The 2017 KHQA All Do or Die Football Squad

Palmyra's Peyton Plunkett, the 2017 KHQA Player of the Year, headlines our High School Football Dream Team

Happy Holidays my friends and warmest of the season to you and yours.

Welcome to our 22nd annual KHQA Football Awards/All Do or Die Team celebration. I will forever remember 2017 as one of the greatest Falls I’ve ever had the joy of covering here in the Tri-States. Two state Softball Titles. A Volleyball Championship (nearly two of them, in fact.) And of course, Monroe City coming full circle for its first Football Crown since 1996. Talk about impressive bullet points to an Autumn Athletic Campaign. There was plenty of other goodness that took place around here that might not ping radar historically, but was just oodles of fun to cover for those of us in the sports coverage business: Viral Jirehl, The Rise of Clark County and BWP, Holy Trinity’s now annual Cedar Rapids pilgrimage. This is a pretty blessed gig, my friends. Never more so than now. In attempt to enhance the fun, we offer you this little labor of love: our breakdown of all the goings-on. A little footnote on history, if you will, as a keepsake to help frame up all that we saw and all that it will spawn going forward. I hope you enjoy it thusly.

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: Media folks employ all manner of litmus tests to determining these kind of awards. Some of us pick the most noteworthy name, or the recruit of greatest renown. The historic prestige factor, If you will. Some of us pick the dude with the best numbers. Others tab the best guy on the best team. My method has always been to trust my eyes and hope I am right. Simple question: who is the best football player, period. Regardless of position, hype, team success, what have you. Not that I have always succeeded in honoring this directive. It took me years of doing this (dating back to my Jeff City TV days, honestly) before I finally felt like I had my imaginary bars and hurdles built against which candidates would rise and fall. In that spirit, I can tell you with great conviction that I picked the very best football player I saw this year for this award. Without consult and without public vote. Not that there weren’t other worthy candidates in the mix or that my pick alone is right and all others are wrong. What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that I saw everyone in the mix in person on multiple occasions and in video Lord knows how many times now. And that I can tell you with absolutely not one lick of self-doubt that Peyton Plunkett was the very best kid I saw. I asserted that at the beginning of this season, before the first official snap. And I’ve held that opinion without wavering ever since even as I tried to foment every argument I could to prove myself wrong. For three months. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I asked myself in compare to Peyton but what about (fill-in the blank here) and his wonderful season? I could never find traction. The closest I got was getting to play direct comparo the night Peyton Plunkett and Cole Pennewell waged war head-to-head at Lankford Field. Two All State Linebackers and terrific fullbacks who essentially made that contest a game within a game with the way they attacked each other. And if you love football; old-school, black and blue warrior football, you didn’t see anything better this year than that specific head to head. And even though Monroe City walked off with the victory, I kept fixated on specific post-game thought: as good as he is (and man is he good) Monroe City is still a tremendous football team without Pennewell. There’s a lot of other bar-moving talents on that roster, both sides of the ball. Palmyra minus Plunkett? I can’t even fathom that scenario because he is everything, all the time particularly to that defense. A staggering 146 tackles. An even more staggering 30 stops for loss, more than two dozen more TFL’s than anyone else in Tri-State Football. And don’t think for one moment I don’t hear what you are thinking: come on Duerr, no on puts up those kind of tackle stats. Peyton’s girlfriend must be on the books. Inflated. Watch the kid play and you know that isn’t the case. He’s the most singularly dominant defensive force in Tri-State Football and even the most casual fan knows how often he flashes across the highlights and how often he gets his name called over the PA system. That’s he’s also a near 1500 yard rusher and 18 touchdown scorer in his lesser-football guise? That’s a pretty solid indictment of a kid who brings it every single play, every single night. But let me take this a step even further, vis-à-vis your Clarence Cannon Conference Defensive POY and consensus All-Stater. That night Jarom Alexander blew up as a Tailback and Palmyra swarmed to victory against Centralia? That was the best evening of lead blocking I’ve seen from a Fullback in heaven knows when. Kevin Miles decided he wanted to be an I-Formation team and in the blink of an eye, Peyton Plunkett was suddenly the best battering ram in Tri-State Football in a decade. That piece of film is just so incredibly telling because Centralia’s defense was pretty good. Yet not a one of those kids could get of Plunkett’s blocks. He’s the total package. And to my mind, that means something. You can agree. You can disagree. But the one think you can’t deny is that Peyton Plunkett is one helluva football player and overall athlete. And this year, he’s also your 2017 Football Player of the Year, the highest award we bestow.

Runner Up: COLE PENNEWELL, LB/FB, Monroe City


Past Winners:

2016: Brodie Dunker, Unity/Payson

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: No vote needed or necessary here this year. Monroe City’s state title made this a no-brainer and returns David Kirby to the winner’s circle for the second straight season. As always, I had other contingencies formed, just in case, to spotlight some of the region’s better storylines and the men who engineered them: David Roddis, Ethan Allen, Tony Shiffman most notably joining the venerable “old guard” of perennial contenders here. Take nothing away from any of those gents because in any other year, they all could have had considerable traction here. A perfect season, however, shuts down all else. Especially when that achievement comes with the added burden of fashioning such a run while wearing the biggest bull’s eye in the state as the number one team in Class 1. Kirby and his staff avoided all the usual pitfalls: complacency, jealousy, graduation losses, and injury issues to keep his guys on task and focused through the ups and downs of the Fall. It was really a masterful job and hewn not just of fine men who run the show, but of a very fine group of young men who trust their coaches implicitly to direct their fates. I’d also argue, in full candor, that coaching football in Titletown is not an easy job. Dale Labuary set an incredibly high historic bar. His former players, comprise a large part of a fan base not only know football at a different level than most crowds but are passionate and vocal in expressing their opinions about the program they love. That doesn’t always make for the easiest dynamic when you are the head coach, especially one who comes from outside the Monroe Family to coach. David Kirby handles that pressure well; defusing it with hard work, southern charm, and a sense of self-deprecating humor. That’s the best possible shield of armor; outside of course to restoring the TitleTown “vibe” to full prominence in a sports crazed community, from here on out..

Runner-Up: ETHAN ALLEN, Clark County


Past Winners:

2016: David Kirby, Monroe City

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)




RATIONALE: It was certainly one E-ticket ride of a Junior Season.

It spurred National Adulation….both in recruiting circles as well as the viral video that that sent a nation scrambling to ESPN and the Web to see “the hit” against Rock Island over and over again.

And local consternation as well; stemming his mind boggling omission from the 6A All-State squad. So much so that some in the Quincy High athletic community coined a new verb to describe the act of being passed over for a deserved reward: “Jirehl-ed”

Welcome to the crazy new reality that is Jirehl Brock’s high school football career; where the only bit of grounded normalcy, it seems, comes from the dude at its epicenter. The one carrying the football and doing exactly what it is he is asked to do.

You could spend two hours here talking about Jirehl Brock’s enviable athletic skills. And if you want that, there are a half dozen recruiting services who can explain far better than I the four star rating he’s acquired. To me, the greater victory here is that Jirehl Brock has retained five star humility even as everything else has taken a turn for the bizarre. Autographs and selfies and little kids who pretended to be him running for touchdowns in their backyard? All taken in stride by the Blue Devil Tailback as he remains today as approachable a gregarious as he was before he ever took his first high school handoff.

There are more than a few successful adults in this world who could stand to borrow a page from this teenagers personal playbook.

Beyond that, the arguments for Jirehl’s football inclusion here would seem to be self-evident. Eye popping run after eye popping run resulted in nearly 1600 yards of rushing and 22 total touchdowns. All of it created on just 210 total carries, given that an injury robbed him of almost seven full quarters of further productivity. The single best season in program history, by the numbers. And a career that screams Hall of Fame before he has even buckled a chinstrap as a Senior. He’s already the Blue Devil career leader with 52 rushing touchdowns. And he’s maybe four good games from surpassing Malique Robbins for the lifetime yardage total as well.

Less quantifiably but no less importantly, Jirehl’s very presence has represented an opportunity for his program to win games every time he steps on the field. We take that for granted now in the Rick Little era, but this kind of expected success against the backdrop of Quincy High’s lesser football history represents a significant traction that is rare. See also the disappointment that stemmed this Fall when the Blue Devils didn’t repeat as Conference Champs. Jirehl’s very presence here has pushed the expectation threshold to places it has never been before. And it serves an unspoken incentive to push teammates to raise their level of commitment and performance to match his.

Again, this is just the middle chapter in an already captivating tale. Where the Jirehl Brock Football Story transcends next…remains to be seen. But if past is prologue, we can all be reasonably assured it will be a spectacle. And it will be historic.

Fan Vote: Jirehl Brock, Quincy High

Runner Up: Bryce Wilson, West Hancock


Past Winners:

2016: Will Fox, West Hancock

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



ZACH OSBORN, RB, Monroe City

RATIONALE: If 23 years of covering football here in Wing-T Heaven have taught me anything about that scheme…it is that the most successful incarnations of that offense share one historic commonality:

A blazing fast home run threat in the backfield.

Be it Wyatt Green, Ashton Gronewold, Ser Whitaker or Bradley Dinsmore: the Wing-T teams that have brought home Titles were special not only because they methodically slugged away at defense for four yards a carry, but because they featured a true knockout punch to pair with that base methodology.

Zacharee Osborn is the heir to that legacy; perhaps even a next generation evolution of the line.

The Monroe City Junior certainly broadened the play-calling canvas for David Kirby this Fall. After watching Osborn thrive in a complimentary role as a Sophomore with eight hundred rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, The Panther Coaching Staff found expanded opportunities to employ this electrifying weapon in 2017, while minimizing the wear and tear upon his 5’9” 145 pound frame. Zach ended up with just 145 total carries this season, which actually works out to less than ten totes a game on average. Paired in conjunction with bruising workhorse fullback Cole Pennewell and change of pace back Gage Bottoms, Osborn’s success with those carries proved to be more a function of “when” than “how many.” Like a great fighter, the Monroe City Offense would set opponents up with jab after jab, then unleash the haymaker that was Osborn’s staggering 11 yards per carry average.

A simple glance at his tape is tells you all you need to know about Osborn’s explosiveness. Maybe not since Ser Whitaker has the Tri-States produced a back who just seems to be playing at another speed relative to all the other pieces on the football chessboard. Zach’s glide is effortlessly faster that most kids full on sprint. He’s got a particular talent for setting up the field; weaving into open spaces and creating edges and lanes that only he can exploit. See also his four punt returns for touchdown this season…on just seven attempts. And while his exhilarating athleticism suggests a certain type of running back, I would be quick to point out that Zach was in fact a kid who willingly attacked between the tackles when called up and rarely showed any signs of wear when he was hit. In short, he’s stronger and more durable than you think. And indisputably fearless.

The final numbers here are hard to argue with: Zach nearly doubled his total ground yardage from a year ago with 1565 rushing yards and scored twenty eight total touchdowns, 21 of them of the rushing variety. That’s a legit resume for any award on the board on statistical merit alone. Add that State Championship bullet point to the mix and well, you see just how easy this decision became for us to make. With another season yet to play and likely an even larger workload falling on his shoulders in the Fall of 2018, this likely won’t be the only time Zach’s name plays prominently on the Postseason Awards Banquet Circuit.

Runner-up: Brock Wood, South Shelby

Facebook Vote: Zach Osborn, Monroe City


Past Winners:

2016: Shamar Griffith, Hannibal

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




RATIONALE: They held their opponents to just 176 total points in a dozen games this season; and stifling 14.6 points per game average that was the stingiest in all of Western Illinois High School Football.

A feat West Hancock accomplished on the strength of a defense that was a veritable All Star squad in its own right. Travis Cook had the luxury of employing impact players at every level of that unit; from an All Stater in the Secondary to a couple of monster Defensive Tackles up front. The star power at play here enough to cause sensory overload in trying to assess just who meant what to the scheme as a whole.

Did the Titans actually have a single most valuable piece in this ensemble cast?

Difficult to say. But you’d be hard pressed to say anyone did more to bind it all together this season than Chase Hartweg; the superstar Senior Linebacker who was so relentlessly effective at his job; that his production tended to get unfairly obscured along the way.

For the record, Chase was the Titans top tackler this season with 114 total stops. But that is just a number; not a storyline. It fails to reflect that Hartweg was also West Hancock’s most reliable tackler. That’s an important distinction for a group that played with a lot of passion (too much passion at times) and often fell prey to over-aggression and the mistakes that accompany it. Hartweg was oft-times the safety net that cleaned up those messes. And yet, he proved to be a playmaker in his own right, garnering a team high 10 tackles for loss as well as a pair of quarterback sacks, two fumbles and an interception. That’s a critical foundation piece for a team that won 11 straight games to start this season.

Chase’s value to the Titan Cause is augmented by what he meant on the other side of the ball as well.

He may have been the de facto number three option in the offense, by usage, but that fails to reflect just how much Hartweg shined in that complimentary role. He only got 71 carries compared to the 355 total totes that Riley Langford and Bryce Wilson commanded, yet Chase posted the highest per carry average on the squad at nearly nine yards per carry. He finished the year with 637 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team in receptions with six. So on just 77 total touches, Hartweg scored ten total touchdowns; meaning he hit the end zone every seven times he touched the ball; far and away the most efficient such player on his team.

In short, Chase’s quantifiable two-way value here was immense, and yet still so criminally overlooked.

So consider this award a balancing of the scales if you will; a chance to give a deserving young man and honor roll student a chance to stand for once a little bit alone and be properly appreciated for all that he worked to become and all that that work yielded in final accomplishment.

Runner-Up: Jackson Connell, QND

KHQA Web Vote: Chase Hartweg, West Hancock


Past Winners:

2016: Deven Smith, Quincy High

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: Cole Pennewell’s remarkable Senior Year can be summed up thusly:

Clarence Cannon Coaches bestowed the Monroe City Senior honors as their conference’s Offensive Player of the Year; and in so doing, handed him their highest award for the lesser of his football talents.

Look, that’s not a shot on Cole’s work in the backfield. To the contrary, It’s hard to argue with either his approach or his production as the Panther’s Wing-T hammer. Pennewell rushed for just a smidge under 1600 yards and amassed 23 touchdowns, even while sitting out nearly all of his team’s first two District Playoff games. That’s a formidable resume. And you are not winning a State Title in this Offensive Scheme without a powerhouse Fullback.

