The 2016 All Do-or-Die Football Honors Team

Unity/Payson All State Quarterback Brodie Dunker is your 2016 KHQA Player of the Year

Seasons Greetings everybody. And welcome to our 21st annual 2016 KHQA Football Awards/All Do or Die Team celebration. What a fun ride it was. Thanks to the Monroe City Panthers, we got to make our first State Trip in six years. Let’s not wait so long next time around between trips, my friends. There’s nothing quite like getting to cover a championship High School Football Game. And for that great privilege, the KHQA Sports Team is particularly thankful. But there was so much joy to be derived from this season in so many different corners. Whether it was watching Beardstown Football rise from the ashes or Macon’s stunning ascent or the continued feel good stories that were Central Lee and Unity/Payson, we had a ball. And out thanks to each and every one of you for making it so. And it is in that spirit we try to repay the favor here. You give us your best efforts to cover. We fight as best we can to give you something special to remember it by. So read, discuss, elate, debate, or even curse me here under your breathe for the enthusiastic musings below. Just know whichever of those avenues you choose, we do this for you.

Some things to remember here going forward. Or as I like to call it, my annual disclaimer list.

1) These awards shows, more than anything else we do all season, are based on nothing but our subjective/non-expert opinion and are intended purely as entertainment. Our decisions carry little to no weight with college scouts and rarely end up being anything more than scrapbook material for your memories in later life. In essence, don't take this stuff too seriously. It's all done in fun and with no intended disrespect to anyone. Enjoy them. Ignore them. But by all means please do not take them too seriously.

2) You are only eligible for Do or Die Team honors on one side of the football. We pick what we feel is the skill set that best serves our purposes and draft you here for that reason. If you are a first team pick on offense, you will not be represented on any of our defensive teams, no matter how many All Conference/All State/All Universe nods you may have gotten there.

3) Any player who received an honors code type violation and missed football games is ineligible for First Team and Player of the Year consideration. Our rationale is that if we put you on the roster, we want to be able to rely on the fact that you will make good choices to stay on the field.

Yours in Football,

Chris Duerr




RATIONALE: A very strong top end of the field with Shamar Griffith and Nolan Bright in play. And in full disclosure, we seriously discussed Josh Underhill here as well as the best player on the area’s best team. That established, I think we reached very easy consensus here in the KHQA Sports Department on Brodie Dunker and the arguments are very compelling on his behalf.

Before Dunker’s ascent, Unity/Payson football was winless and in tatters.

Some 5000 passing yards and 73 touchdown passes later, the Mustangs were the highest level of viable. Ten win season. WIVC North Crown. State Ranking.

Quarterback play matters and Dunker is coming off the best statistical campaign we’ve seen since James Vandenberg was winning Keokuk and Iowa State Championship. Brodie’s 45 touchdown passes as a Senior were just four shy of Vandenberg’s all-time single season area bench mark.

He completed nearly 70% of his passes for over 2600 yards in route to First Team All State Honors.

And in so doing, he becomes the first Quarterback to win POY honors from us since Illini West’s Michael Lafferty.

For a more detailed description of Brodie’s rise, you can click the icon atop this page.

Runner Up: SHAMAR GRIFFITH, Hannibal


Past Winners:

2015: Matt Frankenbach, Palmyra

2014: Trace Windsor, South Shelby

2013: Jordan Chapel, Quincy Notre Dame

2012: Derrek Schone, Concord Triopia

2011: Chris Jackson, Macomb

2010: Ser Whitaker, Illini West

2009: Michael Lafferty, Illini West

2008: Javis Vineyard, Clark County

2007: James Vandenberg, Keokuk

2006: Andrew Bergeson, Hannibal

2005: Tony Hall, South Shelby

2004: Trevor Frericks, Quincy Notre Dame

2003: Cliff Bumgarner, Concord Triopia

2002: Cody Grotts, Carthage

2001: Jensen Jones, West Prairie/LaHarpe

2000: Wyatt Green, Carthage

1999: Matt Paris, Monroe City



DAVID KIRBY, Monroe City

RATIONALE: There were no lack of exceptional coaching jobs turned in around the Tri States this Fall, particularly a top end group that included faces familiar (Pete Claas, Kevin Krietemeyer, Travis Cook) and new (Robbi Howard) and all would have been deserving recipients.

This decision, however, became abundantly easy when David Kirby's Monroe City Panthers, a team that was not ranked in our Top Eight in the Power Poll at season's end (as Jim Unruh likes to remind me) ran the postseason table and became the last area team standing and our first State Finalist since 2010.

Considering the Panthers won just three games a year previous and went to battle with a largely Sophomore nucleus this season, I'd say that's a pretty compelling argument.

And let's not delude ourselves: Monroe City's isn't the easiest spot in the world to coach. The expectations and Title Talk may have lay dormant for some time now, but that storied past under Dale Labuary was hardly forgotten. Speaking plainly, David Kirby was the first "outsider" to be hired to coach this program since 1979. And he's a pretty different guy than is only two predecessors in the last almost four decades. But clearly what he does works.

It was incredibly fun watching David Kirby's mentors (John Dabney, Tony DeGrave) delight in his success, even take bit parts in it from near and far. I think that speaks to just what infinitely likeable and loyal guy Kirby is. That's not to suggest he's any kind of pushover. Heck, I've got a pretty good brown out on tape from the Monroe City skipper if ever during the first Paris game at the ready, lest I ever need blackmail material. But the genius of David's work, is that even in this day and age, his players know just how much he cares about them and that allows him to push back (and hard) when needed. I look at some of the personal maturity spikes in the kids who went through this program that last few years and I just marvel.

They aren't just better football players for being a part of Kirby's program. They are in fact better men.

And that is truly the best indicator of "coaching" I can think of.

Relationships matter and Kirby excels at that sometimes difficult aspect. Not just on the football field. But in life, it would seems.

And in that respect, it's hard to find a more deserving representative of this award.

Runner-Up: Pete Claas, Macon

Facebook Vote: Pete Class Macon


Past Winners:

2015: Kevin Krietemeyer, Unity/Payson

2014: Blake Logan, Van-Far

2013: Kevin Miles, Palmyra

2012: Brad Dixon, Central

2011: Rob Wilt, South Shelby

2010: Tom Little, Brown County

2009: Jimmy Tucker, Bowling Green

2008: Rich Thompson, Concord Triopia

2007: Jayson Campbell, Keokuk

2006: Mark St Clair, Hannibal

2005: Kent O'Laughlin, South Shelby

2004: Pete Claas, Macon

2003: Randy Dickens, Quincy High

2002: Jim Unruh, Carthage

2001: Mark St. Clair, Hannibal

2000: Par Pitts, Palmyra

1999: Jim Unruh, Carthage

1998: Tony Merryman, Pleasant Hill

1997: Jay Wessler, Concord Triopia

1996: Dale Labuary, Monroe City

1995: Kent O'Laughlin, North Shelby (Missouri Winner)

Jim Unruh, Carthage (Illinois Winner)



WILL FOX, West Hancock

RATIONALE: Space age, video game style passing offenses may be all the rage at every level of Football.

But in West Central Illinois, a devoted enclave of Augustana Wing-T enthusiasts still hold considerable sway.

Admittedly the base scheme itself has evolved from the Triopia glory years and Carthage Blueboy dynasty days; given the more modern tweaks and twists employed by its practitioners.

But at its root, Old school Football still matters here. And it still clearly works. Heck it never stopped working.

The Don Kemp and Jim Unruh Coaching Trees have given rise to perennial success at not only their original schools, but rooted out to more recent powers like Brown County, Camp Point Central. And now West Hancock, which just completed its own full circle renaissance from futility to a perfect 9-0 regular season; not inconsequentially with the aforementioned Mister Unruh calling the offensive shots.

And in that spirit, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with the six time state champion this Summer, one in which he privately confided that he might not have ever coached a better overall backfield than the one the Titans were set to unleash this season.

43 points per game later, it’s hard to argue.

More to the point here: all Wing-T backfields rise or fall on the strength of their Fullback.

So what does that say about Will Fox?

From our vantage point: plenty.

Will’s starting tenure at that all important Fullback spot saw the Titans win 15 of 20 games.

In the five years prior, West Hancock amassed just seven total victories in 45 contests.

To quantify, Will Fox rushed for 2388 yards and 33 touchdowns in his career, a bruising mix of strength and surprising speed who had the constant attention of the coaches he face. QND’s Bill Connell called Will in no uncertain terms the best running back on our schedule. He was defensive priority number one in every game he played.

That only enhanced his value as a decoy on every single play. And did little to suppress his productivity.

While his total yardage dipped a bit this season to just under 11 hundred rushing yards, Fox spiked to a career high per carry average of just south of nine yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns . And the attention paid him allow Riley Langford and Brice Buckert and Bryce Wilson a greater piece of the pie and a stage to strut their stuff in diversify the entirety of the West Hancock attack.

The only place where’s Will’s diminished stats seemed to hurt anything was in the short sighted decision to leave him off the Coaches Association All State Squad. But anyone who saw the well spring of success that came from what Will did, on every carry, with the football or without could attest that his relative value to his team was unsurpassed.

And so it is that we go old school once more, and add Will Fox’s name to the long list of great Fullbacks previously honored in these annals as your 2016 Illinois Offensive MVP; a terrific football player who has proven in all phases of his life to be an even better young man.

Fan Vote: WILL FOX, West Hancock

Runner Up: JIREHL BROCK, Quincy High


Past Winners:

2015: Brodie Dunker, Unity/Payson

2014: Alger Saldana, Central

2013: Malique Robbins, Quincy High

2012: Dalton Keene, Jacksonville

2012: Dalton Heubner, Central-Southeastern

2011: Garrett Kestner, Central-Southeastern

2010: Daniel Weiman, Quincy Notre Dame

2009: Daniel Weiman, Quincy Notre Dame

2008: David Arendt: Concord Triopia

2007: Taylor Joehl, Concord Triopia

2006: Myers Hendrickson, Macomb

2005: Dustin Jacoby, Concord Triopia

2004: David Watts, Carthage

2003: Ashton Gronewold, Carthage

2002: Ashton Gronewold, Carthage

2001: Jensen Jones, West Prairie/LaHarpe

2000: Wyatt Green, Carthage

1999: Wes Lundgren, West Prairie/LaHarpe

1998: Ryan Miller, Concord Triopia

1997: Dom Tamberelli, QND




RATIONALE: The most prolific running back in Hannibal Football History.

That’s no small feat, given the pedigree of those Shamar Griffith passed on his way to history; from Antonio to Wentric, an alphabet’s soup of superstars whose rushing prowess resonated far beyond just the Porter Stadium lights.

That he’d get here, to the top of that list, has long seemed inevitable. Even with all the yards he left on the table due to a Freshman Year broken leg and time missed this season after the QND injury. Shamar in a word has been, from carry one, irrepressible. Seems only fitting that his record book assault would follow suit. But it wasn’t just the Hannibal marks that were in play.

The 6176 career yards on his odometer are good enough to make him a Top Ten All Time rusher in Missouri annals; ninth all time ahead of such legendary names in this state as Brock Olivo, Devin West and Tony Van Zant, who sits tenth on that list.

That certainly puts into perspective the enormity of his personal accomplishments; gives people on the outside a point of reference. But such things are a by-product of Shamar Griffith’s success. They only hint at the whole story.

That this was a kid who did it right. Pound for pound, as tough and determined as they have ever come at just 5’5” and a buck fifty five on the scale. A gracious, humble and unselfish teammate who never let the hype surrounding him go to his head.

He was just a guy doing what was asked of him.

Sometimes that resulted in the spectacular, like his triple coverage catch on opening night against Helias. And it always seemed to produce numbers that set tongues wagging on Saturday morning. This year, that mean another 25 touchdowns and nearly 1700 yards worth of work.

Less visibly it was the blocks and tackles that seemed to be forgotten in a hail of more highlight reel friendly fair.

Or the four yard run on fourth down when his team needed it most.

And maybe that’s the point; that the best way to quantify Shamar Griffith’s success isn’t in states or awards like this, which he has now claimed for the second year running: but rather in his overall impact on his team. The NCMC and District Championships. The back-to-back Quarterfinals appearances; particularly this season when so many had written off the Pirates for dead after their early season struggles. That the well spring of so many of the good things that have happened to Pirate Football the last four years was Shamar Griffith and all the kids who followed his selfless, resolute lead.

