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Special Photo/Reggie Davis Douglas County junior defensive end Mataio Soli had 20 tackles for losses and 18 sacks with seven quarterback hurries to help lead the Tigers' defense.

Coming off an all-region year as a sophomore, Mataio Soli really raised the level of his play this past season.

The Douglas County junior defensive end performed well at offseason camps and followed that with a solid season on the field.

After missing the first game of the season while still recovering from an injury sustained during the team’s spring game, Soli immediately made his presence felt after returning to the lineup.

He was nearly unstoppable from his defensive end side against the run and pass. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also helped mentor freshman defensive end Jonathan Jefferson into an all-region player in his own right.

Here is a closer look at Soli, who is the Douglas County Sentinel Defensive Player of the Year:

Why Soli: The all-region defensive end had 77 tackles, including 49 solo tackles. Also had 20 tackles for losses and 18 sacks with seven quarterback hurries. Had an interception for a touchdown and a fumble recovery and two caused fumbles.

Who else was considered?: Alexander safety Aaron Casey and Douglas County linebacker Braelen Oliver.

Favorite aspect of competing?: “When you compete against other players, it just makes you better. I love to challenge myself and it helps me improve in other areas of my life. Competing makes you better in school and makes you a better person.”

Most challenging part of being a defensive end?: “I just love it and its a fun position to play. You get to play the run and the pass and impact the game. Sometimes I can drop back in coverage.”

Who is your inspiration?: “God, my father and DeAndre Walker. My dad is always there for me. He is a big motivation for me. He coaches me and he is always there to offer advance. DeAndre because I saw what he did in high school and I wanted to be better. I challenge myself to be better than him.”

What was the most challenging part of the season?: “It was a challenge when I got hurt in the playoffs and couldn’t play in the Alpharetta game. I felt if I had played, it could have been a different outcome. It was a big disappointment being on the sidelines and not being able to help my team.”

How did you improve this season?: “I thought I matured a lot this season. I felt that my experience of playing the last two years really helped me understand the game.”

When did you realize you would have a good season?: “After we played Tri-Cities and I went back and watched the film. I was proud of what I was able to do in that game. I thought I accomplished a lot and wanted to challenge myself to get better.”

What could you have done better?: “I need to lead more. I need to become more vocal as a leader for our team.”

Best player you played against?: “It has to be Deondre Harvey. He always gives 100 percent and never lets up. He makes me a better player each day in practice. He always gives maximum effort which makes me a better player.”

What coach Johnny White says: “The sky is definitely the limit for this kid. It definitely helps that his dad played and now coaches him at this position. He likes DeAndre Walker, and he is a great guy to want to be like.”

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