Just don’t let any of that obscure Cole’s critical importance as the cornerstone, for two years now, of a defense that added both a State Runner Up and State Championship Trophy to the program’s already regal pedigree.

David Kirby calls Pennewell the best high school Linebacker he as seen and Cole has got successive All-State entries now on his career resume to back up that assertion. Consider his impact from a couple of different angles here. Monroe City was the stingiest team in Tri-State Football in 2017, allowing just a dozen points per game on average. Even more impressively, that unit was at it’s very best when it mattered the most. Over the course of the State Quarterfinal, Semifinal, and Championship Games, Monroe City faced a trio of opponents in Westran, East Buch, and Valle Catholic that averaged 31, 33, and 42 points per game. The Panthers held those offenses to just 28 combined points in twelve quarters of football; a run that saw Valle Catholic score just a seven total points, 35 fewer than the Warriors usual output.

Pennewell helmed that group to the tune of a team leading 114 tackles. His thirteen stops for loss also tied for team honors with Jonathon Saxbury. He also posted four quarterback sacks along the way. Those were the concrete metrics at play. They don’t, however amplify just what his leadership and intelligence meant to his teammates as a whole, or the tone here his overall toughness set.

Bottom line, Cole Pennewell was the best two-way football player on the best team in Missouri Small School Football. That’s one heck of a way to close out a stellar high school career.

Popular Vote: Peyton Plunkett, Palmyra

Runner-Up: Dawson Shively, Monroe City


Past Winners:

2016: Sam Hasekamp, Centralia

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


2017 KHQA BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR (as voted by you on Facebook)


RATIONALE: The preseason prognosis didn’t read as overly promising.

Kevin Miles was charged this summer with restocking his Palmyra “Pigskin Pantry” with no less than sixteen new starters; about as complete an overhaul as you will run across in high school football.

Speaking even more plainly, the existing framework around which to shoehorn in all this change boiled down to just two known commodities: Peyton Plunkett and a Place Kicker who wasn’t yet medically cleared to kick.

Talk about daunting propositions…

And yet, Coach Miles and his staff weren’t panicked by that challenge in any way; nor were they willing to lessen internal expectation or term this a rebuild. The Palmyra folks pride themselves in the art of player development and they knew better than anyone the potential of the kids waiting in the wings; anxious now to finally have their moment to be that next man up.

No one wore that mantle more impressively than Senior Gabe Goodwin; who ascended from relative unknown to All State Tight End and All Conference Defense Force over the course of twelve weeks.

We probably should have had some inkling such transformation was possible, maybe even probable here.

The Panther Defensive system has a funny knack for giving rise to spectacular playmakers. And Goodwin certainly looked the part on paper, with his 6’3” frame and ideal college-type wingspan and speed as an edge threat. But the instincts and nose for the football were only revealed when Gabe was given his window.

The yield here was spectacular. His work in place of graduated star Casch Doyle at Tight End was a critical fill for the Panther Offense. Sure, Palmyra doesn’t throw a ton and Gabe’s numbers (12 catches, 185 yards and a touchdown) may not be jaw dropping. They also don’t take into account just what a prized blocker he was within the frame work of Kevin Miles offense, a talent that more than anything earned him Second Team All State plaudits from the Missouri Football Coaches Association.

His work on defense was far harder to miss. Eight One tackles on the season alone is one heck of a resume bullet point. But it’s the big play splash that really distinguished Gabe’s tenure this Fall. He finished second on his team and third overall in the area with 16 tackles for loss. And he emerged quickly as Palmyra’s number one rush threat, ending his year with five quarterback sacks in the offing. It’s telling that Goodwin might have delivered his best performances on the biggest stages, most notably a two sack tour de force against Monroe City’s vaunted Offensive Line.

In all, a pretty incredible two-way resume for true “late bloomer”

But here’s the thing, while it might have taken Gabe Goodwin three years of dues paying to earn his window; the manner in which he seized it may indeed give him the chance to play more football down the road. How’s that for quote-unquote breakout season of the highest order?

Past Winners:

2016: Pasqual Guilovogui, Beardstown

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


2017 LINEMAN OF THE YEAR (As voted by you on Facebook)


RATIONALE: Dead heat voting between Jonathon Saxbury and Kolton Johnson of West Hancock, so much so we to sneak in on the back end to figure out the tie-breaker. In the end Monroe City’s finest had three more votes and wins in a photo finish. We couldn’t go wrong in either eventuality but this is a very apt fit seeing as Monroe City’s Junior Center and Nose Tackle is arguably the best two-way Lineman in the biz right now. He’s got the All State and All Conference accord to back that up. Saxbury’s blocking, when healthy, was the tone-setter for the best offensive line in Tri-State Football. And Jonathon’s combination of bullish upper body strength, tree trunk legs, and phenomenal understanding of the game made him the most bankable block finisher in our region. Defensively, he continues to stun us with his ridiculous burst off the football for a guy who ways 295 pounds. He posted 64 tackles (a gigantic number considering the system, the Linebacker vultures around him, and the constant number of Offensive Linemen assigned him in specific schemes) as well as 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Watching him tear up field was a great treat; a rare talent you just can’t teach. Saxbury is the rare lineman who draws the eye of even the casual fan, because you generally can’t miss him doing his job. I have a hard time remembering a Nose Tackle making this many splash plays, especially considering the quality of the blockers at Center and Guard this Fall. I have no idea what his next-level ceiling might be or how he fits a recruiting profile, but the guy can flat play. And his aggression never wanes. Monroe played a couple of quarters without him this season due to his shoulder injury and if they had a “wins above replacement” metric for Offensive Linemen, Saxbury would have shattered the scale. The difference of his absence was just so night and day, even against a mere sub-500 opponent. And I am not afraid to say this might the most valuable player returning to David Kirby’s roster next season; the most irreplaceable guy in Title Town.

Past Winners:

2014: Gabe Megginson, Jacksonville

2015: Taron Finnigan, Mark Twain Tigers

2016: Joshua Underhill, Monroe City




First Team Selections

DALTON CRANE, QB, Pleasant Hill/Western

THE SKINNY: If this pick surprises you, I’d hazard it’s only because you never saw Pleasant Hill/Western play. Dalton Crane is 100% legit and deserving of this level of attention and respect; the true magnetic North of an offense that returned Wolves Football to the postseason party for the first time since 2009. The Senior Signal Caller has the total resume here. He’s passes the eye test, particularly in big games. See also his stellar personal play in the season tilting upset of Brown County. He’s got playoff cred. And the eye-popping statistics back it all up. In helming the Wolves hybrid spread offense, Dalton amassed 2754 yards and had a hand in 34 touchdowns. He led PH/W in rushing with 850 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns, averaging 7 yards per carry along the way. His passing skills were sharpened considerably this season as well. He threw for 1907 yards, on 62% accuracy, and tossed 20 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. He’s criminally undersold as an athlete, hidden away as he is in the hinterlands of Pike County (don’t be surprised to see Dalton really spike on the Hardwoods in the Winter in the absence of the teams considerable graduation losses) More germanely, his feel for the offense and the game this season was off the charts good. Dalton is a creative decision maker who had just the right knack for maximizing a play to his team’s better advantage. He did a fantastic job seeing the field as a passer and spreading the ball around. Four different Wolves Receivers had 20 or more receptions. Dalton was terrific at buying time for his targets in the backfield and his gritty toughness and ability to make tacklers miss in small spaces really augmented the threat level he presented when he opted to tuck the ball and run. There is an argument to be made here that no Quarterback in Tri-State Football was more critically important to his team and team’s success than Dalton Crane, considering the diversity of other teams and Mike Giles dedicated commitment to letting Dalton be a Franchise piece. I’d argue Mr Crane delivered in spades and became the truest “center of gravity” QB in the Tri-States this season. So don’t @ me.


LONDON BRUNK, QB, Clark County

THE SKINNY: What a quantum leap forward this guy made from his Sophomore to Junior Year. Watching London command the pocket in that District Playoff Win over Palmyra was like watching a completely different quarterback. Poised in the pocket and displaying a honed accuracy flinging the football around the field we had not previously seen from Mr Brunk. In essence, he became a true triple threat as a signal caller in 2017. And Clark County as an offense profited greatly from London raising his arm quality to match the long standing wizardry in his feet. And that teases an even better future to come, now that the Indians QB has found his stride. London amassed 1386 passing yards on 228 attempts for 12 touchdowns. He still has some honing to do with his discipline (eight interceptions) but a 53% completion rate is a wonderful leap forward and a bridge next season within the Ethan Allen spread. There should be plenty of carry over confidence here for London after the Final Four run he helped engineer and a nifty returning cast to support his growth.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Not sure I thought we’d ever seen a Tom Little Quarterback amass 136 passing attempts in a career, let alone a single season. But Hendricker’s talent commanded such usage and the BC Coaching staff was wise to take advantage of Joe’s cannon-like accuracy and unorthodox athleticism. He finished the year with 19 touchdowns (against just six picks) and 1456 air yards. His 57.4% accuracy rate set a new program standard, as did his career 54.1% metric. His 19 touchdown heaves in a single season is also a new Hornet standard. I go back to that game opening touchdown pass against Beardstown, where Joe somehow eluded three different pursuers and flung off a dart to Devin Tynan off balance as the ultimate compliment to his arm strength and creativity. Darned impressive player, darned good young man.



WHY HE’S HERE: He silenced any doubt as to his talents almost immediately out of the gate, engineering an opening night win over Palmyra and riding that crest of personal confidence from there. The net result was an area best 21 touchdown passes and best two way scoring pop of any kid in the area not named Dalton Crane. Nash Waller can play. He finished out the year winging the football at near 60% accuracy for the season in route to 1479 passing yards. He also rolled up 628 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. He’s a bit of virtuoso gunslinger and at times, Nash’s ability to play “hot” cost him (13 interceptions) but the dude has the full tool box of skills to be a legit All State contender and Player of the Year candidate in 2018.


Rating the Rest

1)BLAKE HAYS, Monroe City

2)WILL FROMM, Scotland County


4)BRYCE BUCKERT, West Hancock


6)LOGAN ROSS, Quincy High



9)NICK EDWARDS, Knox County

10) JACOB BURG, Macomb



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: The collective nature of the Panthers attack this season (three running backs with more than 90 carries to their credit) works as a bit of a stat-depresser here. In that sense, Cole Williams overall numbers aren’t going to be as eye-popping as those of other backs working in systems that better cater to individual resumes. The pitch I sell you here is that relative to his own situation, Cole was irreplaceable even if Brad Dixon had actual pieces at the ready with which to replace him. In his Junior season, Cole led the Panthers in both rushing and receiving yards. He produced more than twice as many rushing touchdowns as any other back on the roster. He tied Tristan Brocksieck for the team lead with four touchdown catches, on just 11 attempts. He scored 17 total touchdowns on the year and was personally responsible for 126 total points for his team this season (taking into consideration two point conversions as well) which breaks down to about 11 and half points per game. His next closest teammate scored 48 points, or roughly 4.4 per contest. That’s a very precipitous drop off. The yardage metrics show a similar disparity in his value about replacement with a team high 1506 total yards. Again, the next best option had just over 700 total yards. In short, Cole Williams served as best of all worlds option for the Panther attack. His nine years per carry average belie an easy explosiveness to his game. He’s a willing and productive runner both between the tackles and to the edge. He’s quite possibly the most certain receiving prospect out of the backfield on this list. And he’s a tough and willing blocker. Plus, Cole had 66 tackles, 4 interceptions and two tackles for loss. He was nothing short of a Swiss Army Knife for this team. Employ him to whatever use you see fit. With the ball in his hands (or even when it’s not) he’s going to find a way to be super productive. His IHSFCA All State (one of just three for our area) was a clearly deserved recognition of his versatility, toughness, and skill set. Moreover, he’s still got another season ahead to build on an already stellar resume. And even with all that working, I still hold the kid is more than a little underrated, just because he isn’t the first name that pops to mind when you start listing great Tri-State backs. At this rate, it should be by this time next year.


BROCK WOOD, RB, South Shelby

THE SKINNY: He is possessed of the best straight line speed in Northeast Missouri Football; see also his third place State Finish as a Sophomore last June in the MSHSAA Class 2 100 meter. What we saw this Fall on the Gridiron, however, is that Brock is learning quickly how to better wield that outlier weapon the gridiron. There’s noticeably more polish and patience in his approach to attacking a defense, knowing the burst is there when he needs it (and that few across the line from him have the ability to contest it when he summons his touchdown gear) He’s seeing the running lanes and learning how to set up tacklers for his finisher. Last year, I thought Brock tried to make everything a sprint to the end zone. This year, his cut back ability shined in contrast. Obviously, it’s still set up by the fact that he’s more explosive than a sneeze. There’s just now a lot more weave and slash to what he does. And while it doesn’t get play because he is seen as a premier touchdown threat, there’s a lot of toughness and grit there. Looking back at our archives, you can see a dozen instances where he slips off good contact now as if he was coated in Teflon. And he’s a guy who lowers the shoulder far more than your realize or think. The net result of which was an absolutely individual campaign that helped in many ways hold South Shelby’s team dynamic together through peaks and valleys. Brock’s 1667 rushing yards is a terrific benchmark tally against any standard. What I love here is that he garnered 167 total carries as well; making him the football equivalent of the Lamborghini that’s also practical enough to drive to work on your daily commute. Exotic and useful is a rare combination. His 10 yards per carry average is right on par with what you would expect. And 18 touchdowns is nice resume bullet point, especially for a kid who shares real estate with another outstanding back in Cody McKenzie. He also had three interceptions and seven pass defenses on the other side of the ball and still reigns as the best return guy of any kind in our area. I am fascinated to see what Brock does next fall with an even larger workload set to come his way. Obviously in a world where Jirehl Brock and Cole Williams return, Brock Wood won’t be your favorite for Player of the Year honors. But it doesn’t take much imagination to see this guy continue to expand the “more than just a sprinter” narrative and become the running back of gravity even in one of the most loaded area fields at that position in memory. His ceiling is that darned high. More importantly it appears, so to is his work ethic.