And that legacy is going to be hard for anyone who follows Shamar Griffith, regardless of their individual numbers, to ever surpass.

Runner-up: Nolan Bright, Macon

Facebook Vote: Shamar Griffith, Hannibal

Past Winners:

2015: Shamar Griffith, Hannibal

2014: Adam Holt, Bowling Green

2013: Caleb Kizer, Palmyra

2012: Austin Egley, Clark County

2011: Scott Kroeger, Clopton/Elsberry

2010: Mark Nemes, Hannibal

2009: Justin Alderton, Clark County

2008: Shawn Maloney, Monroe City

2007: James Hurt, Keokuk

2006: James Vandenberg, Keokuk

2005: Josh Roberts, Clark County

2004: Jared Bichsel, Monroe City

2003: Aaron Bergeson, Hannibal

2002: Clint Carroz, Mark Twain

2001: Wentric Williams, Hannibal

2000: Will Clayton, Hannibal

1999: Matt Paris, Monroe City

1998: Craig Lewis, Keokuk

1997: Ryan Watson, Monroe City



DEVEN SMITH, Quincy High

RATIONALE: For three years running, he’s been the ready solution to many a complex issue facing Blue Devil Football.

Devin Smith’s calling card skill, of course has been the outlier ability to run over, around, and through anyone tasked with tackling him. For three years running now. Something this quintessential throw-back Fullback did to the tune of 2122 yards and 26 touchdowns as the centerpiece of three different Playoff Qualifying backfields. And the surest short yardage option in Tri-State Football.

That’s the Devin Smith that was easy to know; the one you saw every Friday in the highlight reel.

Less tangibly, but no less importantly, Smith value as a leader to his teammates proved just as field-tilting. When your most successful player models your team’s most diligent work ethic and most selfless team-first resolve, that is a coaching godsend. Rick Little could point you countless daily examples of the “Deven Effect.” But perhaps his favorite was Devin encouraging his coach to feed rising star running back Jirehl Brock the football so he could shatter the Western Big Six’s single game Touchdown Record against Rock Island…a mark previously owned by Deven Smith himself.

So why wouldn’t Deven Smith rise once again in his Senior Season to reinvent himself as the commodity his team needed most: this time as an All State caliber Defensive Rainmaker on a unit that seemed to struggle for the first two thirds of the season to find any kind of traction whatsoever. As explosive as the Blue Devil Offense proved to be, the struggles on the other side of the ball were unnerving, even in victory. This was a team that was chasing an outright Conference Title and first round. And you wonder if there we enough points out there on a given night to get them safely there.

Enter Smith: whose work at Linebacker netted 137 total tackles, 100 of them of the solo variety. That’s a tidy sum but it only hits at Deven’s greater value here. He was that needed splash player; the catalyst whose big play efforts would serve to spark those around him. Deven posted 13 tackles for loss this season and seven quarterback sacks. Rick Little uses the basketball analogy that a dunk is only worth two points, but the excitement factor that comes along with it often nets far more than that. Smith was that guy who hit the switch; the tent pole player who got the Blue Devil Defense to that point by season’s end, surrendering just seven points in the final two weeks of the regular season and holding an explosive Willowbook squad largely in check in the postseason, save for the unfortunate final unraveling.

It was a mighty narrative shift. One that Deven Smith proved to be the heart of. And as such, he’s a slam dunk winner as your 2016 Illinois Defensive MVP.

Runner-Up: Carter Lewis, Brown County

KHQA Web Vote: Deven Smith, Quincy High


Past Winners:

2015: Tyler Strohecker, Winchester West Central

2014: Andrew Shake, Central

2013: Andrew Shake, Jared Starman, Michael Johnson, Central

2012: Brett Taylor, Macomb

2011: Austin Gooding, Brown County

2010: Jack Carlisle, Illini West

2009: Nathan Goudschaal, Brown County

2008: Zack Burling, Illini West

2007: Phillip Smith, Quincy Notre Dame

2006: T.J. Taylor, West Hancock

2005: Alex Ebbing, Brown County

2004: Les Hammers, Jacksonville

2003: Terry Comiskey, Beardstown

2002: A.J. Huston, West Prairie/LaHarpe

2001: Blake Bainter, Macomb

2000: Chris Rogers, Carthage

1999: Willie Thompson, Carthage

1998: Luke Wessel, Carthage

1997: Ryan Cramer, West Prairie/LaHarpe




RATIONALE: 2016 Clarence Cannon Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

First Team All State Selection at Defensive Line by the Missouri Coaches Association.

And simply put, havoc incarnate for Centralia Panther opponents for three years running.

You can now add KHQA Missouri/Iowa Defensive MVP honors to Sam Hasekamp's burgeoning resume....

But that begs at question, is football even the kids best sport.

He posted 50 wins and 2nd Place State Medal in Wrestling as Junior, which may tell you all you need to know about Sam Hasekamp's dominance on the gridiron

Combine a 6'2" 245 pound frame with mat honed flexibility, strength and quickness, and the mystique behind the Centralia star's football feeding frenzy tends to make a lot of sense.

Hasekamp finished second on the Panther squad in total tackles with 60, which is a pretty stunning feat for a Defensive Lineam. And he almost single handedly kept his team in the Palmyra game with a team high 12 tackles in that loss.

That established, if you are breaking down game film on Godzilla, you don't evaluate his performance by how many small suburbs he destroyed. You judge that monster on the skyscrapers and big cities left in his wake.

And that's really where Sam stands out. A dozen Quarterback Sacks. Twenty two tackles for loss. That my friends, is what we call the Nuclear Option. Hasekamp quantifiably measures out as the most disruptive force on the board given his penchant for destroying backfields and forcing opponents into untenable long yardage sitautions at almost every turn.

In essence, he posted the same kind of resume that netted Palmyra's Matt Frankenbach our highest football honor a year ago…absent the same level of team success, of course.

Individually, however, Sam Hasekamp ranks with any of the best we've seen come down the pike at the position. Not sure what his future holds athletically, whether he opts for Football or Wrestling at the next level. I just know that whoever lands this young man is getting a pretty rare and unique talent.

Popular Vote: Sam Hasekamp, Centralia

Runner-Up: Daniel Lehenbauer, Palmyra


Past Winners:

2015: Jerry McBride, Hannibal

2014: Jerry McBride, Hannibal

2013: Josh Hultz, Palmyra

2012: Caleb Bieniek, Hannibal

2011: Caleb Bieniek, Hannibal

2010: Matt Brown, Bowling Green

2009: Geoff Correnti, Bowling Green

2008: Bryce Johnston, South Shelby

2007: Javis Vineyard, Clark County

2006: Luke O'Laughlin, South Shelby

2005: Andrew Bergeson, Hannibal

2004: Sean Kite, Clark County

2003: Alphonse Dames, Palmyra

2002: James Branch, Hannibal

2001: Keith Painter, Monroe City

2000: Derek Wallace, Mark Twain

1999: Jonathan Simpson, Hannibal

1998: Derek Minter, Monroe City

1997: Adam Crowe, Monroe City


2016 KHQA BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR (as voted by you on Facebook)



For a program that had gone two years and change without a single football win, they were glimmers of needed hope.

A pair of new arrivals with promising pedigrees.

A bright young head coach from one the Springfield area’s bellwether programs. And an incoming freshman whose athletic gifts were already the stuff of local legend thanks to a pair of junior high track and field state championships earns as an eighth grader.

Beardstown Football, for the first time in a long time, came with actual preseason promise…..

Who knew Robbi Howard and Pascal Guilovogui would deliver on it so quickly.

It took all of one game for Coach Howard and his multi-dimensional frosh to prove their worth. In his sideline debut, Howard’s Tigers snapped a 19 game losing streak that dated to 2013 on Opening Night with a 24-0 shutout of North Fulton. Eighteen of those points, delivered by the ninth grader playing in his first ever Varsity game. Pascal announced his presence with authority, scoring touchdowns on ten yard pass and a 61 yard interception, kicking all of his team’s extra points and adding a 40 yard field goal to the cause as well.

Young Mr Guilavogui, its seems was worth the advance hype. And he’s only just starting to scratch the surface.

Pascal would spend much of this season rotating between Wide Receiver, Running Back and occasional Wildcat Quarterback, rolling up some 990 yards of total offense along the way as his coaching staff kept evolving roles to best suit his talents. While he ended up with just 59 total carries on the season, Pascal would lead the Tigers in rushing with 746 yards and eight touchdowns, which translated to a spectacular per carry of average 12.6 yards per tote. His early season stint at Receiver amounted to another 204 receiving yards and three additional touchdowns.

Defensively, his impact was instantaneous in the Tiger Secondary. Guilavogui grabbed a team high three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He posted 67 total tackles from the back end of the B’town Defense, but finished second on the squad in solo stops with thirty four; earning second team All Conference honors there to go along with the Honorable Mention nod he received at Running Back.

But it would be Pascal’s special teams work that proved the icing on the cake and rare feat in these parts. Conference Coaches recognized Guilavogui as a First Team All WIVC pick both as a strong footed Kicker and as a fleet footed Return Specialist who was a threat to go to the house every time he fielded the football. A nice tip of the cap to a kid who simply never came off the field. And that was big in elevating Beardstown from a program that was mired in the worst kind of futility to an IHSA Playoff Qualifier in one year.

It was a heck of a first course served up by Pascal Guilavogui, and one that has left the reinvigorate Tiger Fan base hungry for more.

Past Winners:

2015: Cory Miller, Unity/Payson

2014: Sidney Wear, South Shelby

2013: Alger Saldana, Central-Southeastern

2012: Douglas Weese, Central-Southeastern

2011: Clay Finklea, Quincy High


2016 LINEMAN OF THE YEAR (As voted by you on Facebook)


RATIONALE: Our viewers selected Monroe City two time All Stater Josh Underhill as our 2016 Offensive Lineman of the Year. Josh was the recognized leader of a young and talented group of blockers that paved the road for a Panther trip to the Class 1 State Title Game. He was also quite the force on defense, leading his team with 79 tackles and 10 and half sacks as a stalwart two-way presence in Title Town.

Past Winners:

2014: Gabe Megginson, Jacksonville

2015: Taron Finnigan, Mark Twain Tigers




First Team Selections

STEPHEN TALBERT, Clopton/Elsberry

THE SKINNY: A treasure trove of statistical goodness. The Clopton/Elsberry Offense amassed 3765 total yards this season. Steven Talbert was directly responsible for nearly 3300 of it with his arm and his feet, which works out to an 87.5% share in his teams overall offensive output. As you might expect, that is the highest percentage by any player in the Tri-States. So by whatever metric you use for “wins above replacement” in High School Football, this kid is your undisputed champion. Talbert’s dual threat ability helped quide the IndianHawks to seven wins and a District Semifinals exit at the hands of Centralia. Under the tutelage of former C/E star and KHQA cult hero Scott Kroeger, Talbert improved his poise and accuracy as a passer this season, completing 49% of his throws for a career bests in yardage (1700) and touchdowns (21) as a Senior. He also showed some tangible improvement in decision making, shaving his interception numbers by five over his Junior Season. Granted, nineteen is still a vexingly high number of picks; but that is also some of the risk you run with a gunslinger/run-around-and-make stuff happen-type catalyst Quarterback type. And speaking plainly here, Stephen’s perfectionist make-up probably doesn’t serve him as well as the guys who could more easily throw it up and forget it next series. There were some instances where early mistakes would snowball on him a bit and bite him. See also the nine picks split between those two losses to the Callaways. Still, give me a kid who cares “too much” any day of the week. And again, I think Talbert’s mistakes get a little amplified as he does so much of his work on the move. And it’s that X-factor in his make up that makes him so darned hard to game plan for. Stephen finished the year with 1527 rushing yards, at a clip of 10 yards per scramble. He also added another 20 touchdowns on the ground, giving him a ridiculous 41 total end zone visits on the year; a number surpassed only by U/P’s Brodie Dunker. He rushed for 300 alone (a half dozen touchdowns) in the blowout of Montgomery County, one of the most jaw dropping running performances by a quarterback I can ever remember. On top of that, he’s a terrific young man and devoted teammate to the cause of trying to elevate his program to the next level. Not sure how Mike Scheibel remotely replaces that moving forward. But by the same token, any community lucky enough to get to enjoy the Quarterback stylings of Kroeger and Talbert in the same decade doesn’t have license to complain when graduation hits and the Quarterback talent pool deviates to the norm. We got here late to the party but it was well worth it for us. Kid was a treat to watch.


