our responsibility is to win games.”

Q: With a lot of games and plays to choose from, what are your most memorable moments from the 2016 season?

A: “I remember being down against Cy-Fair in the first half and I remember the way we came back, fought and ended up getting that win by three.

“The Katy game was crazy. The fact that we came out all fired up, held them to three points. Almost shut out Katy - that would’ve been huge.

“Phenomenal district play. Phenomenal regular season. Entering the postseason, we were firing on all cylinders.”

Q: How did you guys handle the brain injury to linebacker Grant Milton, who remains comatose and spent nearly three weeks in a Waco-area hospital, especially with it coming during a playoff game?

A: “It really was unfortunate what happened to Grant. That was kind of a blow to us all. He was a great person on the team, great player, great teammate. He kind of inspired our play, especially defensively. He inspired our play and we started to ball out after that.”

Q: How was your recruitment, which eventually came down to picking Air Force?

A: “They were hot on my tail, calling me every other week. I visited the school over spring break (last year) and I really liked the school. The coaches were great. You can’t go wrong with a service academy. The opportunities they give you are endless.”