THE SKINNY: The fulcrum on which Fort Madison’s Football Rival began. From the jump, it became obvious that new skipper Tony Shiffman thought he had a couple of potential difference makers on hand to inject some octane into what had been a punchless offense for the past few seasons. Gully took that mantle and quite literally ran with it. In the Hounds new Single Back/Spread base, Gully proved he could indeed by the man, taking 192 totes (162 more than his next closest teammate) and translating that into 1355 yards and 16 touchdowns. Some backs are sprinters or slashers. I consider Gully a “carver” if you will. His second gear is evidenced obviously by his 7.1 yards per carry average. What I am getting at here however, is just how smartly Alex used those skills. He’d change speeds, directions, tacts mid run to find the best possible route to that extra yard. For a kid who didn’t have much of a prior resume, I thought Alex showed great ability to read the field and maximize his attempts. He ran with really good “feel” for lack of a better description. And that extra gear when he sensed daylight was sublime. You watch him mid-run swerve and anticipate tackler angles that guys were taking to try and track him down and you realize that’s next level perception. (I’d surmise much of that comes from being a pretty darned good Defensive Back in his own right) True to Shiffman’s pronouncement, Alex Gully added a needed and instantly special dimension to the Hounds Offense and the net result was a spike to four wins and respectability for a long suffering program. That’s one heck of an instant and impressive personal legacy.


DEVIN TYNAN, WB, Brown County

THE SKINNY: My annual disclaimer here: Brown County Backs are statistically depressed relative to the field because of the decidedly collective nature of Tom Little’s offense. My guiding principal here is that 900 yards rushing for the Hornets is roughly the equivalent of 1200 yards elsewhere. And Devin Tynan is the only back in BC History with back to back 900 yard season (934 in 2017.) So what does that say about the explosive Senior Scatback? He’s had a heck of run in Mount Sterling, becoming his program’s all-time career rushing touchdown leader with 33, 11 of which came this season. Interestingly, Devin’s per carry average tailed off significantly this season, dropping from a program record 9.2 yards per carry to just a 5.2 yard clip this year. Realize, however, that Tynan’s carries spiked to 180 this season as he took on more of a workhorse profile. And did so behind a younger, greener Offensive Line in years past. Translation: he was still pretty darned good and pretty darned difficult to run down. The outliers remain the same. Tynan is both a deep threat from the ground and a tremendous field stretcher as an extra threat in the passing game. He posted 26 catches for 634 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Go compare that rate of production with some of the Wide Receivers on this list. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty darned comparable. The nature of some of those catches, by the way, also rise to the level of being Hyer-esque, given Devin’s ability to contort his body to the football. He amassed some 1538 total yards and 17 touchdowns, which amplifies just how versatile and important he was to this offense. And Tynan’s possessed of a great natural burst to daylight; he just naturally seems to find the seam of least resistance to the outside. His importance can also be quantified by his absence: see how greatly the BC Offense as a whole suffered with Tynan on the sidelines in the Central Game. Again, I know between the tackles wasn’t Devin’s forte and that in profile he was more luxury plate exotic Running Back than every day Commute vehicle. That said, you have to applaud the kid for playing out of character and taking on a 180 tote workload.


BRYCE WILSON, FB, West Hancock

THE SKINNY: It’s an inelegant description, but strap a jet engine to a bowling ball and you get the football equivalent of Bryce Wilson. West Hancock’s Junior Fullback was equal parts masher and field stretcher, a combination you don’t often see here. But it sure seemed to work out nicely here for Travis Cook, who watched his converted Wingback step in and not only fill the shoes of graduated star Will Fox; but in some ways exceed his predecessor. Based on his considerable weight room strides and his freakish leg strength, I can only assume Bryce set up a cot in the weight room last Winter and didn’t emerge from his hardcore den of heavy lifting until summer workouts. For analogies sake, 2016 Bryce Wilson was a pinball. The 2017 version was a wrecking ball by compare. Because of his low slung profile as a runner, Bryce was always a tough kid to get a square hit on. Now, those who hit him anywhere but around the ankles are going to be punished for their efforts with a piece of chest, thigh, or shoulder. And that ain’t fun. Especially when you consider that Bryce has short-ish legs. Which means to get to the speeds he is attaining on the field, he’s churning a lot faster than anyone else, which makes him a natural tackler breaker. He’s a fullback who still thinks he’s a wingback and that’s a dangerous combination. In fact, Travis Cook told us earlier this year that he had to coach Wilson to realize that in his new fullback guise, he couldn’t simply try to bounce everything to daylight; that every run wasn’t going to yield a touchdown and the art of maximizing the short-yardage finish. It was a talent that Bryce got better and better at as the season went on. The final product of this transformation was nothing short of superb. Bryce took on a 195 carry workload. He busted out 1570 yards on an 8.1 per carry average. And he scored 20 touchdowns. I’ve watch a ton of Wing-T Fullbacks in my 22 years covering Tri-State sports. That final stat line ranks with any of them. When you figure out that the kid averaged 130 yards rushing per game, that is very definition of the trigger point for success within this offense. I have no idea how you craft a better encore than that. But I suspect the Titan’s very driven Fullback will return to the squat rack this Winter and emerge with some new wrinkle to add to his growing legacy next Fall. Rarely are Fullbacks “fun” to watch. Bryce is the exception.



THE SKINNY: Didn’t feel quite right characterizing the Knox County Senior as a pure Wide Receiver here, given the diverse nature of his role within the Eagle attack. The All Purpose Back designation, however, seems to fit this kid to tee. His is one of the most all-encompassing resumes in Tri-State Football in 2017. Hayden led the Eagles with 48 total receptions for 606 yards and 8 touchdowns; option one for the Knox County passing game. His workload extended however to 99 carries, 635 yards as Bruce Vannoy rigged his offense to create as many touches as possible for Miller in the hopes of harnessing all that big play potential. That explosiveness proved a needed counterbalance to Cory Moubry’s more brutish style. Miller didn’t disappoint in the “home run” department, with three games of better than 100 yards rushing (in his alternative role) while producing team bests in the running game in touchdowns (10) and yards per carry (6.4) In total, that netted some 1560 All Purpose yards, roughly 160 total yards per game. Hayden’s end zone visits netted his team 132 total points on the year, which means he was responsible for a mind-numbing 57% of his teams total production this season. His next most productive teammate scored 100 fewer points than Mister Miller. That metric sums up very concretely the kid’s relative value here. I’d note Hayden was in no way diminished on the other side of the ball either by his offensive workload; posting 41 tackles, four interceptions, four pass breakups and five total turnovers. You’d be hard pressed to find another kid in Northeast Missouri whose win shares and value about replacement was much higher this season. He’s also an honor roll student and three sport athlete on top of all else. I suspect history will reflect very kindly on the Hayden Miller Era of Knox County Athletics when all is said and done.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Sharing time in the backfield with fellow All Stater Brock Wood may have depressed both backs overall final stat lines, but it certainly can’t diminish the impact and import each had in powering Rob Wilt’s Offense. McKenzie still finished the year with 173 total carries, 1177 rushing yards and five games of better than 100 yards rushing as well as 15 touchdowns and a team leading seven receptions. While Brock Wood profiled as the Cardinals home run threat, McKenzie was far more than just a between the tackles runner. Cody’s aggression and utter fearlessness running the football made him one of my favorite combo backs. He bounced off more tackles than any kid in our area weighing less than 180 pounds, I would wager. Part of that stems from McKenzie’s ability to generate a full head of steam the minute he touched the football, as he would attack running lanes with purpose and explosion. Watch his highlights and you see a kid who is thinking second level every time he touches the football; and one who is completely undeterred by what is in his way in getting there. He displayed great durability for his size and top notch balance, given how hard he ran. I wouldn’t call McKenzie “elusive” per se, but he did display great feel for finding space after his initial plunge through the line. In short, he was the best Fullback/Tailback hybrid in Northeast Missouri and a relentlessly hard worker who gave you maxed out effort on every single tote. And I personally loved the fact that Cody McKenzie fashioned himself a 230 pound sledgehammer, rather than 175 pound sprinter whenever some Linebacker tried to square the shoulders on him. Said foe was usually either met with McKenzie’s bumper-car styled hips or his surprisingly strong shoulders in counterattack. I am a fan of motor and tenacity and Cody McKenzie had both is spades.



WHY HE’S HERE: There may be no tougher hombre running the football in Tri-State Football. 2017 will go down as the year Drake Wrobleski finally got his just appreciation, earning it quite literally by the yard. The Tiger Senior put the work in workhorse for Robbi Howard’s offense, slugging away with 120 carries for 1033 yards. Paired with brutish Fullback Chad Grimm and fellow linebacker Brady O’Hara, Wrobleski helped cement a very blue collar ethos to the Tiger Attack worth 2139 yards of physicality; a wonderful compliment ton Beardstown’s gigantic Offensive Line. It also made for a very nifty counterbalance to the more finesse/flash oriented elements that sprung from Ike Riddle’s passing and the field stretching talents of Pascal Guilavogui, DJ McWilliams, and Bill Cramblitt. Make no mistake here, Wrobleski was the cornerstone of that success. Drake is a straight line runner with decent speed. What made him effect was tremendous balance and strength. In many ways, he was this year’s version of Will Fox. Tremendously hard kid to knock off stride. Exceptional after first contact at grinding out additional yards. And a phenomenal red zone back who often just willed his way forward into the end zone with constant leg drive and punishing return contact of his own.. He was as good at delivering a blow with his shoulders or spinning off tacklers who tried to grab him at the shoulder pads as anyone. I’m sure it happened but you’d be hard pressed to find any video in our archives of anyone tacking Wrobleski for a loss. As rudimentary a compliments as it may be, this was a kid with a talent for moving forward; whatever you threw at him. It bares noting that Drake was one of the more underrated pass catchers in the region as well (10 catches, 190 yards, 2 TD) which speaks to his athleticism (see also his baseball resume) and hand/eye coordination.



WHY HE’S HERE: Elusive Junior looms as a potential Player of the Year Spoiler pick headed into 2018 after a breakout campaign that saw him crack the century mark in ten of the Tigers eleven games. Kevin amassed 1670 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 8.9 yards per carry. Obviously, that speaks to a special level of explosion that looked almost effortless. Edwards has a thoroughbred’s elegant gait. You get no sense of how quick he is in isolation because it all generates so fluidly. His 33 carry, 363 yard tour-de-force effort against Brookfield showed what the young man’s ceiling might be and Macon is positioned nicely on a team next Fall that has a lot of other offensive weapons back and might be your Cannon Favorite preseason. Great combination of speed and wiggle make him one of the toughest backs in the area for tacklers to draw an accurate bead on. Again, there are the threads here to portend an incredibly successful season and position Kevin Edwards in the heart of all the big individual award chases.


TREY OWENS, WB, Centralia

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s 5’7” and maybe 150 pounds worth of gnarled sinew and quick twitch muscle fiber. Trey Owens isn’t going to scare anybody getting off the bus. Once the pads go on and the whistle sounds, this kid just goes out on both sides of the football and makes good things happen. That he commanded a team high 107 carries, at his size, on a team that employs no less than six different viable offensive options every single night speaks to the faith his coaches had in him. And Trey delivered with team highs in rushing (712 yards) and rushing touchdowns (12) as the most electric element in the Panther Offense. Those numbers might not rise to the level of some of the other candidates I could have installed here, but I will justify his pick beyond the obvious here thusly: Trey Owens is the nastiest 152 pound lead blocker in Tri-State Football and it’s not close. And he’s an incredibly spicy hitter with unreal closing speed on the other side of the ball. It’s my All Star team and I prize those things; kids who show up on the field that just can’t wait to knock someone else’s block off and Owens affects that stance in all he does. He is and was an absolute favorite on this list because of that mindset and heart.



WHY HE’S HERE: Whatever amount of roller coast quality there was to the IW’s 2017 season, the young Chargers did have moments that displayed incredible promise moving forward into next Fall. Clearly, this is a team that won’t lack for running back options in 2018 with the squad’s top four leading rushers returning, including emergant Fullback Nick Vorhies. And considering the relative importance of that position to the overall success of the Wing-T, Lyle Klein has to like the hand he’s been dealt moving forward. All Vorhies did in his breakout Junior campaign was rush the ball nearly 200 times for 1243 yards and 16 touchdowns, with 7 games of better than 100 yards on the odometer along the way. Vorhies is a kid who has shown good utility in the red zone and in short yardage. He’s quick off the snap, quick into the hole, and keeps his feet churning. Nick runs with great natural body lean and falls forward to end plays, maximizing his yardage. It’s textbook stuff. He’s done gone work in the weight room, clearly and has a chance this summer to add even more power to his frame. And he seems to be very cognizant of his feet when he runs; adjusting well to arm tackles or jumping over guys that have fallen on the ground around him. He’s good in a minefield, for lack of a better analogy. His Offensive Line should be improved as well, so I would not be surprised if Nick Vorhies emerges as a 20 touchdown, 15K back back in his Senior Year. He’s certainly got that level upside and strong frame and body of work to build upon moving forward.



WHY HE’S HERE: Excepting Jirehl Brock, the most naturally gifted back in Tri-State Football. Unreal physical specimen who produced a mind-numbing 10 touchdowns on just 47 total touches. That’s absurd. Pascal averaged 14.8 yards per carry in route to 508 rushing yards and 6 rushing scores on 34 rushes. He also had 254 receiving yards on 11 catches, many of which were absolutely spectacular (see also his efforts vs BCC in the playoffs) He’s also arguably the best small school Kicker in Western Illinois and the only Kicker/Return Specialist capable of scoring special teams points both ways. He might be the most viable POY threat next fall to Jirehl Brock/Bryce Wilson too, if Pascal can radically improve his big game availability. That’s the only mark against him here. But his athletic ability is nearly unrivaled in our area, and certainly among small school performers.