THE SKINNY: Relative to his team and its success, I am not sure there was a player more valuable to a given situation than Nolan Bright was to Macon this Fall. There are guys who are good players. There are guys who are foundation pieces and franchise performers. Nolan was something even more. The kid was a change agent. He took a team that most of us so-called experts saw as the fourth or fifth most likely Clarence Cannon Conference title contender preseason and he catalized them into your undefeated CCC Champs. Granted, it wasn’t always (or generally ever) pretty or easy, but with grit and sheer force of will to match talent, Bright was emblematic of Macon’s fighting spirit, persistence and late game poise. To be honest with you, Nolan’s stats on balance weren’t what I thought they would be postseason. That’s not a knock on the kid. It’s in fact, a compliment. His presence and impact ultimately felt bigger than numbers. I’ve made this point before, but the Macon Quarterback wasn’t just Northeast Missouri’s best small school offensive player this season, he might have also been its most improved. His passing talents came up to snuff with his considerable running ability, which is no small statement. Nolan hit the 48% percent accuracy metric this season. And he threw just 10 interceptions, even with all the moving around he did. He ended the season with 1694 passing yards and 18 touchdowns, which are stellar production in a run based offense. Go back and look at the kid during his Sophomore year. Then watch tape of him beat Centralia over the top in their regular season comeback victory and tell me you remotely saw this level of evolution for this kid based on his underclass years. I am proud of the guy just for that alone. He’s become a polished top rate passer and that’s insane for a kid who could have just as easily settled for being the Tri-States Mike Vick…and been just fine doing so. Love the work rate, the improvement, and as always with this young man: the intelligence and fierce competitive streak especially when you tell him something was impossible. His run numbers were still really good, even with an added measure of restraint in his approach (847 yards, 9 touchdowns…both team highs) and his toughness is beyond that of most Middle Linebackers. Bottom line, the young man is a favorite in this corner and I suggest that he’s going to be a recruiting steal for someone; even if his final college landing spot is as a Free Safety. You don’t find this combination of speed, smarts, toughness and self-awareness to improve every day very often in this world. In short, he was the very embodiment this season of what made the Zombie Tigers so tough to kill. And that’s character gold in this life and in this world; sports and beyond.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Another superb dual threat type who led the Chiefs in both rushing (684 yards) and passing (1421 yards) while marshalling Keokuk to its first winning season since 2011. Super smart, versatile set piece who had a hand in 21 total touchdowns. His athleticism and toughness here is also underscored in his impact on the other side of the football, where he posted 39 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one of them a pick six. His evolution over the last three seasons was nothing short of astounding. Top ranked kid in his class academically, three sport athlete, and just a terrific all around kid. The bar for Quarterback play in our area was set pretty high indeed. Most years a guy with’s Damon’s talent, numbers and demonstrable impact would have topped this list.

AVERY DUGAN, Jacksonville

WHY HE’S HERE: The Crimson’s biggest preseason question mark proved a nice win overall thanks to Avery Dugan’s impressive Junior Year ascent. See also his dazzling 67% completion rate. It might be tempting to dismiss that as a product of his tremendous receiving corps, but credit where credit is due: Avery put in the work and found his own unique comfort level in running Mark Ground’s system. Kid was picked just seven times in 209 attempts, which means he was hitting the right windows and managing the game and his offensive weapons the right way. Dugan finished with over 1900 passing yards and thirteen touchdowns. And he looks like an emerging tent pole player here in 2017 for an offense that otherwise graduates an arsenal of high caliber weapons.




2) TREVOR WATSON, Hannibal


4) BEN SCHROEDER, Quincy High

5) JOE HENDRICKER, Brown County

6) BRYCE BUCKERT, West Hancock

7) BLAKE HAYS, Monroe City



10) IKE RIDDLE, Beardstown



First Team Selections

REED HYER, Quincy Notre Dame

THE SKINNY: The epitome of a true Number One Wide Receiver. Reed Hyer’s mix of game changing burst, stellar hands, and ability to contort his body around coverage made him arguably the toughest cover in Tri-State Football this Fall. Hyer finished his Junior Season as the team leader in receptions with 45 (a new school record as well receiving yardage and touchdowns; no small affair given the presence on his offense of the best Tight End in the region as well. One of the most fluid Receivers I can ever remember covering, both in and out of routes, and blessed with an extra gear that allowed to run over the top of secondary groups that knew he wanted to get deep but could not stop him from doing so. And in so doing, he was that rare kid who find you six from any point on the field. The final numbers are impressive against any metric (711 yards and 12 touchdowns) but against the backdrop of QND’s run oriented history, a real credit to Reed’s ability to shift the paradigm at 10th and Jackson and as well the QND Coaching Staff’s ability to adapt to its personnel. I think it’s fair to say Reed Hyer has one of the most dazzling futures ahead of anyone on this list. He’s only going to get stronger with another year in the weight room and he’s certainly going to extend the play calling palate for Joe Obert next year in finding unique ways to get Reed the ball in space more often. Suffice it to say, if you are playing Tri-State Fantasy Football next season, this is your undisputed number one kid off the draft board at his position and arguably, given the value provided by receiving pop, perhaps your top producer overall. Happy hunting my friends.

JAMES WHITE, Jacksonville

THE SKINNY: With over 2800 receiving yards, 203 catches, and 19 touchdowns, James White goes in the books as not only the most productive Wide Receiver in Central State Eight history but one of the All Time bests we’ve ever covered. Granted his scoring numbers took a hit this season (just 5 touchdowns) within the crowded pass patterns of the Jacksonville spread, but I’d argue Mister White’s Senior Season was otherwise the distillation of everything you love about the kid. Had 63 receptions for 945 yards this season, displaying the most reliable hands in Tri-State Football along the way. Silky smooth route runner with outstanding ability to carve up a secondary after the catch. Watching James convert short swing passes into long yardage (15 yards per touch average) was a little like watching that video of the baby iguana navigating a beach full of starving sea snakes that made its way all over the internet earlier this Fall. The harder you tried to strike at the dude, the dumber you ended up looking. White’s athletic gifts were clearly augmented here by a tremendous understanding of how to play the game. He treated pass catching as a craft and his work in honing said skill set has made him an all-time standard bearer in one of the most talent laden conferences of any ilk in the entire Midwest. What a fun career and tremendous exemplar for future Crimsons who truly wanted to be great at the sport of football. The bar has been set incredibly high here.

CORY MILLER, Unity/Payson

THE SKINNY: The standard bearer for pass catching excellence in the Tri-States, arguably for the second straight season. Cory Miller makes his second straight appearance here on this honors team and I’d argue surpassed his 2015 All State campaign in almost every way imaginable; despite being the most marked Wide Receiver in our little corner of the planet. The Mustangs took great strides this season to diversify their offense; both with a more pronounced run threat and a more wide ranging distribution to the wide receivers. As a result, Cory’s total catches this Fall fell from 50 to 45 this season; but all of his other receiving metrics actually ballooned. Cory finished with 21 receiving touchdowns and 1154 yards this season, up from 17 and 1136 a year ago. That also means, for the math savvy among you, his already insane yards per catch average from a year ago...spiked again. Cory’s 25.6 yards per reception average, if memory serves, actually outpaces that of such legendary local game-breakers as Craig Lewis and Jerrill Humphrey. We are talking that kind of insane historical real estate here. He’s the most tireless kid on the field every game he plays; blessed with seemingly ceaseless stamina that makes all his other attributes just that much more difficult to contend when your legs as a defender start getting heavier. He’s also one of the most innately competitive kids in our little corner of the Universe and plays not only with all that lithe agility that is his calling card, but with a kind of edgy toughness that makes you almost happier that he ran by you as a defender rather than suffer the ignominious fate of having him lower the shoulder on you and embarrass you even more that way. Tremendous natural bounce to his game as well. Just a freakish weapon of the highest order who I think it is fair to argue has been as vital to this Unity/Payson renaissance as any other athlete on the roster. Just a tremendous run for that kid, dating back to his early basketball cameo at state and likely culminating this Spring with a place near the top of the Distance podium in Charleston at State Track. History is going to remember Cory Miller very fondly indeed. And deservedly so.


THE SKINNY: So the Cougar Ascendancy we “experts” all predicted preseason never materialized and Highland struggled to a 1-9 finish. Hard to lay much blame for that let down at Keetan Johnston’s doorstep. The lanky Junior lived up to all of his advance hype with a stellar individual campaign that produced First Team All-Conference, dare I say All State caliber numbers. I got a chance to watch Keetan in Summer Seven-on-Seven work at Palmyra and it was pretty obvious even then that he had taken a sizeable step forward from his impressive Sophomore season. He looked not just comfortable in his role, but domineering in fighting for the football. Keetan hits all the usual landmarks you look for in a wide out in terms of size and speed, but two things really stood out to me as exceptional in his arsenal. For one, there is a stretchiness to his game born of having both natural lift and (perhaps his calling card asset) incredible wing span. Kid has arms for days and he does both the snatch and grab thing in traffic and the lay out for the deep ball thing as well as anyone. Highland is blessed with the biggest Quarterbacking arm in the Tri-States in Andrew Schultz. Johnston in kind then emerged as the companion piece the Cougar QB really needed to harness that power: a target you couldn’t overthrow even if you tried. On top of that, I think the Highland staff did a nice job polishing away some of the rawer edges we saw here last season. Keetan has a real chance to play college football if he keeps working at his craft; particularly in disciplining his route running. And you could see the strides made there this season. The numbers obviously here are great as well at 52 receptions for 778 yards and seven touchdowns, lest I forget the important stuff. Not sure what Highland does at QB moving forward, but the Cougar Coaching Brain Trust is going to certain to find more ways to get the ball in this kid’s hands next Fall

RYAN SLAUGHTER, Scotland County

THE SKINNY: If you have patronized these pages over the last couple of decades, you are probably all too familiar with my football obsession on slot receivers. So it’s probably of little surprise to you that Ryan Slaughter finds his way to the top of this food chain. The Scotland County’s electrifying “water bug” was one of my absolute favorites to watch, and I would argue well deserved of a spot here on this elite list even if his numbers pale in comparison with the spread offense guys. The Tigers didn’t put the ball into the air terribly often, but when they did, Slaughter was option number one. He finished the season with a team high 25 receptions for a Scotland County best 461 air yards. Here’s the tip off, however, to just how good Ryan is at making people miss in space: he scored seven touchdowns in that limited receiving window; or went to the house on nearly one-third of his touches. He netted and 18.4 yards per catch average. The Mikel Gragg also made use of Ryan in the run game, off Jet Sweep action and such, to the tune of 221 yards and a pair of touchdowns as well. When you are 5’7” and just a buck thirty five on the scales, you better be super quick on the football field to survive the guys out there looking to squash you. Slaughter is more explosive than a sneeze, but also incredibly pound-for-pound tough. See also the 96 tackles he doled on out defense. He’s one of those rare athletes that tends to make good things happen for his team whenever the football is near him, in every facet of the game. Again, I’m biased but I think Mister Slaughter is one of the most underrated stars in the Tri-State Football universe.

