The end of the 2019 high school football season in Arizona officially came to an end Saturday, as the winner of the 2019 Ed Doherty Award was announced.
Awarded to the best football player in the state, the Ed Doherty Award draws comparison to the Heisman Trophy in college sports. It’s a symbol of outstanding achievement on the field for all of those nominated for the award.
Several high-profile names from the East Valley have been awarded in the past, including Mountain View’s Todd Heap and John Beck, Desert Vista’s Bobby Wade and Zach Miller and Perry’s Brock Purdy in 2017. Tim and Teddy Ruben joined fellow Saguaro alum Kyle Caldwell in winning the award. Teddy was the first and only player to ever win the award twice.
That is, until this year.
Salpointe Catholic running back Bijan Robinson, a University of Texas commit who rushed for over 7,000 yards in his career, claimed the Ed Doherty Award for the second straight year at Saturday’s luncheon.
“It’s a blessing to win it twice,” Robinson said. “Just being able to share this experience with my family, my coaches and God, it’s a great feeling.”
Robinson was voted the winner over the likes of Saguaro star athlete and Arizona State commit Will Shaffer, Perry quarterback and Louisville commit Chubba Purdy, Higley star defensive end Jason Harris and Notre Dame Prep linebacker and Harvard commit Brock Locnikar.
“Standing up there with Bijan, Will, Jason and all of them, it’s such a great honor,” Locnikar said. “Just being recognized at this level I have to take a step back and thank everyone who has helped me get this far. It’s really a blessing.”
Locnikar was one of two Notre Dame players nominated for the Ed Doherty Award, as senior guard and Oklahoma State commit Cade Bennett was also nominated.
Shaffer, meanwhile, was one of four Saguaro players who received medallions this season. He joined junior defensive end Quintin Somerville and senior cornerbacks Jacobe Covington and Kelee Ringo.
“It’s a huge honor, especially for all of us coming from the same school,” Shaffer said. “We just wanted to represent Saguaro and the state of Arizona at a high level.”
Shaffer played all over the field for Saguaro in the Sabercats’ run to the inaugural Open Division state title game against Chandler. He scored a game-winning touchdown in the semifinals against Hamilton, and nearly led Saguaro back from a large deficit in the championship game with three second-half touchdowns.
Along with Saguaro and Notre Dame Prep, both Chaparral and Horizon were also represented by nominees for the Ed Doherty Award. Chaparral senior quarterback and Ohio State commit Jack Miller was nominated alongside senior wideout and Cal-Berkeley commit Tommy Christakos. Horizon quarterback Jake Martinelli, who helped lead the Huskies to the inaugural Open Division before a season-ending knee injury, was also nominated.
Mesquite junior quarterback Ty Thompson, who led the Wildcats to their first championship in program history, represented Gilbert schools along with Higley’s Harris, junior quarterback Kai Millner and wide receiver Isaiah Eastman and Campo Verde junior running back Caden Calloway, who was instrumental in the Coyotes’ run to their first-ever title game appearance.
“It was crazy,” Thompson said of the championship win. “Just thinking in my head that we are making history. And to now be in a room with all of these great players who will do great things at the next level, it’s an honor.”
Thompson led the state with 4,074 passing yards and 45 touchdowns this season. Close behind him with the state’s third-most passing yards was Gilbert quarterback and Arizona commit Will Plummer with 3,584 yards.
Kai Millner, a standout junior quarterback for Higley who already fields offers from the likes of Michigan State and all three Division I Arizona schools, finished with 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns to earn an Ed Doherty nomination.
“We’ve created a really strong bond over this past year,” Millner said of Eastman. “With him graduating this year I won’t be with him next season. I’ll really miss him so it’s cool to have this experience with him.”
Tre Smith, a senior defensive end for Red Mountain, represented all Mesa schools with his nomination for the Ed Doherty Award.
Smith wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines this season, as he accounted for 18.5 sacks to lead the 6A conference. He helped anchor a stout Red Mountain front-seven that made it to the 6A title game for the first time in 18 years. All that came just three years after an accident on the high jump resulted in five herniated disks in his back. Smith was told he would never be able to play football again, but he prevailed.
“Just to come from basically nothing and not playing to being here today, it’s awesome,” Smith said. “Never in my lifetime did I imagine being here. But it’s all thanks to the (Red Mountain) program. They took me back and helped me get here.”
Brandon Buckner, a junior defensive end for the Open Division state champion Chandler Wolves, was fifth in the state in sacks this season with 14.5. Buckner was instrumental to a dominant first-half performance for the Wolves against Saguaro in the Open Division title game.
With Chandler already up 14 points early in the first quarter, Buckner caught a pass tipped by fellow junior defensive end Zion Magalei and walked into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown. The score put Chandler up 21 points, a deficit Saguaro would eventually trim to 7 but was unable complete the comeback.
“There’s a lot of great talent from all over Arizona here in this room,” said Buckner, who was nominated along with Wolves senior quarterback Mikey Keene and running back Dae Dae Hunter. “It feels great to represent Chandler. Coach Garretson does a great job over there. He’s a man of his word and we are a brotherhood.”
Along with the three nominees from Chandler High School, Hamilton wideout Brenden Rice, a Colorado commit, was also nominated for the Ed Doherty Award.
Other nominees included Desert Vista senior wideout Elijah Ervin, who led the 6A Conference in receiving yards with 1,459 and 18 touchdowns. Ervin was instrumental in the Thunder’s run to the 6A semifinals this season, as he recorded over 100 receiving yards in nine of his 13 games played.
He had a breakout performance against Perry in the 6A quarterfinals, when he caught eight passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns.
“I have to thank my coaches and my family for supporting me, it’s good to represent Desert Vista,” Ervin said. “It’s been a long journey, a good journey with some bumps in the road. We had over 20 seniors this year and we’ve been through a lot together. It means a lot to be able to have a successfully season together.”
Each player in attendance walked across the stage at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch and received the recognition they deserved for outstanding performances throughout the season.
Though 55 of the 56 nominees weren’t able to hoist the award at the end of the ceremony, all agreed it was the experience of being recognized as one of the best in the state they will always remember.
“All of these guys could have won this award,” Robinson said. “They all had crazy stats this year. I just cherish this moment.”
East Valley and Scottsdale athletes nominated for Ed Doherty Award
Cade Bennett – Notre Dame Prep OL
Brandon Buckner – Chandler DE
Zion Burns – Poston Butte RB
Caden Calloway – Campo Verde RB
Dalton Card – Casteel DL
Tommy Christakos – Chaparral WR
Dane Christensen – Casteel QB
Jacobe Covington – Saguaro CB
Isaiah Eastman – Higley RB/WR
Elijah Ervin – Desert Vista WR
Jason Harris – Higley DE
Dae Dae Hunter – Chandler RB
Rand Jensen – ALA Queen Creek QB
Mikey Keene – Chandler QB
Brock Locnikar – Notre Dame Prep LB
Jake Martinelli – Horizon QB
Matthew McClelland – Arete Prep QB
Jack Miller – Chaparral QB
Kai Millner – Higley QB
Noah Nelson – Williams Field OL
Will Plummer – Gilbert QB
Chubba Purdy – Perry QB
Brenden Rice – Hamilton WR
Kelee Ringo – Saguaro CB
Will Shaffer – Saguaro ATH
Tre Smith – Red Mountain DE
Quintin Somerville – Saguaro DE
Bryce Tate – McClintock ATH
Ty Thompson – Mesquite QB
Daniel Wood – Highland RB/LB