Third Team Selections









First Team Selections

REED HYER, WR, Quincy Notre Dame

THE SKINNY: The standard by which all Tri-State Pass Catchers have been measured for the last two years now. And it’s no coincidence that Bill Connell calls Hyer the best receiver he has ever coached. To that end, Reed is blessed with a lot of intrinsic tools to that end. His 6’2” frame and long arms. An effortless second gear that serves him well in both running routes and as a return specialist. And of course, a set of great hands as proven over and over again over the course of his career. What doesn’t get sold enough in praising Reed is his unflappable toughness and his unreal sense of timing. The easy athleticism masks it some but watch Reed win every single 50/50 and it becomes more and more evident that his ability to time up the arrival of the football is sublime. It’s almost like a second bounce in basketball. Reed’s anticipation is a built in advantage even against the best defensive backs. He’s as good a throw-it-up-and-let-him-get-it guy as I can remember in the last five years. I had a college coach this past Summer ask me what I thought of Hyer as a potential recruit and I told him that on competitive nature and guile alone, he’d be the guy I’d most want to throw to in the area if I needed a Hail Mary Ball to win a game. And that the rest of overall package speaks for itself. Hyer’s Senior Season numbers weren’t as robust as I thought they would be. They are still terrific (33 receptions, 515 passing yards and ten touchdowns) even as defenses did their level best to deny the Raider Receiver easy opportunities. It’s just hard not to see him targeted more; and easy to imagine how would he look like in a Central State Eight type spread offense as a 70 catch per year type guy. That however, is a flight of fancy. What I can tell you more concretely is that I’ve got an archive reel filled with clutch and high degree of difficulty Reed Hyer receptions that maybe 10 total kids in our area over the last decade could have made. And if we ever do an All Time Do or Die Team, based on my confidence level in this guy, he’d be in the conversation for First Team Starter at Wide Receiver. He’s just that good.



THE SKINNY: Based on what we saw from their development in concert with one another this season, the Bradley Butner/Nash Waller Senior Tour could be something special to behold. Not to mention statistically bloated to boot. Look, Bradley Butner is not a small man at 6’2” and 190 pounds. He should be relatively easy to keep tabs on. And yet, here’s a kid with a weird talent for slipping coverage, getting behind “faster” defensive backs, and using his strength and hustle to rack up all that YAC goodness. Butner accounted for more than a quarter of Waller’s 101 receptions this season and generated more than a third of his 1479 passing yards. That’s the very definition of Number One Receiver/Security Blanket production. Look, I have no idea how “fast” Butner actually is. Never put him on the stopwatch or watched him run sprints. I just know that if you watch him play, he’s got one sort of effortless ability to run routes. And he’s got a second much faster/less elegant gear with churning legs and hyper motion after he gets the ball in his hand. It may not look smooth but you don’t ever seen any of those defensive backs catching up to him when he goes to into “Butner Mode” either. Nine of his 27 receptions resulted in touchdowns, which certainly says something about his ability to stretch the field. He averaged almost 19 yards a catch in route to 503 yards this year. And more esoterically, he’s great at coming away with the contested ball in traffic. It’s like a snatch-and-grab thing. Bradley plucks the ball out of the air with authority and works really well through contact. Heck, some of the incidental (and non) bumps I’ve seen him take and yet still maintain his balance and extend the run speaks a rare value and talent. The scary thing is his Quarterback is primed to be even better next season, which might make Butner the best bet for All State honors on the Tiger Squad. He’s a guaranteed bet to make the cover of the Gridiron Playbook this Summer as well, which underscores that we do indeed project him to be a top ten talent in all of Tri-State Football for 2018. More immediately though, his 2017 was pretty danged fun and impressive in its own right.



THE SKINNY: Jumped off the page for the Pirates in his Junior Year Breakout campaign, earning First Team All NCMC plaudits. Will posted 39 total receptions for 594 yards and seven touchdowns. Much like the Butner/Waller pairing above, the continuation of the Worthington/Whitaker passing dynamic within the Hannibal Offense next Fall threatens to be incredible. The most noticeable attribute in Will’s arsenal this Fall was his confidence. He commanded passes and went after every single attempt in his direction as if he had sole license to said ball. In my opinion, he also adjusts to poorly thrown balls better than anyone on this list. Will has a nice knack for making the over-the-shoulder catch and securing passes that fall out of sky at weird trajectories. His “sweet spot” catching the football, for lack of a better word, is comparatively large to the other guys on this list. He plays with a lot of natural bounce and his fight to/for the football showed a passion for the game that needs to prove contagious among his teammates. He gets high marks here for his toughness and his concentration, as well as his ability to step up in big moments and deliver. He’s also terrific at shedding coverage and coming away with the football through contact. I am not sure Will is the most naturally elusive guy in the world running the football, but he’s got some ability to bounce the ball to daylight. What I value more about him there, however, is that he finishes his runs with a punishing lowered shoulder and a desire to maximize every yard out of the intent. He plays with a high IQ and a high degree of fearlessness, as evidence by his willingness to attack either over the middle or as a return specialist. Whitaker had a heck of personal year in a bit of down year for his program. Will be interested to see how many of his teammates amplify and emulate his example next Fall in quest to better Pirate Football the way Mr Whitaker did.



THE SKINNY: His off-season weight work paid huge dividends as Tanner profiled much differently as both a Linebacker and a Tight End for the Hornets this Fall. He certainly didn’t lose any of his trademark bounce or athleticism, but the Tanner Sussenbach going up to steal away jump balls from Defensive Backs was an infinitely more imposing opponent for those seeking to keep him from the ball. That thicker frame up top also made him a kid who was nearly impossible to tackle up high in the second and third levels of a Defense. The Brown County Senior was made then, an almost perfect hybrid. Possession guy size and strength, but still with enough breakaway pop to stretch the field. His 31 catches made him the biggest recipient of Tom Little’s “rethought” offensive approach and the obvious comfort level Joe Hendricker felt in winging the football to Tanner in tough situations say more about his “clutchness” than anything I can type here. He’ll go down as the all-time receptions leader in BC history, which given the Hornets propensity to dedicated ground attack over the years almost comes off as an oxymoronic compliment. Still, Tanner was legit; a kid who would have thrived in Jacksonville or Macon’s offense just as easily as he did here. He finished the year with nine touchdowns, 551 receiving yards, and a very tidy 17.8 yards per catch average. All of which serves to underscore just what an astute move it was to move him from Running Back to a position of then misunderstood need for this program. Tanner rewarded that faith incredibly well.



THE SKINNY: The greatest testament to Dawson Shively may be the he dropped a football in a game this year and everyone in the stadium recoiled in shock. That’s the impossibly high standard this kid has set with his otherwise automatic hands. To be honest, this season, I thought much of Dawson’s best work catching the football actually came on Defense, with show-stopping interceptions against both Brookfield and Westran that ranked among the very best picks we saw. He’s got great ability to contort his body to the football. And obscene hand-eye coordination to land the football the way he does. He’s pretty darned good after the catch as well. See also his sheer force of will finish against Palmyra.That’s all fine and dandy, but selling Dawson’s traditional receiver value alone here is to sell the kid short. The two biggest reasons Shively is a favorite are his innate physicality for a kid who weighs 170 pounds and his unmatched ability as a downfield blocker. He’s not only great getting his hands into his intended blocking target, but Dawson finishes blocks. He will run a kid ten yards down the field and dump him on his backside to just put an exclamation point on things. There’s tenacity and pride there in an aspect of the game that most receivers seem disinterested (at best) in pursing. Shively, conversely has that Sir Whitaker/Malique Robbins mentality and commitment to that part of the craft. And he’s good at projecting that nasty streak. You see it on his blocking and his finishing as a Defensive Back, Shively packs a wallop with his upper body strength. I can count a half dozen times on film with him putting a kid on his back just on the sheer force of that shoulder spear alone. Small details make Champions. And Monroe City wouldn’t be the same without this kid’s contributions: the one’s every sees on the highlight reel grabs that earned him First Team All Cannon honors. And the smaller moments destroying a Free Safety out ahead of Osborn/Pennewell that gain those backs a few extra yards. Dawson Shively is in every way a true gamer.


Second Team Picks


WHY HE’S HERE: One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Tony Shiffman hire, Shance got the chance to put his size and nimble athleticism to good use as the Bloodhounds moved from what was essentially a single-wing attack to a high powered spread. A 6’1” effortlessly fluid glider, Redd-Donald delivered a team high 39 receptions (has there been anyone in a Hound uniform to put up that many catches since Justin Menke?) while translating those touches into viable field stretching production with 688 total yards and an impressive nine touchdowns. His 17.9 yards per catch metric was one of the region’s finest production totals as a kid who went largely off radar for the entirety of his career turned in one of the most meaningful and impactful Senior Year breakouts at this position in some time.


ISAIHA ROGERS, WR, Pleasant Hill/Western

WHY HE’S HERE: Dalton Crane’s tremendous development can be directly traced to the rise of Mister Rogers as credible number one receiver. The lanky junior really grew into the role. He’s got an obvious talent for slipping coverages and the ability to get deep. And his explosiveness makes him a nifty threat after the catch. At 6’2” and 185 pounds, Isaiha is also big enough to be a possession option in short and medium routes. That utility to his game allowed Rogers to 46 snares for a region best 849 yards and 12 touchdowns. His hands have come a long way. The missing part of this equation, moving forward, is just what Isaiha’s role becomes post Dalton Crane. That chemistry was a huge factor in the Wolves overall success and this is a kid who needs touches. Mike Giles, depending upon what translates at Quarterback, will have to be creative in finding those reps next Fall for a very talented young man.


NOAH PAFFORD, WR, Bowling Green

WHY HE’S HERE: This seems a spot too low on the Pass Catcher “totem pole” for a guy who caught a region best 48 passes during the regular season. Unfortunately the resonant impact of Noah’s work is mitigated here by a 3-7 overall team mark. As an athlete and receiver, Pafford’s raw skills are the equal of anyone on this list. He’s a lithe, pliable athlete with great sudden-ness, tremendous body control, and hands like a professional pickpocket who seemed to play much larger than his nondescript 5’10” frame. Given the growing pains the Bobcats endured at times at Quarterback, it seems rather extraordinary that Noah ended the year with 809 total receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions. Robust numbers to be sure. I watched him on the basketball court at the Jamboree the other night and I’d argue Pafford has some of the best feet I’ve seen. Great balance and easy, surprising lift. Again, it’s interesting to imagine what he might have been in more established circumstances; what kind of obscene Cory Miller-esque stat totals Kevin Krietemeyer might have coaxed from him. On face value thought, the young man remains an undeniable upper-echelon high school receiver in these parts.


TODD KELLY, WR, Unity/Payson

WHY HE’S HERE: Clearly not prototype height, that’s for sure (just kidding TK) The Tri-State’s premier slot receiver certainly helped smooth the transition from Brodie Dunker to Taylor Klusmeyer in the Mustang Offense, affording both quarterbacks a dynamic catalyst around which to anchor the passing game. Anyone who has seen Todd play fully knows the book on the kid. Relentlessly productive in his role, Kelly has caught some 50 passes over the last two years for nearly 1000 total receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. For his Senior year, TK finished with 26 receptions, 396 yards and three touchdowns as defenses had better opportunity to collapse on him absent the Cory Millers and Jared Dunkers of the past. Still, Kelly is 5’8’ of pure competitor, toughness, and reliability. Dilligent, dare I say OCC level route runner who catches anything thrown in his direction. More germane to his skill set, I love just how quickly Todd works up field after the ball gets to his hands. He obsessively hunts yards and maximizes his touches. Hit him on the slant, he’s burner enough to shed defenders and make home run type. It’s his ability to make something out of nothing in tight quarters; to put his shoulder down and burrow when plays look doomed that speaks to Todd’s heart and fight. And in that respect, he’s a pretty darned fun dude to have at your disposal as a Quarterback, especially in a must have situation on third down.


BRADY GILLILAND, TE, Quincy Notre Dame

WHY HE’S HERE: We debated him here on both sides of the football (Defensive End, where he led QND with a team high four Quarterback Sacks) which should serve as a nice indicator to just what a fine climb Brady made in bouncing back from myriad career injuries to finish out his Senior Year on a strong note. I am going to fully cop here though to allowing his gigantic first half at Macomb in front of my camera as being the primary push here for Gilliland to land on this honors team and to be honored at Tight End. It was in that Max-Q moment that we saw all of the best attributes at the kids disposal put to great offensive use: the terrific length (not just his 6’4” 215 pound frame, but his out of the football lab wingspan) the soft hands, and the ability carve up the field after the catch with impressive burst at his size. That same wicked first step that allowed him to so easily turn the corner on Offensive Tackles made him a YAC nightmare for opponents: too quick for the guys at the first level of the defense, too big and powerful for the dudes in the back. Obviously, playing with Jackson Connell and Reed Hyer, Brady didn’t get as many targets as he probably should have given the profile he holds. He did land 11 total receptions, four of which went for touchdowns. That’s nice value. As is a 17.7 yards per catch average that rivals even the most explosive of Deep Threats on this list. If I am a college coach scouring our area for hidden value, Gilliland would be a great place to start. Keep him healed up and he’s got impressive raw tools and a tremendous work ethic here that scream “recruiting steal” down the road.


Third Team


AARON SHOOT, Quincy High



BRETT MONROE, Scotland County



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: Fair warning, I will be drafting the eight best guys here, regardless of position on the Offensive Line. And as circumstance would have it, five of the top eight Linemen on my board were all Centers. We will just play the hand dealt and work accordingly. Levett might be the best pure athlete playing offensive line, which served him well in over-delivering relative to his size. What he lacked in prototype dimensions, Levett was able to account for in fire and mobility. And he did so well enough that there is an argument to made that the kid was the Clarence Cannon Conference’s best overall blocker. He received Unanimous All League accord for his work fronting a Tiger Offense that scored 365 points and generated 4218 total yards. Shane is a weight room-strong kid who plays with a mean streak and great leverage. In short, all of the attributes that have made him such an impactful defender the last two years have served Shane well in attacking defenses on the other side of the ball. He relishes contact and he’s good at both initiating and finishing it. I only saw Macon in person once and the job Levett and his mates did in neutralizing Palmyra’s defensive front was plenty impressive. It’s a little thing, but Levett does a great job snapping the football and I would suspect his presence as a pass blocker went a long ways in aiding Nash Waller’s warp speed ascent at Quarterback this season.