JACOB MAYFIELD, Quincy Notre Dame (Tight End)

THE SKINNY: We cheated just a bit here and moved QND’s 6’5” and 215 pound Wide Receiver to Tight End for our purposes because well, we are selfish and it’s my name on the team and I will play who I want where I want…thank you very much. And come on, Jacob is 6’5” and effective as all get out in bullying both Defensive Back and Linebackers for the Football. He is nothing shy of a matchup nightmare; the gigantic target who runs exceptionally well, destroys most initial contact, and who proved elusive enough to set a new school record with a 99 yard touchdown reception against U-High. That’s great and all, but the reason we want him here is that he’s the ultimate finishing piece to this incredible collection of weapons: the best possession threat in Tri-State Football. Put the ball anywhere near Mayfield and he’s going to post up his defender basketball style and win the football. He had 37 receptions for QND this Fall. Had I been calling the plays, he would have doubled that total. Short yardage situation? Throw it to Mayfield. Need nine to move the sticks? Slant the Ball to Jacob and throw it up high where only he can get it. Red zone?? Do I really need to even say “Jump Ball Bonanza” here? It’s just easy money. All the other really good and unique Jacob attributes (strength, big play confidence, surprising run after catch value) all really pale next to indefensible size and hands like a pickpocket. He finished his career with a 708 yard season total and seven touchdowns. I suspect QND Offensive Coordinator Joe Obert can give you an even better assessment of just how good Mayfield was here when he seeks to try and replace his presence and production next Summer; maybe the biggest challenge QND faces in retooling next year’s roster.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: No list of breakout stars in Tri-State Football is complete without mention of Keokuk Senior Gavin Thompson, who emerged as a true go-to receiver for Matt McGhghy’s crew this season. Thompson’s evolution from “maybe” to “yes with an exclamation point” was YUGE for the Chiefs, giving Quarterback Damon Wolter a fulcrum type guy to work with in the absence of any kind of proven Kolton Marlin type options coming in. If you would have told me that anyone would eclipse Marlin’s numbers from a season previous, I would have thought you were mad. Thompson made us all look delightfully foolish for doubting. On twenty eight receptions, Gavin carved up defenses for 705 air yards and seven touchdowns. That’s an incredible chunk of production. And that wasn’t the full panorama of his production. Gavin added 254 yards on the ground and another pair of touchdowns there. He’s a runner with a weird way of snaking through contact; almost as if coated in Teflon. Nothing sticks to the kid. And just for fun, he played some sensational defensive back as well, ripping away four interceptions. Guys that over deliver their expectations are godsends for Coaches. Gavin’s 2016 resume shattered all projections and that my friends is a major reason why Keokuk’s tipping point season tipped the right way.


WHY HE’S HERE: Nolan Bright’s safety blanket…and that says plenty given the success the Tigers engendered this Fall. Cody Roth finished as a First Team All Clarence Cannon Conference selection after collecting a team high 22 receptions for 438 yards and finished as one of three Tiger pass catchers to average 20 yards or better per reception this season. For a team that only threw the ball 105 times, that’s a pretty significant bite. He had two “spotlight” performances this season against South Shelby, and the one that won him our fandom in the comeback win over Macon where he caught a season best five passes for 125 yards and critical touchdown. Again, his numbers may not “pop” here like the guys who get to play in the spread, but I can assure you Cody’s combination of size, burst, and grit would have made him a impact kid anywhere.

JAMON GRAHAM, Clopton/Elsberry

WHY HE’S HERE: The right mix of productivity and pulse quickening explosiveness, as you might expect from a returning All Stater. Jamon took a small statistical hit in both yardage and total catches this season thanks to the rise of Blake Kendall as passing game counterbalance, but the IndianHawk Senior still rolled the odometer pretty sweetly for his All Everything Quarterback with 39 catches for 639 yards and six touchdowns. Again, my fondness for slot type weapons rules here but the 5’9” Graham is kind of his own unique genus and species of that animal. Jamon’s elusiveness rivals that of most area tailbacks. Clopton/Elsberry’s use of him would be something akin to Hannibal lining Shamar Griffith up on the edge exclusively. I’m not quibbling that he was miscast at all, clearly the last two years stand as evidence of just how well it worked. Just trying to give the different feel that Jamon uniquely brought here to the position and to his team in pushing the margins on success.

JACE NORMAN, Illini West

WHY HE’S HERE: I’ve been doing this All Star team for a long time. And I am hard pressed to remember ever selecting a Carthage/Illini West “End” for this squad for something other than their blocking ability. Jace Norman proved too gifted to shackle with traditional Charger roles. Lyle Klein astutely determined this August that he had a very good quarterback and a freakish target for him to work with and decided to expand the passing game accordingly. We are talking about a kid with a 6’2” frame who high jumped 6’7” last Spring in Champaign while also running a leg on the State Qualifying 4x100 relay team. Intrigued? You should be. Jace has proven very adroit at catching the football, on top of all of his other obvious outliers. He finished with 331 yards (an 18 yards per snare average) on just 18 receptions. Moreover, a third of those snares resulted in his six touchdowns on the season. He’s also a potential Class Valedictorian this Summer and will likely add to his impressive Track and Field resume in June. Just a very impressive guy, regardless of what measuring stick you are using.

TANNER SUSSENBACH, Brown County (Tight End)

WHY HE’S HERE: We were highly impressed with his potential coming off the Barnstorm Tour and man did Tanner just take that momentum and run with it. So much so, that his own stock and that of his returning Quarterback Joe Hendricker is soaring with us headed into 2017. More on that in June when we start doing KHQA Player rankings but for now, how about these numbers from a Wing-T Tight End: 25 catches, 522 yards, a 22 yards per catch average and six touchdowns. You get Tom Little to start getting giddy about putting the football in the air and you have clearly done something right, young man. Tanner’s appeal is self-evident. He is a 6’2” kid who gets off the ground effortlessly. He’s a proper mix of quick and strong. And he’s got vice grip hands. On top of all that, I think Sussenbach makes the high degree of difficulty catch as well as anyone on this list. And he’s just instinctually good at using his body; be it to shield off a defender or to contort himself to have the best angle of attack on the football. If this kid doesn’t have 35 or more catches next year, I might start stuffing the Little Family Mailbox with Bears and Vikings gear. And yes, that is a threat.


Third Team Selections



TODD KELLY, Unity/Payson

BLAKE KENDALL, Clopton Elsberry


JARET DUNKER, Unity/Payson

TATE CALDWELL, North Shelby (Tight End)

DRAKE GREEN, Quincy High (Tight End)



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: He arrived with plenty of advance hype but Jirehl Brock was the rare prospect who actually over-delivered on that word-of-mouth. I don’t throw this around lightly, but we haven’t seen a running back prospect with this package of skills/measurables since the halcyon days of Craig Lewis at Keokuk in the late 1990’s. You remember Lewis, right? The kid who jilted football overtures from the likes of Nebraska to lace up high tops at Eastern Illinois because he liked basketball more. If Jirehl does same, I will personally strangle him. (I kid…I think) Brock is the ready-made feature back coaches dream about. He’s a Sophomore who shows up in your program with a naturally durable 190 pound frame that he’s only going to better cultivate in the weight room over the next three years. He’s got pulse-quickening speed to the edge and the strength and willingness to grind between the tackles. His biggest outlier might just be a preternatural ability to set up his blocks and use his Lineman to best effect. I struggle to recall a back who does that this well, this early in his career. Maybe Wyatt Green. I dunno. Brock also catches the ball exceptionally well; perhaps at a level fans haven’t yet had a chance to appreciate. When I was watching the Blue Devils on the Barnstorm Tour this summer, I set my camera down to take some still pictures of various players for Twitter and Brock makes this unreal one-handed catch going into the end zone than might have been the single most impressive thing I saw on a football field all year. I may not have video evidence of stuff, but ask his coaches and teammates: this kid routinely makes the exceptional seem ordinary. And that’s not just the glamour stuff. Here’s a tenth grader who already blocks as savagely as some of the recent area players who we’ve set as benchmarks among area backs over the years; guys like Malique Robbins and Ser Whitaker. I also love his toughness and already evident leadership. In the playoff game with Willowbrook, I heard him on the sidelines chiding a player for his selfishness and putting himself ahead of the team. When your best players are willing to self-police, that is a coaching godsend. And yes, lest I forget, the kid can flat out run the football. Jirehl finished with nearly 1400 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in Rick Little’s crowded backfield. Credit to the Blue Devil skipper for having the restraint not to give him the football on every snap because the temptation to position him for Rock Island numbers (his signature 304 yard, half dozen touchdown outing) every game would be very real. And he’s only going to get better. I’d like to see him be a little less straight up and down when he runs because I think Jirehl gets exposed to unnecessary contact at times; maybe as a preventative measure to keep some tread on his tires. Even Superman can afford to dodge a few bullets no and then, rather than taking them all on straight on. But that’s a small quibble. This is just a super great kid who has been raised right and who seems to take his abilities (and the stuff that comes with them) very much in stride. Taking into account the spot and the quality of competition he played, I think there is an argument to be made here that Jirehl Brock just produced one of the best Sophomore Seasons we’ve ever seen in Tri-State Football. Can’t wait to see what he fashions for an encore.

NOAH TALTON, Knox County

THE SKINNY: Rarely has someone with so little prior experience in organized football assimilated this well. A one-time Home School kid, Noah Talton put his speed and (more importantly) his rare fluidity to great use in carving out a place for himself as Northeast Missouri’s most explosive small school weapon. In just two year’s time? Yep. See also his gaudy 11 yards per carry average this season in route to 1159 rushing yards in just ten games. That same slashing style that has made him such an effective basketball weapon translated well to the gridiron; a rare ability to get by a defensive threat before said tackler realized his pursuit angle was just all wrong. The ability to break to daylight is natural, for sure. Granted, he’s an unorthodox player because he doesn’t think as a running back like someone who has played the game since in JFL since he was five. But I think that adds to his appeal; his ability to make defenses and the men who coordinate them look a bit foolish in trying to corral him. And give Noah some credit here however for figuring out in short order how to be a Number One Back. A quiet, low maintenance unassuming young man who just happens to double as one of the most intelligent kids in the region. That’s a coaching godsend in any player; let alone one with so much God-given athletic ability. The versatility here is a nice bit of icing on this cake as well. Knox’s quarterback injury issues denied him Talton more opportunity to post numbers in that phase of the game. He still accounted for 16 rushing touchdowns and single scoring tallies through the air and in special teams. Just a fun talent to watch, be it football, basketball or track and field and a terrific young man.


THE SKINNY: The standards are just a bit higher in Carthage, where a 5-5 season and first round playoff exit tend to get met with a disinterested shrug. That’s just the reality that lingers in the aftermath of the Blueboy/Charger Dynasty years. That doesn’t change my opinion here. I didn’t see a better small school back this season than Connor Artman. And I would suggest the nearly 1800 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns he produced, in a myriad of ways, backs that assertion up. Stats are great but I trust my eyes on this one as much as anything. When the Charger Junior gets in space, however that may be, there aren’t many more electric players to be found in our area. I don’t know that Connor is the fastest kid in our area. I just am deeply convinced that he turns direction faster than anybody else. There is a sudden-ness to what he does, be it returning kicks or converting interceptions into pick-six or breaking down a defender standing in front of him on the basketball court that is beguiling to watch. He was single-handedly responsible for 150 of the 276 points that IW produced this season, or roughly 54% of his teams scoring output. He averaged eight yards a carry, nineteen per catch, and 25 yards per return this season, and that came with every defense the Chargers played lying in wait for him. And he’s just getting warmed up. The idea of Artman returning to an offense that features a rising Quarterback prospect in Jackson Porter next fall ought to scare every team in the Prairieland Conference to death. Again, there was a great wealth of quality backs in Tri-State Football this past Fall and all of our opinion towards them, mine especially, are subjective. But it’s hard to downplay “fun factor” in putting together All Star Teams like this and every time Artman touches the football, it feels like something big is about to happen. I want that kind of weapon on my football team. And if you watched more of this kid, you would too.

LOGAN MINTER, Monroe City (Fullback)

THE SKINNY: My enduring image of the 2016 Football season will forever be standing in the end zone in Paris, Missouri watching 240 pounds of Logan Minter hurdling some would-be Coyote Linebacker who heeded his coaching staff’s textbook advice to take on the bruising Monroe City Fullback low, where he might have a chance to negate the size advantage. That kids reward for being well coached and doing all the right things was getting “posterized” on the KHQA Sensational Seven by a pretty rare and unique talent. Logan’s story arc is perhaps my favorite of any player on this list. The talent here has always be in evidence. Jamar “Strawberry” White tipped me off to Logan’s potential before he even took his first Jamboree carry at the Varsity level. And he proved every bit the sledgehammer back “with a little bit of wiggle” he was promised to be. The subplot here, however, is just how much this young man grew up over the course of that evolution. Some kids need football more than football needs them. I’d argue that one of the best things that has ever happened to Logan is that he woke up one day and realized he was surrounded by a really young talented group of underclassmen who needed him to be their cornerstone. And the dude got serious. Still a fun guy to be around, except when it was time for business. And man did Logan attend to his business this season. When people started popping off around him about his lack of carries in Week One, Minter didn’t pout or feel sorry for himself or let the creeping negativity creep into the team dynamic. He got vocal on Twitter and as he put it “shut that noise down” instantly; telling folks in no uncertain terms that he was there to win, nothing more. If you are looking for a wellspring moment on this incredible Monroe City rise this season, Minter might have delivered it in that very moment. In that spirit, Logan was at the heart of every big moment this team enjoyed, whether as the leading man or a willing supporting cast member blocking. He made THE tackle that cemented the State trip; his Mike Jones moment in hitting the kid from Lincoln so hard that Logan knocked himself out. It was delivery on a dream he had earlier in the week when he told David Kirby that he would make the tackle that would send them to Springfield. So yes, the intangibles here are just brilliant. Let me also, however, justify his inclusion her quantitatively. Logan rushed for nearly twelve hundred yards this season in route to Second Team All State honors and proved his worth as one of the best red zone options in the region with 21 touchdowns. Brutally tough kid to tackle and the kind of guy who single handedly takes the starch out of a defense; and the kind of Fullback who makes all of the backs around him better.

