It wasn’t hard to choose last year’s Tribune Player of the Year, as Saguaro running back D.J. Foster broke several state records, ran for 508 yards and 10 touchdowns in one game and led the Sabercats to the Division III state title.
This season, the list of potential candidates is much deeper, with logical arguments to be made for many of the top local stars.
We’ve whittled it down to 10, with the final decision to be announced later this month. Without further adieu, in alphabetical order, here are the candidates for the Tribune’s Football Player of the Year:
Kyle Allen, Jr., QB, Desert Mountain
The Wolves had one of the best aerial attacks in Division I, largely due to the Allen-to-Mark-Andrews connection. Allen threw for 3,119 yards with 36 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He had the best completion percentage in Division I at 72.1 percent and helped Desert Mountain to a 9-3 overall record and a berth in the state quarterfinals. He has scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Boise State, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and others, and could see more come his way after an impressive junior year.
Mark Andrews, Jr., WR, Desert Mountain
The other half of that tandem was the best receiver in Arizona. He caught 81 passes for 1,494 yards and 21 touchdowns. Even though opposing defenses knew he would get the ball, Andrews still made big plays consistently. He had more than 130 receiving yards in seven of the team’s 12 games, including an 11-catch, 198-yard, four-touchdown performance in a three-point win over Notre Dame. Andrews has offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and others and had a season which lived up to the hype.
Jalen Brown, Jr., WR/DB, Mountain Pointe
This guy is no secret, as he’s played a big role since his freshman year on varsity. Brown is one of the top defensive backs in the state and played a much bigger role on offense this season. He had 67 catches for 1,235 yards and 18 touchdowns this year, accounting for more than half of the team’s receiving yards. He was his typical brilliant self on defense, shutting down large areas of the field and picking off a team-high five passes. Brown was named the Gatorade Player of the Year and is another big-time college recruit.
Ryan Finley, Sr., QB, Paradise Valley
Much was asked from the three-year starter and much was delivered by Finley. The Boise State-commit led all of Arizona (according to MaxPreps.com) in completions (270), attempts (424) and yards (3,442) and led Division III in touchdown passes (35) with only eight interceptions in those 424 attempts. He led the Trojans on game-winning drives in the final seconds against both Saguaro and Coconino. And he now owns pretty much every single-season and career quarterback record at the school (8,409 total yards, 79 total touchdowns).
Matt Guida, Jr., RB, Queen Creek
The Bulldogs wouldn’t have won the state championship without their dominant running back. Guida carried the ball 209 times for a state-best 2,828 yards and 31 touchdowns. His yards-per-carry clip of 13.53 was also the best in Arizona and it set up everything for Queen Creek offensively. Guida averaged better than nine yards per carry against every opponent and could have put up even gaudier rushing totals if he wasn’t held to 12 or fewer rushes in seven of the team’s 14 games.
Matt Haggerty, Sr., WR/DB, Seton Catholic
The Sentinels captured their first state championship since 1997 and Haggerty experienced almost all of it on the field. He was the team’s best receiver with 66 receptions for 1,007 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was one of the state’s leaders in interceptions from his safety position with seven, including three in one game against Tempe. He also punted the ball and did returns. Seton had several talented players contribute to the team’s 13-1 season, but it was Haggerty who led the way.
Mauriece Lee, Sr., RB, Marcos de Niza
It was speed and agility which eventually did in defenses against this guy, not to mention having to put round-the-clock surveillance on QB Josh Eckley and WR Paul Elvira. Lee, headed to the University of Arizona with Elvira, ran for 1,547 yards, 10.31 yards per carry, 21 touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 323 yards three more scores. He also did it against some of the better defenses, as he ran for 434 yards and six touchdowns in two games against Chaparral, including 286 in the Division II state quarterfinals.
Cole Luke, Sr., DB, Hamilton
There may not be statistics to make Luke’s case this season — Hamilton didn’t keep stats for the full season — but one need only watch the Notre Dame-commit shadow opponents’ best receiver to see his impact. Twice he helped completely negate Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown (the Gatorade Player of the Year), including the state championship game, and did the same against elite receivers at Basha and Desert Vista. A sure tackler with smarts, Luke helped the cause on offense when the Huskies occasionally lined up on that side of the ball, and was an impact punt returner on special teams, including the playoffs.
Luke Rubenzer, Jr., QB, Saguaro
Though flanked by talented kids in Christian Kirk, Gena Adams and Kash Robinson, the departure of D.J. Foster made this offense Rubenzer’s for the leading. In his second season as the starting QB he completed 145 of 211 passes (68 percent) for 2,834 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 1,134 yards (8.6 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also saved his best games for Phoenix Thunderbird, Tempe, Fountain Hills and (even in a loss) Goodyear Desert Edge.
Sean Schweichler, Sr., RB, Williams Field
Vision, agility, and a little speed were the two-year starter’s M.O. He ran for 1,517 yards and 26 touchdowns (8.6 yards per carry). Project that a bit further, and it could have been much more had the scoreboard not dictated him getting single-digit carries in six of the Black Hawks’ games. Fumbles were a concern at times, but they never dictated an outcome, and both his big-play ability and shiftiness in getting short-yardage conversions trumped the turnovers. He often made as big of an impact returning kicks and punts, as four of them were returned for scores, giving him 32 scores for the season, including two returns in the playoffs.