THE SKINNY: Proof positive that most Offensive Lines are only as good as their Center. We were warned preseason that the Panther Offensive Line would be large. Kollen Hughes certainly added to that profile with his 6’2” 290 pound frame. His skill level blasting people off the line, however, was a revelation. The Panther Junior showed unexpected mobility and a willingness to work up field after the initial block. But it’s that initial block that really earned Hughes his love here. He does a magnificent job getting his hands into the Defender across from him and an even better job nullifying the effectiveness of that defender once he’s locked him up. I like that Kollen blocks with wide hands; all of our video has him locked into his defender with his hands on the outside of the shoulders; thus allowing him to use his considerable natural strength to not only hold guys in check, but turn or even bulldog them any direction he so chooses. The lower body work is pretty good as well. Keeps the feet chopping and seemed to play with good wind even into the second half of games; which speaks to good conditioning for a guy his size. I realize it isn’t as applicable here but Kollen’s base and handwork shined on the rare pass blocking opportunities he has. He has a chance to play at the next level with some refining in the weight room of his body, but the base skill level is encouraging as his aggression. Everybody on the planet knew exactly what Central wanted to do on offense. Few could stop them from running the ball straight down opponents throats anyway. That is quite a compliment to Kollen and his offensive line mates here, some 3300 rushing yards later



THE SKINNY: Other guys have received a greater share of the individual credit for the last two years now, but I’ve seen as many Titan Games in person as any media guy who isn’t simply dedicated to Hancock County sports: Kolton Johnson is the unsung hero at the heart of so much of their success. He’s an absolutely terrific punter, the safety net of the entire defense with his steady, unfailingly disciplined play. And he’s been the quiet storm at the center of what for two years now has been Western Illinois indisputably best Offensive Line. And whether it was Caleb Adams last year or Andrew Harris this season, everyone else seems to ignore just how relentlessly effective Kolton Johnson is coming off the football and clearing the fullback run lane every single play. This is an offense that produced 450 total points and 4566 total yards this Fall. And it all starts with Kolton’s ability to make that initial block to trigger everything. He’s done it at Center. He could do it at Guard or Tackle if need be. He’s a perfect storm of mobility, strength, intelligence and aggression. Ask Will Fox or Bryce Wilson, two different 1000 yard rushing fullbacks, who both thrived under his aegis. Or ask Riley Langford, the Titans speedy 1300 yard Tailback who often found a downfield caddy on his better runs as Kolton Johnson would blitz his way to the second and third level just looking for guys to pick off. His ethic to run to the football and just pop whoever crossed his radar was applicable on both sides of the football. And the weight room gains he’s made, in both lower body strength and upper body mass have made him the Titans equivalent of a football torpedo in just knocking guys to the ground. It’s a simple litmus test here. Watch the highlights of every great run the Titans amassed this year and instead of watching the running backs, keep your gaze on Kolton and see how much ground he covers, how many different kids he hits, and where he ends those plays relative to his point A at the center of the Titan line and show me another O-Lineman in Tri-State Football with a better work rate. Spoiler alert: you can’t and you won’t. Case closed.



THE SKINNY: Death. Taxes. And Jim Newsted-coached Offensive Linemen on the postseason Honor Roll. And no, I am not on some bizarre mission this year to field a Do or Die Team O-Line comprised of nothing but kids who play Center. Brett Huffington was arguably the Panthers best Offensive Player this season, a Unanimous First Team All Clarence Cannon Conference Pick with the outlier ability to snap the football and pulverize the guy across from him in one warp speed motion. The 6’1” 240 pound Senior was blessed with a broad set of shoulders and a fundamental understanding of how to use them as a weapon. And that netted big dividends for Centralia attacking from guard to guard. Brett showed great ability, even against bigger opponents to into defenders quickly, working from low out of the stance to high with his shoulders to gain great stalemate ability against whoever was lined up across from him. It allowed him to play with superior leverage and a glue like ability to stay on his man, regardless of the size or strength of this opponent. Run blocking/pass blocking…didn’t matter. Huffington got the job done and set a fine tone for the guys around him. I know the finish to Centralia season was a bit of an anti-climax but even in the Palmyra losses late in the year, I thought Huffington was really good individually.



THE SKINNY: Hey look everybody, a real live Guard to add to our roster. And a darned good, All-NCMC/All-State certified Guard at that. Hannibal’s 2017 Football Season might have been a wildly swinging pendulum of highs and lows, but Noah Whelan was a bankable game-to-game constant. Let’s start with the obvious here: the guys plays with a pronounced, strong base. His 5’9” frame and tree trunk legs allow him to stand his ground as well as anyone. And because he plays low, with that vintage flat back style, he’s able to generate a ton of power and thusly worked defenders wherever he needs them to be to create run lanes. What he lacks in prototype wingspan, Noah makes up for in quick, strong hands. Might be the best hand fighter on this list, or at least the one who would frustrate you the most as a Defensive Linemen because he locks in so well with a strong grip and bows the backs of guys trying to push into the backfield. That’s a good talent to have. I don’t know that Mr Whelan is winning many 40 yard dashes but on all of our video, he’s a guy that looks mobile and active within five yards of the line of scrimmage. More importantly, he’s got some bulldog stubbornness to him in the way he battles guys, which was a quality of need for the Pirates in general this season. Look, I don’t know if he profiles as a next level guy (I wouldn’t be against him) because he’s not of prototype dimensions; but this was a terrific high school player who worked incredibly hard snap to snap. There’s a lot to be said for all of that. And clearly, the 3rd Team All State Nod from the MFCA signifies his value.



THE SKINNY: Set the tone for a fine Senior Season with a strong opening night effort nullifying Hannibal All-Stater Boogie Tate and forged nicely forward from there at Guard for Bill Connell. There are two things we love about Rhett that merit his inclusion here. His size and dimensions at 6’3” and 260 pounds are a huge plus. And he finishes blocks emphatically. Magee was one of the best, and most explosive down blockers we saw this season. I know that doesn’t often play on a general highlight reel, but watch him in isolation cave down up-field pursuit when he pulls or bend in half D Tackles that accidentally go high on him, and you see a ton of raw power there and an enviable desire to put people on their backs. He did that a lot. Rhett’s long arms also give him great pass blocking prowess. He’s far from a finished product but he picks up blitzes well and does a terrific job just naturally shoving even really imposing Linemen off their pass rushing lines. Makes me think Rhett could even play some Tackle effectively at the next level with more fine tuning and little more weight room seasoning. The canvas here is pretty broad and promising



THE SKINNY: Massive, brute strong human being who proved darned near impossible to deal with for 1A/2A regular season competition. There’s not a lot of art or artistry here. As a run blocker, Cal charges into defenders and defenders end up as non-factors. O’Hara is aggressive and not only sustains contact well, but will initiate it over and over again. He not only gets good push with his feet, but O’Hara’s repeated hand and (especially) shoulder shots are a devastating barrage that send smaller defenders reeling backwards anywhere from five to eight yards down the field. He is physically impossible to bull rush. And the decision to play him from a “half stance” (read no hand on the ground) has allowed him to serve as a very good backside pass blocker. He’s so strong and big, it’s just nearly impossible to get the corner on Cal and turn the edge. And as we saw in the near miss against BCC, the Beardstown Line was good enough as a collective to score points on anyone. Cal was the biggest, and I’d argue best part of that equation and thusly deserves a spot here.



THE SKINNY: I actually prefer Jonny as a gap-engulfing Defensive Linemen here, but a crying need at tackle necessitates drafting the Raider Junior here. Which is probably for the best, as Jonny is likely ticketed for O-Line duty in college. Still, I’d point out that the 6”4” 290 pounder posted 42 tackles and 4 stops for loss this season, showing not only the kind of point of attack strength you’d expect for a guy of his size; but a rare ability to shed blocking and get to the football. He was active (dare I say rangy) for a near-300 pounder and did a fantastic job protecting the Linebackers behind him. All that established, he checks all the boxes here as an off-the-assembly line Raider O-Line export. As I hinted at earlier, he’s got really good feet. I would assume the years of basketball have helped there but he plays a very fluid brand of football. And his frame offers incredible growth potential once a college strength and condition coach gets ahold of him. I think he’s smart enough to play both tackles. He’s quick enough that the Raiders actually pulled him out ahead of receiver screens…effectively. And his pass blocking potential is incredible, given his ability to stop an onrushing lineman dead in his tracks with that hand shiver of his. And his long frame makes it hard to finesse him or speed rush the kid to the outside edge. He’s really well designed for this kind of work. Jonny is afforded another year in the high weight room and the amount of time he spends in a squat rack this Winter likely determines the level of college football he gets to play on scholarship in the Fall of 2019. The ceiling is variable, but very high on the top end. He plays a little top-strong as a high schooler. And he can get away with that at this level. Heck, he pushed no less than Evan Allen into a pancake block this year. His “jab” is that considerable. But thigh/calve push is his ticket to being able to blast college level D-Lineman off the ball and at times this year that part of the schematic was a little quieter on Bottorff than was congruent with the rest of his profile. Look, part of that is still being a relative pup. He’s a powerhouse wine that needs a very of aging. But man if he adds that z-in-the-knee type explosiveness to the rest of the equation here, Jonny can be as good coming out of High School as any of the already luminous names in the rich tradition of QND Offensive Line exports.


Second Team Selections










Third Team Selections


YARID RUIZ, Beardstown

DAVID JENSEN, Routt Catholic

TREVOR ANTHONY, Clopton/Elsberry






First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: I’d surmise that if the Mustangs had found their way back into the postseason or found some other way to elevate the programs overall profile this Fall, Dak Ehrhardt would have been in Dekalb as part of the All State festivities. Guys on sub-500 teams don’t tend to get a lot of love on the postseason awards circuit, regardless of how dominant they may have been. The Mustang Senior proved himself a very unique talent, mixing Linebacker speed and mobility with the ability to generate point of attack force well beyond what his 205 pound frame would have suggested. He’s a guy who we saw routinely overpower much bigger opponents…when he wasn’t just simply beating them off the snap count and burning the edges on the corner. The sixty tackles he notched demonstrates the range of an extra-Linebacker. And we saw it again on his strip-away touchdown in the wild comeback win over Calhoun. Dak rushed the passer as well as anyone in our region this year, bagging eight quarterback sacks. And he invaded opposing backfields to the tune of 12 stops for loss. And he did much of this without a lot of Defensive “coverage” working on his behalf. There was no real inducement not to double team the kid and yet he was still this level of dominant. Not sure what his football future holds or what position he would man at the next level. Bottom line is Dak has a proven talent for destruction and a relentless pursuit gear that will translate whatever and wherever he lands in a scheme.



THE SKINNY: Awesome kid with great football bloodlines (his dad played for Steve Spurrier at Duke) and boundless reserves of energy. Much has been made of Evan’s severe hearing impairment, which has certainly made for an inspirational story line. I defy you to find one piece of video evidence that suggests it has in any way hampered his on-field performance. If anything, I think Evan’s concentration and ability to read the snap count with eyes, rather than ears has served to heighten his ability to get off the football. And for a kid who is 6’4” and 230 some odd pounds, Evan does that exceedingly well. What I love about him is just how dogged he is in pursuit. He just never, ever gives up on a play. Look, take nothing away from Allen because he checks all of the skill level boxes but I’d argue the majority of his best contributions to the Pirate Defense were all “hustle plays” more than spectacular displays of physical skill. He just works so hard and relentlessly Evan puts himself in great position to great his own good fortune. And yes, his imposing natural strength (he’s got his own equivalent of a crocodile death roll tackle) and terrific motor tend to flat wear out Offensive Linemen charged with trying to stay in front of the guy. He exhausts opponents relatively quickly because he never takes a down off. It’s an all-out-war with a runaway bull of a kid every single snap. Most high school offensive linemen down have the kind of conditioning to handle that. Evan posted six quarterback sacks and four TFL this Fall (again, that hustle yields dividends) in route to Third Team All State accord from the Missouri Coaches Association as well as First Team NCMC honors. And to be honest, I still think Evan is kind of a pup is just scratching the surface of what he might be with continued football. His body potential and his work ethic is the kind of stuff that college strength and conditioning coaches dream about. And he is one of those rare kids who never makes the same mistake twice. Those are a lot of intangible pluses on a kid with a plus body type. Just saying, college coaches.



THE SKINNY: Division One Shot Putter pledge (South Dakota) who may well be possessed of the best point-of-attack strength of any player in Tri-State Football. To some degree, I think learning the art of throwing has made Andy a more fluid football player as well. No, he’s not going to dance a ballet for anyone but Bird has developed a lot more range the last two years and isn’t just a one-gap kid anymore. He gets incredible drive off the line of scrimmage and I can’t tell you how much video over the last two years I have of Andy essentially forming the base of every pile. While he makes an inordinate number of splash plays (56 stops, 6 TFL, 3 QB Sacks) for an interior lineman, the unsung Andy Bird contribution here is his ability to gum up the works on an offense. It’s not a credited skill by stats, but it is easily observable when you watch him. Bird creates a ton of tackle opportunities for the guys behind or beside him simply by collapsing a lineman, getting his arms around a backs legs as they start to go North/South, and stopping them cold until someone else flies up and finishes the stat line. And Andy is strong enough to do this often with just one arm, while using the other to fight off a blocker. It’s a pretty unique talent. I give Bird a ton of credit for maturing and learning to better harness his fire as a Senior. He’s still a fiery kid (and that’s part of his appeal) but his temperament worked against him (and his team) far less in 2017. He had a nifty talent for making spark plays as well that would ramp up the energy of the entire group. Enthusiastic, talented kid on the first line of defense for a unit that gave up just 14.7 ppg this season. That is a telling indicator of the dominance Andy helped incite for his team in the trenches.



THE SKINNY: He amassed 178 total tackles over the last two seasons; the team leader in stops both years running. And he plays Nose Tackle. Do I really need to say much more here? That defies all rational football convention. And yet here we are with Jeffrey Smoot; a force of nature off the football who pairs pocket-caving strength with the range of an Outside Linebacker. There may be no Defensive Lineman in the Midwest who spent less time actually blocked than Smoot. You really can’t run away from him. And it’s foolhardy to run directly at him. I don’t know what the answer is here. And neither do far smarter football men than I as no one in the Cannon seemed to get him effectively negated over the last two years. He finished the season with five tackles for loss and a pair of Quarterback sacks as well; a slight decline from his Junior season in the splash play department but I suspect this stems more from folks selling out up front not to let Smoot squash their Quarterback than any real attrition in his skills. And consider, this was a really good year for Centers in the Cannon. Smoot still got the job done. Two of his strongest games came against Monroe City and Clark County, so clearly he’s good when the lightest are brightest. Again, Jeffrey Smoot is just a tremendously strong, driven kid who plays football with old school abandon and uncanny production.