AARON BUFORD, Scotland County (APB)

THE SKINNY: Never has the All Purpose Back tag come more in handy for us media types, because Aaron Buford’s 2016 season doesn’t fit easy categorization. First of all, the bruising Quarter-Fullback I don’t think played more than a couple of random early season quarters at anything close to full health this season. I refer you back to my August tweets about just how terrific a full go Buford looked running the Scotland County offense at the Monroe City Jamboree. That version of this kid was probably a very viable player of the year contender. The Week One injury obviously derailed that but kudos to Aaron for being tough enough and resilient enough to fashion a very impressive comeback in a couple of varied roles here as both Mikel Gragg’s Quarterback and Fullback at various times. Look, the Aaron Buford QB thing wasn’t orthodox or exactly “pretty” but it was incredibly difficult to defense. He’d make these odd angle or weirdly times throws that were like sandlot football and it worked. And when he would tuck the football, he was a punishing runner who had a funny knack for finding his way to daylight and running over the poor defensive back who had the misfortune of coming up to meet him head on. He finished with almost 2000 total yards this season and had a hand in 27 total touchdowns, 16 of which came on the ground. People also tend to forget just how good Aaron has been at Defensive Back during his career, especially when this program was completely in struggle three years ago. I’d say Mister Buford’s enduring legacy here was in so completely helping to turn the tide in Memphis. This was kind of a strangely snake bitten Tiger team in 2016 but one whose high points I thought were really fun to watch. Aaron Buford was usually at the epicenter of most of those. He’s a very unique athlete and an incredibly bright guy on top of that; one of those kids who probably deserved far better appreciation than he got kind of being on the outskirts of everything. Indisputably, he’s crafted quite the resume along the way.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Given the attention paid the Mustangs vaunted passing game, James Logsdon’s emergence as a credible running threat to keep defenses honest was essential. He fulfilled that job tenet and then some in a watershed campaign that saw him rush for 1132 yards and 11 touchdowns. Given the sophistication of what the Mustangs try to do offensively, Logsdon’s versatility here was a critical outlier. Certainly, he did a great job bobbing and weaving his way behind that bruising Offensive Line to project a legitimate threat in the box. In a word, the kid was plenty shifty. There are running backs who are smooth, effortless looking long striders. James is the complete opposite of that, and I mean that as a compliment. His entire body is constantly in jitterbug motion, going all different directions at once, which actually makes it hard to draw a direct bead on the guy. The icing on the cake here is that he’s really the equivalent of an extra (an outstanding) slot receiver in the pass game (15 catches for 286 yards which works out to a 19.1 yards per grab windfall) who likely would have made this team in that role if not for filling a need in the backfield. Mentioned it during the feature we did on him during the season and I’ll mention it here now: U/P probably isn’t 9-0 without James Logsdon projecting this level of production all season long.


WHY HE’S HERE: I know people tend to look sideways at you when you quote them statistical grace notes from the “defensively challenged” Eastern Missouri Conference but Caleb Hirner had a whale of campaign in Center regardless of the prism through which you view his work. An aggressive slasher who carved up Tiger opponents for 1815 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Caught his act in person twice this season and absolutely loved the way Caleb “ran big,” dissected the field and finished off his carries. Relentlessly productive, low key player with “it factor” flash when he hit the corner. First Team EMO pick in a very crowded offensive field from a very crowded Mark Twain Offensive Backfield. Hard to remember a more unsung kid with these kind of numbers in recent memory.

ADAM ROONEY, Central Lee

WHY HE’S HERE: The talented Junior shouldered much of the production lost to what could have been catastrophic graduation hits in the Hawks Backfield by emerging as an unrelenting workhorse. His 153 total carries were nearly three times more touches than any other member of the Central Lee offense and Rooney made that show of faith manifest with 1252 total yards and a dazzling 8.2 yards per carry average. He also scored 11 rushing touchdowns and pulled down a team high four interceptions on the other side of the football. Rooney doubles here as our All Do or Die Return Specialist as well after average 43 yards per attempt and scoring a pair of touchdowns in just five attempts until teams wisely started kicking the ball anywhere but in his direction.

DEVIN TYNAN, Brown County

WHY HE’S HERE: One of the seasons better subplots found Devin Tynan evolving from “Carter Lewis counterpunch” into a tent pole player in his own right for the Hornet Offense. While he’s always had that field tilting explosiveness in the arsenal, the Brown County Junior Wingback made great strides in terms of his play to play dependability/accountability and in so doing led the Hornets with 959 rushing yards. That’s a pretty big tally in a shared offense that typically drives down individual numbers. Tynan was also tops on the team in yards per attempt (a lofty 9.2 per carry average) and rushing touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what Devin becomes in the absence of Lewis next Fall; if he can rise to the level of true Number One Back when all defensive eyes are on him. But there was a lot in this year’s resume to suggest that even 140 rather than 104 carries in the future could turn him into a superstar on the area stage.

Would love to see the expanding Hornet passing game make better use of his talents in space through play action work next Fall as well. He’s an enviable weapon here and if he continues his maturation and ascent, the wraps are going to come completely off. I don’t envy WIVC opponents that future.

KLAYTON MARTY, Centralia (Fullback)

WHY HE’S HERE: If you are looking for big numbers here, I can’t help you. It’s an Erle Bennett Offense and few coaches I know diversify as much as the now retiring Panther legend. I just know that for the past two years, Klayton Marty has been low key my favorite powerback to watch. He looks like a throwback to the 1970s as a runner but there is a surprising depth of attributes here that go well beyond just the mash it like John Riggins vibe you get from looking at the kid. I’d argue that Klayton has better field vision than 70% of the elite tailbacks on this list. They are exploding to daylight off that asset. Klayton is left hunting and pecking for the extra yard. And for as strong/big as he is, he’s surprisingly hard to get a clean shot on. Elusiveness might night seem like the right word but if you watch him in isolation, there’s something akin to that there. I’ve never seen the kid go down on first contact as well. Scored a dozen touchdowns this season. Earned First Team All Cannon. Moved the chains in tough spots. What more do you want?


WHY HE’S HERE: He’s the IPhone of Tri-State Football players. Sixty million possible football applications all held in one singular container. Seriously, what didn’t this kid do for Brad Dixon’s squad the last two seasons? Quarterback. Tight End. Surprisingly gifted change of pace running back who averaged ten yards per carry and scored once every ten touches on average. Outstanding nose-on-the-ball defender wherever it is you line him up. And given his smarts that could have been anywhere. See also his team leading four interceptions this season. You can’t really have an “All Purpose” category on your list and not install Noah somewhere on it this season. If I could hire Noah straight of high school today, I would because you know whatever the gig was, he’d find a way to excel at it. And then probably diversify himself enough to solve fifteen other nagging flaws in our business as well along the way just seeing what he could do to help. The world needs far more Noah Dearwesters in it.


Third Team Selections



CODY PORTER, Monroe City


ETHAN DOWNS, Rushville/Industry (FULLBACK)




First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: Two time First Team All Western Big Six selection who imbued the Blue Devils front line with the right mix of intensity, mobility, physicality…with a dash of boundless enthusiasm and fun thrown in for good measure. Tyree’s mix of leg strength and low center of gravity made him a fierce draw for Linebackers and Defensive Tackles alike. Watch him dominate on the wrestling mats this Winter and you see why he translates so well to the gridiron. Tyree in fact punched his ticket here with his relentless downfield blocking and spirited ability to finish blocks. Perhaps the most punishing hitter on this list and man who truly seemed to enjoy the work. Every highlight we have of a long run this season for the Devils invariably sees Tyree 20 yards down field working. Sure, blocking for Deven Smith and Jirehl Brock might seem like easy work, but Williams and Friends up front returned the favor and gave Quincy High’s highly regard runners ample room to work and incredible protection at the line of scrimmage and beyond.


THE SKINNY: The best thing that may have happened to Hannibal Football this season was everything Mika Taganeca and Boogie Tate threw into their “exercise enriched” off-season. As cliché as it might sound, even guys with raw natural talent don’t usually get to be All Staters unless they pay an All State toll to get there. Both dudes got themselves into the best playing shape of their careers and that’s why both are so highly esteemed on everyone’s postseason honors lists. While Mika isn’t as physically imposing as some of the guys on this list at just 230 pounds, the impressive thing here is that there really is not any give in his game. I noticed it in watching Offensive Line drills at practice this past Summer. Regardless of the size of the guy across from him, Taganeca has this uncanny ability to just stop them in their tracks with his first hand contact. I’m not a biomechanics expert, but I’d like to think much of that starts with inordinate lower body strength, rather than just his hand fighting ability alone. It’s a one piece move and he’s gifted at just stacking things up. And when you have the backs he had behind him, that’s enough to let them find daylight. Think of it like this: defenders are the fly. Mika is the pest strip. He locks into you and it’s over. Earned Second Team All-State from the Missouri Coaches Association and NCMC plaudits on both sides of the ball.


THE SKINNY: The easy narrative links Unity/Payson Football’s rise to prominence to Brody Dunker’s play at Quarterback. I think it is also true that the Mustangs didn’t truly get good until they figured out how to produce WIVC caliber Offensive Lineman again; keeping Mister Dunker upright while he was picking apart his conference brethren. Dylan Cornwell represents the highest elevation of the species here. And he’s a guy whose love of football, even in the darkest moments of his program’s recent meager past, helped fuel and bind this group in the goal of making Mendon Great Again, so to speak. Dylan never gave up the dream, even when playing football at U/P seemed like a thankless excuse to get kicked in the teeth every week. He worked hard personally to change that and he gathered to him other kids who would follow that example. Dylan is a 6’3” 275 pounder who serves as the exemplar of what all future U/P bodyguards should strive to be, in all phases of their life. Honor roll student. Ever present weight room warrior. Thinking man’s tackle with the ability to both close the edge against pass rushers as well as blast away at the line of scrimmage to create running lanes. He might be the biggest (literally and figuratively) unsung hero in this entire football renaissance. And as we saw all year long serving as shield to U/P’s considerable skill position weapons, one whale of a football player.

TREY TAFT, Centralia

THE SKINNY: This was a truly exceptional year for Offensive Linemen in the Clarence Cannon as Trey Taft, Joshua Underhill, and Daniel Lehenbauer were like the Mount Rushmore of Run Blocking. That established, I am going to posit the assertion that of the three, Taft was the best of the bunch on Offense, anyway. He was certainly the biggest at 6’3” and 285 pounds. But I’d argue that he wears that weight well and moves like a much smaller man. You look at every bit of video we have and Trey is down field working; significantly downfield at times. Against Monroe City, one a couple of field changing big plays, Taft is 40 yards down field chasing skill guys trying to make a tackle. That’s a considerable motor. It’s a trite phrase I know, but there is some legitimate truth to Trey Taft being “hay bale strong” as well. I have no earthly idea what the kid bench presses or squats but I can tell you from watching him in tight quarters that the amount of force he generates from snap to contact is as good as anyone here. There are lots of great kids on this list who fire off the ball aggressively and get into kids and tenaciously fights them until the whistle. Trey is the one guy you see on video however who hits a defender and you actually see said defender either lurch upward or launch backward immediately. That “pop” is why he’s here and is what makes him special. I have video of Trey playing Defense against Monroe City, a team with a really good Offensive Line mind you, and he first off the ball and three different MC Panther linemen bow three yards backwards. The kid is a human battering ram. And look I think I understand the politics of Taft getting Second Team All-State. Centralia didn’t win enough games to merit two first teamers (politics) and well, Sam Hasekamp. But I’ll say this very pointedly based on performance. If Trey Taft isn’t a First Team All Stater, the group of kids who finished ahead of him better be the 1978 Washington Redskins.

CALEB ADAMS, West Hancock

THE SKINNY: Listed at 5’9” and a (ahem) generous 190 pounds, West Hancock’s Caleb Adams certainly looks a bit miscast in this grouping. But there’s this longstanding tradition in Hancock County, Illinois of undersized linemen using their speed, guile and savvy to invigorate Wing-T Offenses that dates back to the early 1990’s. And Caleb is the latest evolution of this; heir to the Sid Huls/TJ Menn legacy. I got to see a lot of Titan Football this Fall and while I will concede that Adams isn’t scaring anyone walking off the bus; this kid was the hardest blocker to shed in Tri State Football. I’d don’t know if it is the wrestling background, the honor roll academic pedigree, of the fact that Caleb here just likes himself a good old brawl but mercy is he relentless. I’d be remiss not credit his technique as well as he’s one of those natural flat backers who fires out like he was born in a blocking chute; the kind of kid that if he played for Brown County, Heath Fullerton would have painted a mural of on his wall (next to the mushrooms) just to remind future generations of Hornet what a real Guard looks/looked like. Proof positive that a ceaseless motor, zero fear, and a little grit will take you a very long way in this world. I thought Adams especially and to some degree Kolton Johnson were the best two exemplars of that ethic on a line that was largely exemplary across the board. And how good was that line you ask? Remember when I told you preseason that QND had the most talented Defensive Line in Western Illinois? The Titans just obliterated that group up front. The back to back Riley Langford touchdowns in that first half (the first one negated by a backside hold) you ask? Both of them started with just crushing lead blocks from Caleb to spring his back. The kid turned pulling into a high art. And it bears mentioning as well that Caleb spent the last two seasons as a stalwart linebacker and excellent tackler for Travis Cook to boot. Just a very fundamental football player a highly deserving fit here.


THE SKINNY: As a dumb guy, it behooves me every so often to point out the rare times I said something smart so as to continue to perpetuate the notion that I know what I am talking about. Here’s my annual attempt to do so yet again. Three years ago, after watching him practice as a Sophomore, I wrote in Duerrisms that Dalton Hill had an All State level ceiling and a chance to be the best offensive linemen in our area by the time he was a Senior. How’s that for fortune telling? Okay, so eyeballing a 10th grader with that frame and mobility doesn’t exactly qualify me as prescient or earn me duty on Long Island Medium but give the kid credit for maximizing his gifts and pushing his level of play to Second Team All-State in Class 1 as a Senior. Dalton is a weight room mauler monster who plays with great fire and an easy to spot zeal for contact. He’s been coached hard and I think his play has thrived from it. The Twain staff never let him rest on being good enough and holding him to a higher standard and that has coaxed a different level of work rate from Hill as a Senior. He was credited with a team best 34 pancake blocks to give you some window into his dominance. (Where was this awesome stat when I was playing Guard? I would have killed to have any kind of stat to show anyone as a Lineman. Karl Asbury for President!!!) He also fronted for an Offense that produced 96 percent of its offensive production on the ground. Opponents knew the Tigers were running the football almost every down and Hill and company were still able to front for some 4346 rushing yards this season. That’s a pretty awesome testament to the determination and toughness of that group up front. If I am a college coach looking for Line help, Dalton Hill is a kid I’d be quick to start with. He’s probably going to need some polish as a pass blocker but man, this is a young guy with all the tools to excel there as well.


THE SKINNY: It’s not a compliment we often get to pay to the guy snapping the football, but Gannon Greene is some kind of quick. Granted, when you play offensive line and weigh about the same as your tailback, you better have something going for you. Still, it’s jarring to watch the Trojans Unanimous All Conference Center snap a football and get to the second level of the defense even as his quarterback is still completing his drop. Almost makes you wonder if Gannon honed that trademark explosion off the ball from having to beat his big brother Griffin to the dinner table to get fed growing up. Whatever the genesis, the kid gets off the football like he was shot out of a cannon and runs down second level tackling threats incredibly well. The ability to get into his man in an instant helps negate some of his lack of size, as does his tenacity and high football IQ. Again, it might not have been the most elegant solution for one of the Tri-State’s most size-deprived squads but Greene’s work clearly netted rushing dividends for Michael Burns and Blake Lawson behind him. And we enjoyed watching the kid’s heat-seeking missile act a ton.


Second Team Selections

JOHNNY BOTTORFF, Quincy Notre Dame





CAL O’HARA, Beardstown


KYLE WHITAKER, Rushville/Industry


Third Team Selections





BRYAN WADE, West Central

JARED BETHEL, Clark County





First Team Selections

JAKOB KUNKEL, Rushville/Industry

THE SKINNY: The rest of the State finally seems to have discovered a kid who has been one of our favorite players since his Sophomore Year. Kunkel garnered Honorable Mention All-State accord while averaging eight tackles a game from the Defensive Interior and routinely doling out some of the spiciest hits seen anywhere in our region. Jakob seems perfectly designed for business of knocking your block off. He’s a powerfully built 5’10”, 230 pounder who launches into hyper drive off the snap count. Jakob has made a nice assimilation to D-Line duty because he plays with a low center of gravity, pretty naturally and he is brute strong enough to trade hands with even the biggest and strongest offensive linemen. He also still moves laterally like a Linebacker, which is just the icing on the cake. While his numbers have plateaued a bit do to his position change and people running in the opposite of his direction, he did still finish second on the Rockets squad in tackles (to his brother Jordan) with 58 and he posted five stops for loss. Jakob also proved a very utile Offensive Lineman again this season in fronting for Jon Hebb’s ground-centric attack. I am not going to lie, it’s going to seem a little empty next Fall covering Rushville/Industry Football without the Brothers Kunkel around to entertain us or entice us with the prospect of highlight reel chop busters on any given play.


THE SKINNY: We vigorously debated which side of the ball to start the guy, but never his value as one of the very best two way linemen in Tri-State Football. For three years running now, in point of fact. Given the Panthers considerable injury issues on the Offensive Front, Keaton’s strong play and leadership by example in keeping that unit viable and effective is a testament to just what an interior powerhouse the kid proved to be on that side of the ball. Still, for my money, you can never have enough force of nature run-stoppers on your Defensive Front and Heinecke might be the surest tackler on this list. There’s not a lot of art to what he does. Keaton is a relentless fighter who works his way to the football, regardless of the obstacles in his way. He’s more than just a man-your-gap three technique guy; Heinecke works from tackle to tackle and covers a ton of ground. And he’s got a nice ability to anticipate snap count and wedge himself between blockers to disrupt opponents backfield. He had six stops for loss but as best we can tell, caused about a dozen more just in collapsing the integrity of opponents blocking schemes. He finished with 60 total tackles, and underscoring my previous assertion about his proficiency when he gets to the ball carrier, finished second on his team in solo stops with 25. Central has a reputation for being a Linebacker Factory, but I guarantee if you ask some of those previous Panthers stars about their personal resumes, they would be quick to credit Keaton’s grunt work up front in allowing them to look good. I know Brad Dixon’s opinion of Heinecke as a three year starter and stalwart couldn’t be much higher.


THE SKINNY: The cornerstone up front upon which Central Lee’s second straight (and second ever) playoff qualifying defense was built. A nifty combination of imposing size and nimble feet helped Dakota get in on an inordinate amount of contact for a guy playing against frequent double teams. The number of kids out there who weigh 245 pounds who can run sub five second 40 times is pretty small. Dakota has managed to maintain his agility and pursuit ability while still managing to put on impressive strength (both upper and lower body) over the last three years. The result is a Defensive Tackle (in a Linebacker oriented system no less) finishing third on his team in overall tackles with forty one and a half stops. More than that with Dakota, you get ability to hurt opponents not only on first and second down with his run stuffing prowess; you get a legit interior rush threat on third down as well. Dakota finished the year with a team high seven quarterback sacks and delivered another dozen tackles for loss as well. The kid just finds a way. I suppose in the recruiting process, Dakota probably won’t pass the eye test as well as other kids because he lacks a prototype “long” body. I’d admonish coaches to forget about the “ideal” and just put tape of the kid into the machine and watch him make play after play. That’s “eye test” enough for me. Dakota Oberman is a high motor, highly determined player who produces down after down. There’s far more value in that then getting some kid with a prototype frame and trying to teach him how to play. Dakota arrives ready-made and willing to fight to be successful. And he’s proven over the last two years he can lead a program with no prior pedigree for success to new heights. Bottom line, the guy is a keeper.


THE SKINNY: We’ve enjoyed an outstanding run of top notch Defensive Line Tackle in Northeast Missouri the last few years. If you are wondering “whose got next” in continuing the line of succession, meet Jeffrey Smoot. The 250 pound Junior ended the season as the leading tackler on arguably the most balanced Defense in Tri-State Football this season. A tidy 100 stops from a Defensive Tackle who seemed to just always be at the center of the action. He had three games this season of a dozen or better tackles, including a benchmark 18 stop performance in the rematch with Palmyra. Smoot’s outlier is hustle. The kid fights to be in the tackling scrum on every single play and he gets sideline to sideline to contact better than many Linebackers, which is pretty astounding at his size and given his position. He’s not a player who naturally draws your eye, like a Hasekamp or Lehenbauer. He’s more the guy whose impact you don’t notice until he isn’t there. A connective tissue player binding together all of the pieces of a defense with his high revving motor and zeal to hit people. He showed added value as a promising pass rusher with five quarterback sacks. And you like that when Jeff gets into the pile, he’s constantly trying to rip the football away and make good things happen, which he did three times as a Junior. Kid came from off radar this season to emerge as a First Team All Cannon pick and he will be a tent pole player for the program moving into an even more promising 2017 campaign ahead.

NATHAN TYRPIN, Quincy Notre Dame

THE SKINNY: Bill Connell called the 6’2” 250 Senior “the heart and soul of his team” up front on both sides of the Football. And as a three year starter on both sides of the football, the savvy he brought to the table proved invaluable. We like his ability to batter an offensive line into submission and thusly draft him here for work on the Defensive Interior. Tyrpin proved a relentless, pugnacious worker; fighting his way to nearly 80 total tackles on the season. That’s incredible production considering where he was lined up and the amount of blocking that was arrayed against him. His ability to get off blocks quickly allowed him to tag Raider Foes with a dozen tackles for loss and five quarterback sacks, making Nathan the biggest splash player on this year’s Raider Defense. And his individual effort against Monmouth might have been the finest single game performance by any Defensive Lineman in West Central Illinois this season. Tyrpin finished his year as a First Team All-Conference Selection and earned consideration for All State honors as well.


THE SKINNY: He got tasked with the unenviable job of trying to replicate the production lost to KHQA 2015 Player of the Year Matt Frankenbach’s graduation and pulled off the greatest imitation act this side of Alec Baldwin channeling Donald J. Trump. The 6’2” and 210 Senior provide a season’s worth of night terrors for CCC Offensive Linemen in making a living behind the line of scrimmage. The numbers would seem implausible had I not witnessed much of Lehenbauer’s handywork with my own eyes. He posted nearly eighty total tackles, which is a boffo number in and of itself for an interior Lineman. The thirty one tackles for loss and thirteen quarterback sacks just take it to a different plane. That’s insane production. Just four TFL’s less (and actually eight QB sacks) more than Frankenbach put together in his much decorated senior season (albeit for Matt while missing time due to injury) In any other year, the kid would have been a lock for CCC Defensive MVP plaudits. This year he gets shaded by Sam Hasekamp. Tough break but it in no way diminishes Lehenbauer’s outstanding career, which now sees him honored as a two-time First Team All State Offensive Lineman on the other side of the ball. Again, watching Daniel use his mix of strength and quickness to dominate the running lanes was pretty special. But we draft him here for his defensive work because who doesn’t want to watch a Great White hunt in an ocean full of overmatched Sea Lions? Shark Week has nothing on a Lehenbauer Mix-Tape.