THE SKINNY: You could spend a lot of effort and focus a number of different directions in debating the topic of just who was Clark County’s best overall player this season. I’d put my money here, no disrespect to any of the other Indians. In a Conference that seems to produce two to three All State caliber Defensive Linemen every single year, it seems like Jack Hunziker has never really gotten his due and proper. And yet no one had a better statistical campaign than the Indian Senior, who hammered and hustled hids way to 100 total tackles, five quarterback sacks and ten stops for loss. Watching Jack in isolation, you get a great sense of the enormous force he generates off the football, even when he isn’t involved in the final tackle. This is a Defensive End with Nose Tackle Size and Strength. Jack comes off the ball exceptionally low and there is no give to him, either against the guys who try to block him or when he gets into a running back’s legs. He does a tremendous job shedding blocking, often defeating O-Linemen on first jarring pop and reads the backfield very quickly and analytically from there. And I think it’s incredibly telling as to his heart how many times you see Jack come from the backside of a play to make a tackle. He gets down the line of scrimmage with surprising agility and explosion for a guy of his size. And again, he’s a really good finisher when he gets his target in radar. Clark County had a pretty amazing year, all things considered. Not sure anyone played a bigger stake in that than this First Team All Cannon Conference mauler.



THE SKINNY: Stellar work in the trenches on both sides of the football helped elevate the nascent Sparclone program to new heights this Fall and Mynatt was arguably the best two-way BWP Lineman in the mix. Brody earned Second Team All-Prairieland honors for both his blocking and tackling, but with a logjam already at Center on this team, we draft him here for D-Line duty. Mynatt was an irrepressible force when I saw Brody in person against Illini West; a hard charging battering ram that left the Chargers O-Line befuddled and completely out of sorts. There’s no magic elixir here. Brody is a guy who just likes to scrap and hit people and he works relentlessly on every snap to get that opportunity. What he lacks in ideal measurable, Brody makes up for in lower body strength, guile, and constantly chopping feet that work to get him where he wants to be. That motor netted him 61 total tackles this Fall, the third highest total on his team. He also fought his way to five tackles for loss and a quarterback sack. Mynatt ripped away three fumbles as well. This is a guy who maximized the advantages that had; some that people from the outside looking in likely discounted and willed himself into being a helluva football player. He’s a super deserving kid here.


Second Team Picks

GRANT PEEBLES, Pleasant Hill/Western

WHY HE’S HERE: Books his return ticket to the Do or Die Team on the heels of a Senior Season that saw him bag 90 tackles off the edge for the Wolves with 15 stops for loss and seven quarterback sacks. First Team All WIVC South pick who is one of the great untapped recruiting gems in our region, hidden away as he is in Pike County. He has a developmental 6’4” frame, long wingspan, and oodles of natural toughness. Not to mention nimble feet honed through all that work in the paint for Blake Skillman’s basketball squad.


TYLER KORN, West Hancock

WHY HE’S HERE: The ensemble nature of the Titan Defense doesn’t really serve anyone well in the statistics department but anyone who has watched Tyler Korn over the last two seasons can attest that the big 250 pounder can run and hit and make good things happen. He finished the year with 54 tackles, but had some of his biggest games of the campaign against the best opponents, including a 10 stop night at Bismarck-Henning’s expense. His abilty to disrupt here evidence by the eight tackles for loss he posted. His Junior Year Interception vs Fulton remains one of my favorite Defensive highlights of the last few years. Puppy dog enthusiasm, Pit Bull fight. He’s a keeper.


TY JACKSON, Illini West

WHY HE’S HERE: The Chargers Junior Tackle is far from a finished product and needs to get more consistent play-to-play. By the same token, the high end in his game is a beguiling tease. We are talking about a 6’2” 290 pound man mountain who has shown the ability to really get off the ball. He made a tackle for loss against Peoria Quest this Fall that displayed ferocious gap splitting ability and a lot more acceleration that a kid this size should have. He finished the year with 35 tackles and six stops for loss. He also had a pair of Quarterback sacks along the way. When he makes himself a factor, he is indeed a big factor. If he does that in nine, rather than five games next year, we are talking about a guy who could play bigly on postseason awards stage.



WHY HE’S HERE: From where I stood, he was the most impressive player on the field for QHS in a very disappointing opening night loss. Frenetic energy kid who clearly poured his whole heart into the run and chase game. Honestly, prior to the snap count, he was one of the most non-descript looking dudes on the field. Between the whistles, however, Fross was a blur of activity with tremendous mobility and considerable up-field charge for a guy who again was an undersized lineman. That relentless fight and diligence to purpose made Fross one of the most prolific Quarterback hunters in the game, with seven sacks this season. That’s a nice stat to throw at you to quantify his value if you haven’t seen him play. I was less impressed with the stats in this award than his approach. Guile, hustle, and grit get you a long way in this world, regardless of the end goal. Fross seems to have that figured out at a very young age and he’s used it to field-tipping effect on the gridiron.



WHY HE’S HERE: No defense improved more from last season to this and while the Tigers outstanding Linebackers got plenty of attention for this ascent, Beardstown’s Defensive Line was the hidden hero here. Lopez looked fantastic to me in camp this Summer, both in profile as an off-the-assembly line looking Defensive End with size and length and eventually in performance as well. This was guy who kind of figured it out this season, gained confidence in his skills and physicality and turned himself into a true impact player and All WIVC Selection. He nabbed 44 total tackles this season against the run and really finely honed his Quarterback stalking skills with six sacks.



WHY HE’S HERE: He was the Hornets best blocker, perhaps the last two years running. And he was largely honored thusly on the postseason circuit for his Offensive Line contributions. That’s great for awards thing. If you are building an actual dream team however, what’s the point of having Skyler Moorman on your team if you aren’t taking advantage of his ability to clobber people? He plays ticked off. He gets after people. He’s a tackler who actually tackles with real debilitating impact (rare in this day and age) and possesses the lost art of actually popping running backs off their feet. His numbers were good (47 tackles, 5 TFL) in Jared Hoots collective scheme and he brought some needed swagger and panache to the equation here. Tom Little likened Moorman to the Hornets version of Clay Matthews (naturally) and his penchant for creating big plays was a needed ingredient here.


JAKE COLE, Illini West

WHY HE’S HERE: Terrific looking Junior who may well top the list of Western Illinois Linemen by this time next season. Was tipped off in camp this Summer to his potential ascent by a Charger Insider and that advice is starting to looking incredibly astute. Demonstrated great big play ability with team highs in QB Sacks (six) and Tackles for Loss this Fall (eight) and gives Lyle Klein that potential rainmaker next season on Defense this squad desperately needs to take the next step. I look at him and see a lot of Cole Pennewell type potential. He’s got an even better frame than the Monroe City superstar to build on at 6’2” and clearly he’s a guy who knows how to make strides in the weight room. A young man worth keeping tabs on going into next season because he could bridge a lot of different gaps in Charger Country next Fall in important ways.


Third Team Picks




BRETT HALL, South Shelby



JARED MILBY, Concord Triopia



First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: I would not ever presume to use the Brett Taylor landmark as a compass point for anyone’s college career. Heck, even Macomb-era Brett Taylor himself wasn’t the fully formed football creature of destruction in High School he is today as an All American at Western Illinois. What I do think is fair in this instance to point out, however, is that Breck Hancock is most productive four year high school linebacker starter this region has produced since Taylor; perhaps even since Bryce Johnson. And that counts for a lot. Look, I realize this season was a quagmire for the Coyotes from the jump. Roster erosion left the team with just 18 dressed bodies most nights. It also forced Gary Crusha into the inelegant position of having to start a 220 pound All State Linebacker at Quarterback out of necessity. Wasn’t Breck just an Offensive Linemen a few minutes ago? Like I said, very weird dynamic and credit to Breck for doing the Signal Caller thing without complaint and often at a much better level of proficiency than any of us realized. That’s just an added gold star to a different kind of resume. Bottom line, Breck is now and has always been a Bulldozer, not a Ferrari. And in his Bulldozer mode, all Hancock did was hunt the field for bodies to drop to the turf. 508 of them in all, putting him into the MSHSAA All Time Top Ten list for career tackles. In other words, an all-timer in terms of productivity in state annals. Numerically, history demonstrated that if you plugged a healthy Breck Hancock into the lineup, you could bank on 130 total tackles on the season. He debuted with 133 as a ninth grader and topped the 130 threshold two of his next three years; limited to 110 in an injury plagued Junior campaign. While Breck has gotten bigger and stronger over the course of his career, his knack for pursuit angles has remained the cornerstone of his work. He simply is really good at getting where he needs to be and arriving with impact. He takes on Offensive Linemen as well as anyone on this list. And he’s maintained big play ability with 49 tackles for loss (Breck posted a career low nine stops for loss this season, indicative of how little the Coyote Coaching Staff could gamble with him on a depleted squad) six quarterback sacks and three interceptions. He’s receiving oodles of recruiting attention from some really strong D2 and NAIA programs and I suspect he will be made an even better player by getting to practice with guys more of his talent ilk on a daily basis. He’s been a good one and a fitting punctuation mark to a fine family football tradition in Coyote Country.



THE SKINNY: I have concocted a theory to properly quantify Darian Drake’s relative value to his team, vis-à-vis everyone else who plays the Linebacker position. I call it the Jenga Theory. For those not in the know, Jenga is a game based on the principal of structural support. You pull pieces away from a greater whole, a towering mass of blocks, hopping the item you choose doesn’t collapse the entire enterprise, thus causing you to lose. D Drake is, in football parlance, that one magical piece of the greater equation that holds everyone else around him up. And without him, the structure crumbles. His intelligence, his zeal, and mostly his toughness masked a lot of niggling issues that could have sent Brown County’s season spinning a different direction. And thusly, his relative value to his team here is immense. He was, for lack of a better word, the fail/safe of the Hornet Defense. His 71 solo tackles were nearly double his next closest teammate. His 102 combined stops dwarfed everyone else’s work rate by 40 plus tackles. I took the opportunity this Summer during the Barnstorm Tour to watch Darian in isolation and was struck by just how well he gains ground. Some Linebackers sit and lurk, hunt and peck for tackles. Drake strikes directly and his combination of low center of gravity and warp speed ability to gain ground regardless of the obstacle around him makes him look a Lion breaking on a wounded Gazelle. He’s just supper sudden and his reads are instanteous. He’s a terrific tackler as well, playing with a naturally low strung profile and all that sudden volition. He strikes low and drops guys (even bigger guys) with an effortless you find in a much bigger, stronger player. It’s Newtonian Physics, really. D. Drake has a great natural ability to gather and dole out real force; beyond that of what you would expect for a guy of his dimensions. And I will point out again, it’s really hard to take a play off or indifferent to contact when you line up next to a guy like Darian. You are made very quickly to look bad by compare. And there is an old school ethic to the kid that makes you wonder if there was an injury that would get him off the field, ever. He just effects that vibe of competitive fire and captainship. Brown County could have used about eleven more of him this Fall. I don’t care if he doesn’t pass the eye test or the scouting metrics as well as some of the guys on this list, Drake is a flat out player and a warrior. And the gravity of his play and his leadership-by-example will prove a gaping challenge to replicate.



THE SKINNY: My preseason projection that Central Lee would boast the stingiest defense in Tri-State Football fell short of the mark, but you’d be hard pressed to lay any of the blame for that at Jared Brisby’s doorstep. For my money, there was no more impactful Linebacker in Tri-State Football this season. And I can both quantify that statement with numbers and qualify it with opinion. Or if need be, I can just trot out the archive video of his Senior season. Metrically, Jared posted 90 solo tackles, which is three times more stops than any other kid on the Hawk roster. It was also the ninth highest individual tally in the state of Iowa, all classes. He also added an additional 24 assists. And if you are reading into that statement that Brisby’s inordinate number of solo stops is evidence that when he arrived to the ball carrier…all else ceased; you would not be off base. Brisby is an incredibly natural finisher who runs through his tackles. Obviously, that led to a ton of big booming hits and highlight reel material. More to my liking however, it proves in a day and age where fundamental tackling has become a lost art, Jared was coached right to continue driving his feet through contact. Accorded Second Team All-State Honors in Class 2A by the Iowa Newspapers Association, Brisby proved there is still a place in modern football for an old school Jack Lambert throwback type. Jared was the WMD of blitzing Linebackers this Fall, setting a high standard for splash play creation with 17 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. To me, however, the neater storyline here is just how well Jared Brisby maximized his athletic gifts by tirelessly working to hone his game. He started pretty darned well as a Sophomore and got better each and every year. And again, for my money, he’s the number one ranked Linebacker on our board. That’s incredibly high praise given the company he keeps here.



THE SKINNY: Swiss Army Knife type athletic versatility allowed Jackson Connell to play Wide Receiver, Running Back, Defensive Back and Outside Linebacker over the course of his QND career and will ultimately create a number of different avenues he could play at the next level. It wasn’t until watching him at the Tri-State Combine at the Do or Die Bowl two years ago that I realized just how many raw tools he has at his disposal; and in some ways the canvas of Jackson’s talents reminds me a ton of former Macomb/WIU Star Ryle Irish. For all else in his arsenal, the most weirdly outlier of his gifts as a football player might just be how nimble he has proven. Be it running routes in the Raider passing game or fighting his way through opponents blocking schemes to the football, he flows and moves to the ball deftly and without wasted steps or motion. And he adjusts agily to the obstacles thrown his way in getting where he wants to go. He’s got a long frame and should easily add weight at the college level, for those who see him as Linebacker. I still like the idea of Jackson as a next level Strong Safety, but I leave that for more qualified football evaluators (the guys who get paid for the gig) to make that determination. The bottom line here is that he had a magnificent Senior Season. The Class 4A All Stater finished with team highs in tackles (94) stops for loss(9) and Interceptions (2) including a Pick Six Interception. And underscoring that versatility point I made earlier: Jackson also led QND in Total Yards, Rushing Yardage, and Total Scoring. I short, Mr Connell led the team here…in well, leading the team. The two biggest takeaways for me in watching him play the entirety of his career now are these: Jackson is always going to be one of those kids who plays faster than his 40 time and his level of determination to get his job done is second to done. To the first point, I know Jackson has good straight line speed from watching him at the combine. But when the ball is snapped, how often do you get to run in a straight line? Maybe it’s the learned art of route running as a Wide Receiver on the other side of the ball, but Jackson’s timing to set himself up for tackle opportunities is uber-rare. He gauges it naturally and thus you see all that production. And as to the second point: go back and watch the final quarter of the QND/QHS game if you want a read on this kid’s volition. He single-handedly willed QND into that game and a late lead. That’s a kid with some broad, broad shoulders indeed.