DONOVAN GUCCIONE, Clopton/Elsberry

THE SKINNY: The Oscar for the best impact pass rusher goes to…..some guy most of us had never heard of until opening night of this year. What a splash Donovan Guccione made off the edge for the IndianHawks this fall, posting a whopping ten quarterback sacks and two dozen tackles for loss. The kid could not have gotten off to a better start, posting four QB quashes on opening night at MMA and just never letting off the accelerator from there. A First Team All EMO Selection and third team All State honoree by the Football Coaches Association, Donovan finished the year with 52 total tackles, 46 of which were of the solo variety. Hard to find a more pleasant surprise in Northeast Missouri Football this Fall.


Second Team


WHY HE’S HERE: That we couldn’t accord Hunter’s brilliant Senior Season better than second team accord here is a testament to the strength of the pool at Defensive End this Fall. But I will admit, fully, that it feels a bit strange to me to leave a kid who posted eighteen tackles for loss and ten quarterback sacks for more than a football field’s worth of lost yards out of the starting rotation here. There are precious few Defensive Ends who display that kind of talent for wrecking havoc on opponents but Hartsook was among the elite “splash play” guys in Tri-State Football, including having a hand in forcing four fumbles on the year. He finished with 46 total tackles and All Central State Eight honors as recognition for his contributions to a reinvigorated Crimson Defense and the late regular season charge it made in securing a playoff spot.

ANDY BIRD, West Hancock

WHY HE’S HERE: Intense tone setter and terrific table setter who helped put the aggression into a Titan Defense that made great strides in that department this Fall. Put simply, Andy isn’t quite wired like the rest of us; kind of like a human pit bull puppy who gets his dander up in a hurry. And that’s not good news for the cat across the line from him. His numbers are good (45 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss) but hardly tell the whole story of his ability to tie up multiple offensive linemen at once, or punch holes in a pocket. His chase down ability at 265 pounds isn’t quite Hasekamp level, but it’s pretty darned impressive nonetheless. And good luck pushing him out of a blocking lane if he’s standing where your running back needs to go. I still think he’s got another level of elevation in him next season and if he gets there, Bird could be a Matt Frankenbach-type POY sleeper.


WHY HE’S HERE: Toughness and innate talent. A knee injury in Week Two shelved the Blue Devils’ imposing rush end for a couple of games, which robbed him of some easy stats and a chance perhaps to compete for All Area honors at Tight End as well. Still, even at something less than 100% healthwise, Aschemann help put needed teeth into a QHS Defense that was all over the map this Fall. Zack posted nine quarterback sacks and 14 tackles for loss even with his truncated workload. Watch the kid play and you get it. He’s long, fast, and might have the highest college ceiling of any End on this list.


WHY HE’S HERE: As previously mentioned above, Boogie Tate got serious about his conditioning this off-season and transformed himself into a First Team All-Conference and Third Team All-State Defensive Tackle by revving that motor high. Blocking the 5’9” 295 pound Junior is something akin to trying to push a mountain out of the way in the run game. The more pleasant surprise here was just how much relentless interior pressure Boogie was able to bring to bear against passing teams and just how effective he was in hunting down Quarterbacks. He keeps this up and I think Mister Tate has a chance to turn himself into a very coveted future College Football player next Fall.

GRANT PEEBLES, Pleasant Hill/Western

WHY HE’S HERE: The unit struggles with the Wolves Defense this season were considerable and a bit off-putting. But if you allow yourself to look past the macro, Grant Peebles is demonstrably one of the best “hidden gems” in our region. He’s got the long rangy athletic frame you look for in an edge threat. He led his team in solo tackles this year with 29 stops and finished with 70 takedowns overall, despite playing out on the boundary. More germane to our purposes here, however, Grant has demonstrated that big play gene you like in a guy whose job it is to disrupt. His Sophomore and just completed Junior year campaigns have netted 17 total tackles for loss. And that flash of pass rushing magic he first showed as a Soph came into full bloom this fall. Peebles doubled his sack total to six this past Fall, giving him nine career QB quashes with a whole Senior Year left yet to play. Would like to see him get a little bit stronger this offseason, but he’s got all the tools and a nice window of opportunity to emerge as perhaps the elite edge rusher in our area next Fall.

CYRILLE KAYAMBE, Rushville/Industry

WHY HE’S HERE: Two years ago, the kid didn’t know how to get into a three point stance. Now he’s a First Team All Prairieland Pick at Defensive End who posted 56 tackles off the edge and a team high eight stops for loss. Nice to see the hard work and patience pay off. Chalk up yet another wonderful athletic/cultural by-product of Rushville opening its doors to a host of Africa-born imports. Kayambe may still be a bit raw, but he might also be the most intriguing college prospect on this list; a 6’4” 220 pound high jumper with great natural strength and speed as a potential Khalil Mack starter set for the college program with the patience to cultivate it.


Third Team

STEPHEN TERRILL, Scotland County


TYLER KORN, West Hancock



SAM REICH, Brown County

ORION JARMAN, South Shelby



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: What a tremendous find Dalton Huffman has proven to be at Linebacker, doing the next-man-up thing for the injured Colton Gottman two years ago and delivering more than 200 tackles worth of All State caliber replacement work in his stead. You would be hard pressed to find a more consistent tackler in Tri-State Football, which makes him an ideal safety net for a team with guys around him prone to mistakes of over-aggression. Huffman plays with a low center of gravity and is incredibly tough to shed. There’s not much wasted motion in his “finishes” and Dalton does a great job snapping his victims to the ground quickly and popping them off their feet. He’s actually a lot quicker than I realized, an epiphany born of watching him run patterns at running back this Summer during the Barnstorm Tour. That asset established, the real field-leveler in Huffman’s favor is the one between his ears. Dalton is one of those rare kids who is both instinctive and abundantly football smart, which tends to get him right where he needs to be. See also his team leading 115 stops again this year. He was recognized as a Third Team All Stater this year by the Missouri Coaches Association and internally as the backbone of this Defensive Unit. And if even if he wasn’t such a stellar Linebacker, I’m here to tell you he could have very easily found his way onto this honors squad for his work at Center. He may not be very big but I got to watch his work in isolation against Kearney and he did an incredible job picking off defensive threats against a team that was at the time your defending State Champion.

CARTER LEWIS, Brown County

THE SKINNY: He’s a two-time All-State selection and yet it still feels to me like the Brown County Senior hasn’t ever really gotten the proper appreciation. There is a legitimate argument to be registered here that Carter Lewis is the most complete football player in the Tri States, maybe for the last two years running. There’s really nothing he doesn’t do. For my money, Carter is the most deceptively physical running back in our region. His calling card may be as a breakaway threat or whatever but I constantly marvel at just how good he is at shedding contact, how much even top level defenders struggle to keep contact. Some of his best long runs over the last few years haven’t been straight line bursts to daylight; they’ve been cases of Carter running into a pile of would-be tacklers and disappearing at the other end. And again I sustain my argument that if Carter Lewis received Shamar Griffith-type offensive usage, he put up Shamar Griffith type stats. The advantage of employing him here, however, is to significantly extend the range of our defense. There’s no one quicker at patrolling sideline-to-sideline in our region. Some of that is speed. Some of that is instinct. A lot of it is just pure want to. Carter had 72 total tackles this season in what is a largely by-committee approach. The big play metrics put a finer point on his value however. Ten tackles for loss. Four interceptions. Three Fumble recoveries. He was just a ceaseless catalyst for turning the polarity of a game in Brown County’s favor.


THE SKINNY: Here’s a bet I would have lost: someone other than Breck Hancock won the Paris team tackles crown this season. Jacob Wolfe posted 141 total stops to Breck’s 135 total quashes. In full disclosure, I probably need to point out that Breck actually missed two games due to injury this season and that Jacob had a two game playing advantage on his teammate. It also probably behooves me here to mention that 135 tackles in seven games amounts an incredible final work rate of 19 plus per game. The guy is just an absolute tackling machine. He’s already got 375 career tackles to his credit and yet another season left to play. He’s like the Ivan Drago of Northeast Missouri: What he hits, he destroys. He’s clearly starting to reap the benefits of time spent in the weight room; looks much more durably the part these days. I’d also think time spent hanging around big brother/current QU Hawk Briar Hancock has resulted in some of the training table stuff that is more clearly reflected in Breck’s increased physicality. The Coyote Junior still seems to have maintained that calling card explosion to the football that we saw in his 135 tackle Varsity debut as a Frosh. Breck posted a dozen tackles for loss, a pair of quarterback sacks, and grabbed an interception in route to All State accord. He needs just thirteen tackles next season to break into the MSHSAA All Time Career top ten. Or in Breck-Speak, about three quarters of the season opener. And if Paris can go on any kind of District Run, he might have a chance at catching up to former South Shelby star and current MSHSAA All Time Career leader Bryce Johnston. Suffice it to say, the guy has crafted a most impressive career to this point. And he just keeps getting better.


THE SKINNY: For my money, the EMO’s finest football player and pretty typically, the best player on the field in every game he played. My fondest for Tank Monroe “hard yard” and red zone carries aside, I will concede that lining Terry up on the Defensive side of the football is the right thing to do here. Grudgingly. He led his team with 103 tackles, 17 stops for loss, and three quarterback sacks. Those are the raw numbers and they are impressive. To watch the kid actually go out and hunt running backs in person, however, was a whole different level of enlightenment. He plays with such low center of gravity and savage explosion to the football that Terry often resemble one of those Civil War era Cannon Balls being fired into an advancing line of troops. Tank would fly up against the run and whole swathes of people would seeming go down in his wake. With the exception of only Will Sewell, I saw no one else this year who gets such natural pop on his hits. He doesn’t just hit kids. He crumples bodies. My thinking is that his sort of between college positions, but that Tank Monroe would make some coach with a little patience a heck of a Strong Safety at the next level.


THE SKINNY: There was no more unfitting ending to a spectacular career than for Devin Cassens to have to walk of the field in that absolute Defensive meltdown of a playoff blowout to Carrollton. The young man has been a stalwart presence for Brad Dixon’s program since his Sophomore year and one of the most relentless run stoppers we’ve covered. Look, I’m not going to pretend like he was Nick Weiman and made every stop with textbook form and perfect knee bend or whatever. Some of the work that Devin did was flat ugly. But that work always got done, period. Proficiency was his art, even if not always artistic. He find a way to kill the polarity of an offensive play by whatever means it took. Brute strength obviously. Offensive Lineman had to just absolutely hate playing Cassens, who was tougher to drive block than most Nose Tackles. He closes the book on his Central tenure with 284 career stops, a team leading 116 of them coming in his Senior Year. He also added seven tackles for loss.

ADAM HILLIS, Jacksonville

THE SKINNY: Any Defense that gets to pair Devin Cassens and Adam Hillis at Inside Linebacker would be like the Scylla and Charybdis of Tri-State Football. (It’s a mythology reference kids, look it up on the Google and get yourself enlightened.) Hillis is a different kind of menace than Cassens, which makes this pairing so intriguing. While Cassens plays more like a run-amok Kodiak Bear, the Crimson Senior is the Defensive equivalent of a Kraken. The 6’4” 250 pounder’s outlier defensive asset might well be his unescapable length. And his ability to use it to lasso up even the fastest threats before they bounce outside. You watch his HUDL videos and Adam literally like annexes off a section of field that you’d probably be best to avoid; because nothing is coming out of that Bermuda Triangle he patrols. Or rather engulfs. He posted a team high 75 tackles, 43 of which were solo stops. That nimbleness that made him such a nice receiving threat for Jacksonville also served him well when the coaching staff turned him loose to the line of scrimmage, where he posted an impressive 16 tackles for loss.


THE SKINNY: There’s not very much to him but pound for pound you won’t a better, tougher football player in the region than Centralia’s 5’5” and 160 pound whirling dervish of an edge disruptor. Just ask Palmyra, which saw Carter post 11 solo tackles alone against them. Kinkead’s blend of speed and shiftiness made him a uniquely versatile set piece for Centralia in all phases of the game. Granted, the shared nature of the Panther Running Game didn’t produce a lot statistical to chew on but he did have that 90 yard rushing game against Clark County this season. Still, the value added here comes to us in having a Rover type you use like laser-guided munitions. Kinkead gets to the football quicker than a hiccup. And he’s got a nice penchant for finding ways of pulling it way and flipping the field. He posted four fumble recoveries this season to go along with 58 total tackles in route to Unanimous First Team All Clarence Cannon honors. The fun factor here with this kid is off-the-charts, making him a cult hero of sorts.