BRADY O’HARA, OLB, Beardstown

THE SKINNY: I know this feels like an inordinate number of WIVC representatives, but hear me out here. Brady O’Hara’s numbers here are good, not great compared to the field. Admittedly. A team high 80 tackles. Three forced fumbles. A pair of Quarterback sacks. WatchO’Hara play the last two years, however, and you realize very quickly he’s a no-doubter First Team Linebacker on any list. The killer pursuit skills (though they weren’t the necessity they were a year ago for Robbi Howard as the defense around Brady make significant strides as a collective) and tremendous one-on-one tackling form first caught our eye last year. This year, the absolute certainty of O’Hara contact elevated the resume. Part of the fall-off in Brady’s numbers this season owes to the fact that opponents wised up and tried to run away from him within their offensive schemes. Still, I would argue that Brady was the most certain finisher I saw this season. Seemingly no one escaped first contact. And his ability to jump snap counts and destroy plays before they even started seemed to benefit the Tiger Defense as a whole this year, more than it did Brady. His presence and the fear factor involved in trying to get him blocked created a ton of opportunities for his teammates. He’s a dude who can without question play at the next level. I liken him to a quicker version of Hannibal’s Dalton Huffman. And if you saw the Freshman Year that kid had at Culver Stockton this season, you know how high a compliment I mean by that compare.



THE SKINNY: My favorite Linebacker on the list and easily the least intimidating looking in street clothes. At just 5’5” and a buck fifty on the scale, Noah’s profile certainly doesn’t scream “All State Caliber” Linebacker. And yet here we are. The Central Junior is a ceaselessly working dynamo who got his hat to the football on seemingly every snap. His 108 tackles were tops on his team, by 29 to spare. All Strohkirch does is relentlessly pursue to the football, attack the legs, and drop the man in front of him. It sounds elemental but it’s the root of great football. And Noah’s persistence and his technique in wrangling up often much bigger running backs bridge all the gaps. It’s about what this kid is; not what he isn’t. And what Noah Strohkirch is however, is a highly inspirational, highly productive tackler. He’s also incredibly durable and surprising strong, carrying on a 106 carry workload this season as one of the many Central alterna-backs while simultaneously holding together a very stingy Panther Defense. Would it be better if Noah was 6’3” 215lbs? Sure, for recruiting purposes. But give me a Linebacker who plays big and gives great pound-for-pound physicality over the more prototype, look-good alternative every day of the week. Strohkirch is just a darned fine High School Football player.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Admittedly, one of the only elite players in Tri-State Football this season I did not get to see play in person, for whatever reason. So if you think I am over or undervaluing Cory here, you may have a very valid point. All I can tell you is that his numbers and the archive video we have on him was pretty darned good. Moubry finished with 110 total tackles, 68 solos, and 10 stops for loss; which is All State resume real estate without question. That’s he’s played so many different roles on Offense for the Eagles the last few years, from Offensive Lineman to Feature Back this Fall, speaks to his versatility and his fortitude as an athlete. He’s a true “can do” kid. Doesn’t fit any ideal athletic profile, but he’s infinitely more athletic than you think his (at times) 1970’s mustachioed countenance (sorry Cory) and 5’10” 200 pound frame. We’ve seen it now in basketball and football, Cory has a really deceptive first step and an ability to gain instant power off of it. It’s helped him as a blocker. It’s aided him as a running back. But mostly it’s allowed him to explode through tackles and finish off intended targets one-on-one. He’s a super strong kid and close range and one of the most difficult kids to shed after initial contact; again the center of gravity and lower body strength play well. He’s one of those kids you just point in a given direction with a given directive…and then as a coach comfortably forget about because you know Cory will go out through max effort and do exactly what it is you want from him.


NICK BLACK, ILB, Pleasant Hill/Western

WHY HE’S HERE: One of the Tri-State’s true hidden gems. Do you realize Nick posted 362 tackles over the last three years? I am guessing you didn’t, largely because the Wolves have been off playoff radar until this season. In that sense, he’s kind of the Illinois version of Breck Hancock; big time brilliance squired away in a small school environment that sometimes eludes the media glare it deserves. Nick is a terrific chase down Linebacker who somehow managed to actually grow his Senior Year tackle total (to a robust 135 stops) even with the rise of super Sophomore Kody Rogers and the import of Justin Shireman from West Central around him. If you’ve watched Black play basketball, you know he’s both athletic and rough and tumble and those characteristics are only amplified when he puts on shoulder pads. He works well through contact and his ability to shed contact quickly (and usually with a nice bit of feistiness) makes him one of the toughest Linebackers in the area to keep blocked. In short, it’s very hard to clip his range. And he ranges as well as anyone, often just out of sheer desire to destroy something. Pike County toughness hewn with a ton of football savvy and again, a rare capacity to get sideline to sideline without ever getting caught up in the peripheral stuff that costs other guys tackle chances. He could play and star for any team on the list; don’t let the small school pedigree talk you out of this kid’s talent.



WHY HE’S HERE: Clark County’s designated “cleaner” posted 112 total stops this Fall and grouted together the Indians defense with his consistent, heady play and zeal for contact. In many ways, Kleine is the NEMO equivalent of Chase Hartweg. Productive, smart, and a bit underappreciated value wise unless you are playing next to him or see how many mistakes he erases. His savvy presence allows the guys around him to play to their strengths. If you miss a tackle, Chayson is more than likely to pick you up because he certainly doesn’t miss much. And he plays “heavy” in that he will jostle bigger guys and can hold his own against more sizeable offensive linemen. I suspect Senior Year Chayson Kleine is positioned to be a kid who really pops. The Indians figure to be really good collectively and that means more eyeballs this kid. When the happens, I tend to think more people will begin to appreciate what he means here and the value a run stuffer of this ilk carries within the defensive whole.



WHY HE’S HERE: The Sophomore of the Season, as far as I am concerned. And while his ability to squeeze himself through tiny slivers of space to big time rushing yardage on Offense may be been one of the most important storylines in Clark County’s ascent this Fall; it was Caleb’s relentless work on defense that had escaped my eye prior to me seeing the Indians in person. I have no idea how stopwatch fast Caleb Lapsley is, but he is freakishly sudden to the football and that is a field tilting attribute. Caleb Lapsley closes like a Lion on the weak gazelle in the herd. More accurately, he pounces. My working theory after watching him play eight straight quarters in person is that he doesn’t so much scrape off contact to the football as he does flat out fly past the guys who think they’ve drawn a bead on blocking him. Lapsley posted 123 tackles this season and not only effectively shut down his side of the field, but showed tremendous utility hunting down plays from the backside as well. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but maybe there is something to the theory of a heightening of other senses in people who suffer impairment in one of them. Caleb seems to have incredible vision. You see it watching him set up his runs and naturally finding lanes through a defense. And I saw it in the way he’d draw pursuit angles as soon as a back made his initial cut or a quarterback released the football. Lapsley would shoot off in that direction in a red blur. And when he arrived he was very fundamental as a wrap up tackler. He’s not the biggest kid in the world but he seems to understand that his quickness amplifies his force, which makes him a very fluid, natural one-piece tackler. In short, he gets guys to the ground quickly. He’s a fun watch right now. Heaven knows how good this guy is going to be in two years. But right now, he might be the most thrilling two-way prospect to emerge early in Kahoka since…(yeah, I am going to invoke the J Word here) the salad days of Javis Vineyard.


MAX HAYS, OLB, Monroe City

WHY HE’S HERE: The other real “it factor” Sophomore in the mix in Title Town who has us all believing that this current spate of great play in Monroe City is far from a one off. Max Hays has serious chops as a chase down Linebacker and difference-making quarterback tormentor. He can turn a corner on a Tackle or close the gap on running backs with jarringly quickness for a kid who is 6’2” and 205 pounds. It’s early and he’s still got some strides to make but their some very Althoff-ian shades in Max’s early career returns. He’s already a very natural finisher. And he’s only going to get bigger and stronger. He posted eight quarterback sacks on raw talent alone. He’s only going to add polish to that skill set with more reps. Again, there’s a natural sizzle to the way Max Hays plays; a palate of natural skills that suggests he can be as good here as he wants to work to be.



WHY HE’S HERE: Ninety six tackles in adding gravitas to a Quincy High Defense that really had its share of struggles stopping people. Shudder to think where this unit might have been without Brock. Voracious weight room ethic to get better and engaged leadership qualities here are a huge plus, especially for a kid who has a projectable college frame and a good feel for diagnosing an offense. He’s a very sure wrap up tackler. He stalks down backs like a Lion on the Serengeti. He’s incredibly tough and tough-minded, and played hurt better than 80% of the kids in our area did healthy. Just one guy’s opinion but I sure would have loved to see Baird in a scheme where he was turned loose more often. Nevertheless, an All Western Big Six Selection and Shrine All Star Game invitee whose best football is still ahead of him. As college prospects go, he might be the best next-level developmental back on this list.


Third Team Selections










First Team Selections


THE SKINNY: The Gold Standard Defensive Back in a gold standard year for the position. Unanimous First Team All-Conference Selection and Panther All Stater delivered timely dominance in the Secondary to fuel a postseason run in a manner this area hasn’t seen at least since Luke O’Laughlin’s record setting 2006 season for South Shelby. Granted, Dawson couldn’t match O’Laughlin for sheer volume of single season interceptions (16) but the Monroe City Seniors nine picks are amplified here because of their timeliness. He seemed to possess a talent for quashing opponent momentum at the most opportune of times for Monroe City. See also his two-pick performance in the State Championship Game. Or his back-to-back “just before halftime” touchback/back-breakers at the expense of both Westran and East Buchanan that essentially squelched all remaining comeback hope for either of them. He’s a wonderful combination of size and instinct; and as such one of the best jump ball contesters/defenders in my memory. We all throw around the world playmaker arbitrarily, usually in conjunction with Offensive Weapons. Shively was the embodiment of that as DB which is quite an unusual and special credit to his skills. He was directly responsible for 11 total takeaways this season. I’ve gushed about his hands to the point of cliché but you’ve all seen the video evidence at this point. If he touches the football, it’s Dawson’s from that point forward. Either side of the ball…end of story. He finished the year with 72 tackles, which is a fairly robust number for DB even over the course of 15 games. What that metric doesn’t tell you is that Dawson had a nice penchant for leveling those opponents who strayed across his radar, making sure they felt the hit as well. Those are all really concrete examples of his value here and how it resulted in a State Title for Monroe City. What you can’t derive from his resume is the level of passion and intelligence he infused into the overall mix. This is the point that I think is lost on too many people. Monroe City didn’t just win a strap because they had the most athletic skill positions and the biggest, nastiest Linemen. Sure, they had more of that then most; but less than some. The thing people miss here is that Monroe City’s lynchpin kids: Shively, Jonathon Saxbury, Cole Pennewell, Blake Hays et al were all plus additions to the roster with their intangibles as well. That’s a high degree of leadership and example…for a team that also has a ton of that same commodity already in tow with lesser known but hardly less important cement pieces like a Nathan Maher or Michael Ryan or Brad Cheek. This team was as good collective between the ears and in the center of the chest as it was gifted. That’s pretty rare. You should get one Dawson Shively every seven years maybe. Monroe City had a bumper crop by compare and that probably explains this season better than anything else. Character, talent, passion and work ethic. No one embodied that better than Mister Shively. And coupled with a rare ability to win the football mid-air, that’s a combination I wouldn’t love forward to having to replace next Fall



THE SKINNY: For our money, Riley Langford had the best two-way impact of any kid in Western Illinois this Fall. You might recall he was our Midway Point Defensive Player of the Year on Duerrisms…right up until opponents finally caught wise after the QND game and stopped throwing the football anywhere in his direction. Riley also happened to double as a rapier-sharp carver of defenses on the other side of the ball; finishing with almost 14 hundred rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns. The All State nod here just kind of explains itself, now doesn’t it? As good as he looked darting through defenses futilely reduced to Keystone Cop-level tackling attempts, I still hold that Riley’s greatest football value comes a shutdown corner. I have no idea how fast Riley actually is. But after watching him for a couple of years both on the gridiron and as Reno Pinkston’s lead guard, I surmise Mister Langford gets to “fast” as quickly as anyone around. Just for fun, go back and look at Riley’s game winning screen pass reception against QND. It’s maybe the only time all year Langford took a straight line avenue to an end zone. You don’t really get a running start as a Receiver on a play call of that nature. And yet in a blink, Riley looked like there wasn’t a kid on the field who could find the right chase down angle to get near him, let alone tackle him. You see it in basketball when he decides to uncork that first step and get to the rim. He is by defenders before most defenders realize what is happening. And that’s what makes him so good breaking on the thrown football as a DB. He covers far more ground (in short order) that most quarterbacks ever realize a high school kid is capable of covering. Maybe it’s because Langford doesn’t look the part. He’s only 5’11” and 170 pounds and pretty non-descript looking in pads…until or unless the football is near him. Then he’s an absolute monster. He ended the year with four picks (all of them early) and translated that into 104 yards of return goodness. The 44 tackles he posted might now set tongues wagging as a stat line, but he was solid in that department when the chances came his way. In full disclosure, if West Hancock’s season hadn’t ended against Maroa Forsyth, I think Riley would be reaping an even better grade of reward from us here. And even at that, we still had him as a Top Five area player overall. The popularity of teammate Chase Hartweg in the fan-vote portion of our on-line polls cost him Illinois Defensive MVP honors here as well, but I would have been more than satisfied had Riley Langford ended up the winner there as well. Certainly a deserving talent and terrific young man in every sense of the world. The guy made me happy the other day when I interviewed him for SAW and he changed his tune to now say that Football would be the likely course he pursued in college over basketball; long rumored to be his favorite sport. He is going to an absolute steal for someone and a guy who holds the banner high for both scholastic and sports success at whatever institution is lucky enough to land a young man of such impeccable personal character.