Second Team Selections

LANE KEMP, North Shelby

WHY HE’S HERE: He posted 90 solo tackles in just nine games. It’s a shame that Lane Kemp’s injury issues truncated part of his season because a season-long, healthy edition of this rainmaker run-stopper might have spun the Raiders Defensive fortunes in a far better direction. Lane finished with 122 total stops, or roughly 14 tackles per game. He also led North with seven takedowns behind the line of scrimmage and had that spectacular Interception we showed you against MSD. The eight-man thing doesn’t lend itself to much visibility but trust me, this kid could have played for anyone in our area.


WHY HE’S HERE: Enjoyed a tremendous Junior Year breakout campaign in leading the Hawks to their second straight playoff appearance with 121 tackles and 74 solo stops. Blessed with natural explosion off the snap of the football, Jacob developed into a big time disruptor with a baker’s dozen tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks. He and Tyler Hopp have a chance to form one of the great Linebacker groups in Tri-State Football Fall with the nice dynamic they have working.


WHY HE’S HERE: The strongest college prospect on this list. Watching him work out at the Do or Die Bowl Combine last Summer, he reminded me a ton of Western Illinois-era Wyatt Green. You don’t see many high school underclassmen with his lateral mobility and incredible range at this size (6’2” 195lbs) And you won’t find many Linebackers anywhere with better hands. Jackson led the Raiders in tackles with 90 and posted 12 stops for loss in route to Honorable Mention All State accord. Again, strangely put off this season by QND’s defensive breakdowns given the quality of pieces in play; that the whole was never as good as the sum of the pieces, for whatever reason. But from an asset standpoint and given his tremendous productivity, Jackson Connell is as good a Linebacker commodity as exists in Tri-State Football


WHY HE’S HERE: He earned All-State honors for his work at Tight End in P-Town this season but I remain far more appreciative (and have been since the Barnstorm Tour) of Casch’s ability get to contact in a blink and shut down plays as a one-man wrecking clue. He might be the most deceptively athletic player in this mix. Rangy and coiled like a cobra to strike, I see Mister Doyle is one of those rare tacklers who kills opponents momentum with the ferocity and frequency of his hits. That natural explosion through the ball carrier he possesses is impressive. And while much of the acclaim went other directions on the Palmyra Defense this season, I’d argue Casch is still king here and possesses as much vital scheme importance as any of his teammates.

BRADY O’HARA, Beardstown

WHY HE’S HERE: The root cause of the Tiger Renaissance this season was a Defense that made exponential progress in the grit and tenacity departments. The Tigers got a little tougher and a little nastier and showed some volition in fighting back against offenses that have bullied them consistently over the last three years. O’Hara was at the heart of the movement, posting a team high 123 tackles (a dozen per game) while filling in all the crevices in a defense made up of disparate parts. Technically speaking, one of the best one-on-one tacklers in area, which set a high bar and needed tempo for a team that had young players in play in need of a model to follow. Brady fit that bill exceptionally well.


WHY HE’S HERE: What he lacks in typical Inside Linebacker run-stuffing size, Jackson Evans makes up for in Speed, Wrestling Mat hewn toughness, and the fearless ability to hurl his body at anything headed his direction. Centralia’s leading tackler this season with 67 stops and a First Team All Clarence Cannon Conference selection posted 11 tackles for loss on his resume.


WHY HE’S HERE: High yield Senior Campaign that saw him post 97 tackles, four quarterback sacks, and interception, a fumble and a blocked field goal in route to First Team Clarence Cannon Conference honors. All Purpose Linebacker option who notched 183 total tackles for the Tigers in helping coalesce one of the best eleven-man working defensive dynamics in area football.


Third Team Selections

DARIAN DRAKE, Brown County

AARON BLESSING, Scotland County

TYLER HOPP, Central Lee



SCOTT KUNTZ, Clopton/Elsbery

CORY MOUBRY, Knox County



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: He may be a “basketball” guy but Riley Langford proved to be one of the great stories of the 2016 Football season, in all phases of the game. His emergence as a breakaway threat both in the Titans Offensive Backfield opposite of proven power commodity Will Fox and his talents as a Return Specialist helped to power West Hancock to a perfect regular season. That established, in watching Riley shine against Quincy Notre Dame’s outstanding Wide Receiver group this past Fall, I walked away convinced he was the top Defensive Back I saw this season. He anticipates and reacts at an incredibly high level. He made of pair of pass breakups (both coincidentally in the end zone in two different games I saw this season) that many a good college level Cornerback would have struggled to replicate. I have no earthly idea how you measure such things, but Riley seems to be blessed with incredible quick twitch muscle fiber. You see it on the hardwoods as well, with his outlier ability to jump the passing lanes. The vaunted “two-second advantage” phenomenon, if you will. He plays like he knows what’s coming next. And his speed allows him to be in good spots constantly. Riley snared five interceptions this Fall and broke up four additional passes. For whatever reason, he’s still kind of a relative sleeper on the area stage but given the returning talent at West Hancock next season, the potential for outstanding team success, and Riley’s multi-dimension ways, I would not at all be stunned to see Mister Langford roar into the Player of the Year conversation in some way, shape or form.

BEAU BRANDT, Bowling Green

THE SKINNY: Yes, the Bobcat Defense was “problematic” this Fall but it’s hard to quibble with Beau Brandt’s play in spite of the unit struggles the last two seasons. Love his size (6’4”) and outlier wingspan as well as his lithe athleticism in being able to play centerfield at the back end of a defense. It’s probably not a great sign that Beau finished second on his team in tackles with 67 but he’s obviously a proficient and active (averaged seven tackles per game over his tenure) wrap-up tackler. While teams have learned their lesson and stopped trying to put the football in windows where Brandt could steal it away, he did end up finishing with eight career varsity interceptions and ten career passes broken up even while his Senior Year stats in that category shrunk. It only makes sense. He’s too hard of a guy to shake and coverage and is just so rangy that he can erase his own mistakes or those of a teammate. It’s a shame Beau didn’t play in a more aggressive passing offense because I think he could have been one of the best receivers in our region to boot. All the tools are clearly in evidence.

LANE COUCH, Knox County

THE SKINNY: The only time I got to see Knox in person this year was at the Jamboree, so this is largely a staff pick/recommendation. And apparently the guys on my staff are pretty smart because a few weeks after we formulated this squad, Lane Couch was honored as a Class 1 Third Team All-State Selection by the Missouri Coaches Association. Lane certainly doesn’t lack for statistical credence as a bar setter here. He grabbed an interception and broke up seven passes on the season, which is a robust number in a Conference where the ball wasn’t in the air all that often. Moreover, he gave Alex Van Delft the equivalent of an extra Linebacker in back with his spirited play against the run. Couch posted 88 total tackles this Fall and a team leading 50 solo stops. Granted, as many of you know, Lane lacks “prototype” size at just 5’9” and something just north of 150 pounds on the scale, so his zeal for contact and his toughness are pretty darned inspirational. How do you not love a kid that is so willing to throw his body around like a boomerang…and yet so effective in doing so. As a guy who didn’t play a whole lot as a Junior, Lane turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season.


THE SKINNY: Welcome to Hooley Island, a nightmarish outpost for Receivers and Running Backs alike. The First Team All EMO selection somehow managed to snare away five interceptions and break up three passes this season; a lot of action for a kid that no one was supposedly going to throw at this Fall. His run support showed nice signs of growth. He finished fourth on the team with 61 total tackles and posted 42 solo stops on the year. I really thought he delivered one of the best run support efforts I’ve seen in a while from a DB in his tour de force personal effort against Scotland County; a contest that otherwise saw no defense to speak of. One of those kids uniquely wired for work in coverage. Short memory. Plenty of swagger. Hands like a Times Square Pickpocket. And more grit than a sandpaper sandwich.


THE SKINNY: The hardest hitter in Tri-State Football and it’s not even up for discussion. Fast enough to play Defensive Back. Savage enough to play Middle Linebacker. Will is just one of those rare kids who naturally does electric things on a football field. The Hannibal Coach Staff had to ratchet him back in practice for fear he might accidentally, unwittingly send a teammate to the Injury List, not out of malice but because Sewell simply doesn’t seem to know his own strength. A Caleb Bieniek-styled impact hitter who changes the entire tenor/look of a defensive unit because every skill position player on the field tends worry about where he’s at at every given moment. A two-time All NCMC pick, Will finished second on the squad in tackles for the second straight season.


Second Team Selections

ISAAC GOODRICH, Rushville/Industry

WHY HE’S HERE: Made the leap as Senior and became a stalwart stopper on the back end of a much improved Rocket Defense. Goodrich stole away three interceptions this year and helped solidify a R/I Secondary hit hard by graduation. He also posted 40 total tackles in route to First Team Honors at Defensive Back on the Prairieland Black Division All Conference Team.

CAM WOODARD, Quincy High

WHY HE’S HERE: Felt weirdly undervalued in the Western Big Six All Conference mix, meriting only an Honorable Mention nod for a kid who had so much impact in so many spots on the field. Super smart player with difference making speed and the kind of confidence inducing demeanor that had to make him fun to play with. One of the more technical back-end tacklers we saw all season

MATT KLOPCIC, Clopton/Elsberry

WHY HE’S HERE: Promising Junior who showed great blanket coverage ability and field-flipping after-the-pick explosiveness with a team leading four interceptions for 184 yards in return damage; three of them of the pick-six variety. That’s a good career for most folks, let alone a single season. The First Team All-EMO pick also broke up three passes on the year to boot.


WHY HE’S HERE: Impact transfer (his Dad took over head Basketball Coaching duties in Shelbina) who led the Cardinals in tackles this season with 66. Terrific size here at 6’3” with ample athleticism and good form tackling. Heck of a promising Quarterback as well. Have a fun feeling he will be a meaningful piece of the 2017 puzzle here next Fall


WHY HE’S HERE: Terrific all-around athlete and jack-of-all trades who picked off three passes and posted 40 tackles for the Trojans this Fall. Rushed for 866 yards and scored ten touchdowns on the ground as well for Rich Thompson’s crew while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.


Third Team Selections

ERIC JONES, Hannibal








THE SKINNY: First Team All-State Selection by the Missouri Football Coaches Association after booting home nine field goals and 33 of his PAT attempts as Junior. Devoted kicking enthusiast who gained the trust of his coaching staff with his diligent work and allowed Palmyra to score Red Zone points that might have been otherwise left on the table absent a viable Field Goal threat.




THE SKINNY: Another gifted Junior who pulled off the world’s best Reggie Roby imitation with a stunning 56 yard per punt average this season. Avery earned first team All Kicking Specialist in the Western Big Six and is a rising Place Kicker was well.























LINEBACKER: NICK BLACK, Pleasant Hill/Western









Best Game: MACON VS CENTRALIA, Round One

Best Atmosphere: QND VS WEST HANCOCK at Warsaw

Best Hit: LOGAN MINTER’s Mike Jones moment versus Lincoln

Best Block: DAVID CELANIA’S Pancake of Death vs Martinsville

Biggest Momentum Swing: BROCK WOOD kickoff return vs Palmyra

Best Frosh Not Named Pascal: DYLAN JEFFERS, Keokuk

Best Coaching Job no one noticed: DAVID RODDIS, BWP

Best Sophomore Not Named Jirehl: Pick a Monroe City Panther (OSBORN, HAYS, SAXBURY)

Prettiest Touchdown: REED HYER catch versus Macomb

Best Lithium Moment: QUINCY HIGH/WEST HANCOCK ousters in Week One of the IHSA Playoffs

Best Name: DIAMOND FERNANDO, Hannibal

Best TV Soundbite: LEVI VANCE, Palmyra


Classiest Exit: ERLE BENNETT, Centralia

Best Bet for A State Trip in 2017: WEST HANCOCK

Odds-on 2017 POY Favorite: JIREHL BROCK, Quincy High

Biggest Jirehl Threat: PASCAL GUILAVOGUI, Beardstown

Best “Fake News” of 2017 that we’d love to see come True: BROWN COUNTY goes pass happy

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