THE SKINNY: Sure, there’s more to being a truly great Defensive Back than just being an interception hoarding machine. But as interception hoarding machines go, Braxden Neil was a benchmark setting revelation. His early season avalanche of interceptions put him on radar for a Tri-State football community that knew little about him coming into the year. It also nicely served to draw the eye to the Panther Senior and make us all realize there was a pretty good all-around defender to be found here. He ended up the season with nine picks in just 12 games, the most prodigious such rate of per-game takeaway in our area. He just kind of a long stretchy player with a nose for the football. Teammate Jacob Kroeger was guy who made spectacular interceptions and highlight reel breaks to the football. In contrast, I thought Neil was much more workman-like in his approach. The thinking man’s gambler, if you will, who excelled at maximizing his windows and opportunities. Granted, he’s got darned impressive reflexes. For the most part, however, I thought Neil excelled thinking the game. You don’t get to be in the right place at the right time this many times by luck. Great feel for the position coupled with a combination of length and burst that made him very difficult for wide receivers to contend when the ball was in the air and possession was in doubt. I’d point out as well that Braxden averaged 4 tackles for game and bagged three tackles for loss. Give his Defensive Coaches credit for employing Braxden to maximum effect and to Neil himself for embracing a very specific role and honing his individual craft into a best fit weapon profile. It earned him First Team All CCC plaudits and an air-tight reason to be included here; which says a lot for a young man whose lack of advance notice didn’t portend this level of production coming in.


ZEB RINEY, Clark County

THE SKINNY: The best football “rookie” in the Tri-States and I am not sure it was even close for second place. Heck you could argue, if so inclined, that Zeb Riney’s decision to come out for Football after a stellar basketball career and Cannon Conference Player of the Year worthy Baseball campaign might have been as big a field-tipper as there was in our area this Fall. Without Zeb Riney, does anyone think this wonderful Indian win-streak and subsequent Final Four appearance remotely possible? His impact, on both sides of the ball proved seismic. He gave Ethan Allen the home run threat his offense lacked a year ago and Zeb paid immediate dividends in taking a swing pass from London Brunk to the house in game one against no less than the Monroe City Panther Defense. And he just kept making resonant big plays from there. Honestly, though, it was his back tier play in the Secondary, particularly during that stretch run that wowed us. He had a spectacular pick in the District Final against Palmyra and followed it up a week later with a pair of resonant interceptions at critical times to suffocate North Callaway’s offense at critical junctures in the Sectional Game. In that moment, I remember thinking two things: 1) that kid is the best player on this field right now (and there were a lot of really good players on that field and 2) how dominant would Zeb have been if he had played Football for four years? He’s just kind of an athletic prodigy and I’d argue the best three sport boys athlete in our area. Show me another kid who could earn All State in Football, Basketball and Baseball this year. (I’ll wait) That diamond logic applies: he’s got every tool in the box at his disposal. The years of baseball and poking away steals on the hardwoods have given him ridiculous hands (see also his one-handed pick versus Riley Langford in the end zone of the West Hancock game) He covers huge chunks of ground in a hurry. And he’s a relentlessly “all business” kid without a showboat bone in his body. It think not only Zeb’s maturity, but his actual maturity of purpose in life serves him well in all that he does, on the field and in the classroom. And his success as pitcher on the diamond shows the meticulous and calculating way he thinks the game he plays. The Clark County Coaching staff loves him and it’s easy to see why. He represents his community, school and family with a sublime amount of quiet, competitive class.



THE SKINNY: The WIVC’s “next big thing” staged quite an arrival in his Junior Season, with the kind of two-way impact that puts him in smack dab on Player of the Year radar for next Autumn. Having watched him now in a couple of different sports, there is a polish and easy fluidity that speaks to a next ability. Be it breaking on a steal on the hardwoods, chasing down a line drive, or making a fall sprawl catch like the one he turned in against Routt, Zach Thompson has a pulse quickening “it” factor that echoes in this league in a way we haven’t seen maybe since Alger Saldana. We debated sides of the ball for First Team honors here with Zach, but never inclusion. That has to tell you something about his season. From our vantage point, even amidst one of the most impressive Secondary classes in my memory, Thompson’s seven interception turn in just nine games was tough to ignore. It made him a First Team North Division Selection and speaks to his unreal ability to adjust to the football, even while in “flight” What I tend to think gets overlooked here is Zach’s aggression and activity rate against the run, which saw him post 101 stops this Fall. That 54 of those were solo stops again belies that he’s not only quick to the football, but pretty darned effective when he gets there. Don’t be surprised if Zach bounces to the other side of the Football for Senior Year plaudits, thought. I tend to think no one will throw in his direction next season. And he’s an already proven “get him the ball and let the fun ensue” factor with over 1200 yards of total offense as a Junior in “complimentary” usage to Michael Burns, including 7 yards per carry and 20 yards per reception averages. That kids, is explosion personified. And I tend to think he will obliterate the 14 total touchdowns he produced this year. Just a really intriguing set piece for his Pops moving forward.


GAGE DODGE, Scotland County

THE SKINNY: I thought this a really astute, almost avant-garde pick on our part…right up until everyone else in the region started releasing their All-Everything teams and Gage Dodge was prominently featured on every last one of them. Some super sleuth I turned out to be. The Tiger Senior’s charms were unmistakably obvious to everyone who saw him play this Fall and why not with 54 tackles, 5 picks, and three quarterback sacks on the final balance sheet. Maybe not to this level, but Gage has been doing this for a couple of seasons now. The consummate scrappy gamer, if you will. Savvy football player whose engine revs with go-kart level RPM all the time. He times blitzes. He sizes up his hits well. He uses his low center of gravity to bruising effect. Fearlessly attacks bigger players. And on offense, he gets into space and makes things happen. Really, what more can you ask? He’s not very big obviously, but size has never really worked much against Dodge because he does a great job playing to his long suits. I know their numbers were up and down as a collective, but I actually thought at optimum play, the Scotland County defense was pretty formidable, even with thin numbers. Gage Dodge embodied that ethic and approach really well. He’s a self-made success story who clearly put in the work on all fronts to rise to a level of performance I don’t know that we so-called experts saw coming in August. Bully for you Gage.



THE SKINNY: First Team All-Conference. Third Team All State. Wyatt Waelder has more utile applications than your latest IPhone upgrade. He’s a guy with the athletic prowess to play every Offensive Skill position on the field as well as all four Defensive Back and in a pinch both Outside Linebacker slots. He was essentially Mark St Clair’s Skeleton Key in 2017 and while Hannibal’s season didn’t live up to expectation, Wyatt himself was worthy of the hype. He’s a three sport athlete who has really impressed me at another level on the basketball court this year. I know that may not be entirely material to this conversation per se. But it also kind of is because watching Wyatt create his own shot and uncoil his jumper is a glimpse into the natural grace of his motion. There’s not a lot of wasted motion in anything he does; compact movements that come with difficult to discern (and counter) stretches of ready quickness. He’s smooth and he’s uniquely gifted to blanket all kinds of receivers as such. He runs with big guys and fast guys alike and not only rarely loses contact with them, but has the ability to correct on the fly. That’s not a teachable skill as much as it is Wyatt being smart and quick and understanding how to use his body to his betterment, applicable to the given situation. He’s really very gifted at that talent, above all else. There are other guys in Tri-State Football who have better numbers to trot out here. I just know that I’d likely take Wyatt over those dudes if afforded the chance because I know that he is that he can and will cover effectively and for four quarters. And it doesn’t matter the Wide Receiver you throw at him. He will find a way to get that man locked down.


Second Team Selections


WHY HE’S HERE: Transitioned from Linebacker to Defensive Back this Fall to infuse stability to the back end of the Panther Defense and did so effectively enough to earn First Team All Cannon honors in the process. Not a huge surprise for anyone who has ever watched Kaiden run to or with the football. Tough kid with seemingly effortless ability to cut through traffic and get where he wants to go. Davenport finished third on his team in total tackles (48) and second on the squad in solo stops, while posting a pair of interceptions and three tackles for loss. He’s long been an effective pound-for-pound tackler and giving him a longer run to contact only amplified his impact. Kaiden also led Centralia in All Purpose Yards on offense and scored nine total touchdowns; proving himself one of the most ubiquitous weapons in NEMO Football.



WHY HE’S HERE: Most years, Trenten’s 2017 resume would have been shoo-in First Team material here. The logjam of Secondary Stars in Tri-State Football however made for some very difficult cuts and Teel’s might have been the hardest on this list. He was a heady, aggressive cornerstone for David Roddis this Fall, posting 41 total tackles and a team high five interceptions along the way, as well as a forced fumble and a defensive touchdown. The Sparclones were kind of a weirdly impressive defensive unit; disparate pieces that fit together nicely to make the whole more effective than the sum of the parts in allowing just 20.7 points per game. Teel certainly isn’t the kind of kid who is going to intimidate anyone walking onto the field at 5’8” and maybe 150 pounds, but he packed ample force for guy that size and was really effective/persistent as a tackler. Trenten was a First Team Prairieland Pick but I am not sure even that award properly quantifies his value to his team here. Smart, inspirational guy deserved of high marks for both is leadership and production.



WHY HE’S HERE: Few teams improved as much from August to November as the young Mark Twain Tigers, proving the value of the few Seniors Karl Asbury had at his disposal. You’d like to think the example Lincoln Talbott set with his aggressive chase down work from the back tier of the defense will resonate for years to come with impressionable teammates; because Mr Talbott certainly did it right. Lincoln put up tackle numbers that dwarfed many a Linebacker, with 103 stops this Fall and a team best 79 solo stops to help cement a First Team All-EMO selection to close out his career. Granted, he probably saw far too many tackle chances early on waiting for things to sure-up in front of him but looking back at our video of him, Lincoln did a tremendous job wrapping up and doggedly hanging on to and dragging down his intended targets. It’s my contention the Tri-State Community would have a greater appreciation for the kid had he played on a more successful squad. But he deserves his due here.



WHY HE’S HERE: Turning in the most impressive and important interception in our region in decade no doubt helped. I’m still not entirely sure how Batsell pulled of his Matrix-level act of contortion in the end zone against Valle Catholic and still found the strength and means to strip away a potential game changing touchdown because the physical properties just don’t add up from a science standpoint. And yet here we are. Five interceptions including two in a state title game is quite a way to introduce yourself with authority. I had no idea who this kid even was in camp this Summer but I saw him shining against his more famous upper-class teammates as a scout teamer and got the inkling early he might be a really special breakout performer. And sure enough, he wowed us not only with his Touchdown Catch against South Shelby early in the season, but with some of his contested pass breakups in that same game. He’s got the whole arsenal of skills and lines up nicely to be Titletown’s Next Big thing next Fall on both sides of the ball. He’s a simmering, perhaps next level athlete and talent who has the chance to just keep getting better and better.



WHY HE’S HERE: The much touted Hawks Tailback actually seemed to have a better 2017 campaign on the other side of the football this Fall, single handedly causing seven turnovers (three fumbles, four interceptions) and delivering a 100 yard pick-six INT along the way. Tremendous Centerfielder with the range to get to the football and the bounce to break up passes at their highest point. Plus, I am a fan of Adam’s willingness to play physical on both sides of the ball. There aren’t many glamour feature backs who have the mindset and willingness to throw crushing blocks and lower the shoulder to finish runs. Rooney gets great leg drive. It doesn’t get talked about much but I thought he displayed outstanding hands as well over the last couple of seasons.



WHY HE’S HERE: Though better known for his Quarterback play, Jacob is a tremendous natural athlete with as high a ceiling as any Defensive Back on this list. The Panther Junior closes on the football with great alacrity and a pickpocket’s nerve, a calling card we’ve seen out of him for two years now already. Jacob is the guy who seems to react quicker and adjust better than anyone else on the field. From a camera vantage point, he’s always the guy that just seems to come out of nowhere on my video screen and suddenly rip the football away from guys who thought a millisecond earlier they were wide open. And Kroeger is as dangerous a threat after the interception as any player on this list, given his speed and uncanny feel for finding the open field. Reminded also of the spectacular hit he doled out on opening night against Macon. He can play.


Third Team Selections




TYLER O’TOOL, Fort Madison

AVAE BALL, Quincy High


IKE RIDDLE, Beardstown


Special Teams


THE SKINNY: Remarkable comeback considering there was a time this summer when no one knew if he would recover quickly enough from a freak off-field accident to be able to play this Fall. It’s a good thing for the Panthers he did. Mencer delivered an All State effort with 55 total points, nine field goals (on 11 tries no less) and 28 PAT. He single-handedly kept Palmyra in the game with Monroe City in allowing Kevin Miles to find points in the Red Zone against a ferocious defense that wasn’t yielding touchdowns. He showed not only incredibly accuracy, but great leg strength in booting 24 touchbacks this season. Relentless worker with a true dedication to his craft.



(The Most Criminally Underrated Crew in 2017 Football)














DL-BRAD CHEEK, Monroe City













(Players positioned for significant breakouts/breakthroughs in 2018)


RB-KODY ROGERS, Pleasant Hill/Western




WR-MATHEW WOODS, Scotland County







DL-NICK GRAY, Clark County

DL-SKYLER HEATHERLY, Pleasant Hill/Western


LB-CASON WILT, South Shelby





DB-HUNTER SMITH, Bowling Green





Best Game: Palmyra vs Monroe City

Best Finish: QND vs Quincy High

Best Hit: Jirehl Brock vs Rock Island, Viral Jirehl

Biggest Play: Nehemiah Batsell, Game Saving INT vs Valle Catholic

Sickest Catch: Riley Langford One Handed INT vs Clark County

Best Running Back Group: Monroe City

Best Receiver Group: Unity/Payson

Best Offensive Line that didn’t call Monroe City home: BWP

Best Defensive Line: Clark County

Best Linebackers: West Hancock

Best Secondary: Monroe City

Brightest Team Future: Clark County

Best Offense to Watch in 2018: Macon

Best Defense to Watch in 2018: Central

Biggest Boom/Bust Proposition in 2018: Illini West

Best Sophomore: Caleb Lapsley, Clark County

Best Player on a Sub-500 Team: Dakota Ehrhardt, Unity/Payson

Best Storyline: Clark County’s Midseason Resurrection

Best Chance to Positively Reverse Fortunes in 2018: Rushville/Industry

Best Bet to Surprise: Mark Twain

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