Might be interesting to have a preseason watch list, like they have for college football awards. Doesn't mean someone from off the list might not jump onto the radar during the season, just that this is a preseason list of players to watch.
Nick Henderson, QB, Joy Christian
Big numbers last year. Almost 2000 yards and 39 TDs. Athletic, slightly undersized. Without Beasley and the Wahlers, might not have the same firepower at receivers. Joy may run more too, which could hurt his numbers, but they'll almost certainly finish undefeated or close to undefeated, which helps his case as QB. Doesn't play both ways much, if at all.
Myka Campbell, TE/FB/DE/LB, St. David
One of the most physical returning players in the division. Runs the ball, catches passes, and is a returning defensive leader. 11 TDs and 50 tackles last year. If St. David runs the table and advances in the postseason, could be a good choice for POY. Plays both ways.
Matt Munsil, WR/LB, Scottsdale Prep
Could very likely lead the state in receiving yards and touchdowns. Put up big numbers last year as a sophomore, including 19 catches and 6TDs in playoff loss at St. David. One of SPrep's top defenders, and leading tackler. If SPrep goes undefeated and makes a deep playoff run, a leading contender for POY.
Jhett Judd, RB/DB, Pima
All-State contender last year, one of the top RBs in state this year. Smallish, but fast and talented. Not as well known as other contenders, but could be one of the best choices if Pima wins it all or comes close.
Cale Merrell, RB, LB, Duncan
If healthy, and if Duncan improves on last year's record, a great contender. One of the best athletes in the state, and will get plenty of carries. Could put up huge numbers and carry his team to a top-10 or better finish. If he does, watch for him to get POY buzz.
Sam Gabrielson, RB/DB, Valley Lutheran
Stands out from the many talented athletes VL has. Probably their key player last year, and team suffered when he was injured. Could put up big numbers if they get him the ball. Plays both ways, senior leader.
McKay Slade/Smiley Beecroft, Mogollon
Two dark horse contenders for POY who could gain steam if the team beats Joe City early. Slade is a talented defender and strong receiver, and Beecroft looks to be the feature RB for Mogollon this year.
James Loveall, DB/RB/WR, Bagdad
One of the best players for a young Bagdad team that is getting some buzz. Expect him to play both ways and put up numbers on offense and at DB. Team will have to win some games for him to get POY looks.
Someone from Joe City
While Joe City's most recognizable players are gone, expect the team to win, and the state to get to know the names of their best players. Maybe someone from up north can give us some info.
If I had to rank my criteria I'd say it goes something like this:
-Plays on a top team (In a year as wide-open as this one, top team probably means anyone in the top 8 or so)
-Plays both ways (in D-VI, almost every top player does, a one-way player would have to be truly exceptional to win POY)
-Passes the eye/film test (looks good in person and on film)
-Rises to the occasion (plays best in big games, doesn't shrink from tough environments)
-Puts up impressive numbers (matters because consistency from week to week matters, and so does the ability to take over a game)
-Is a captain of his team (says what his team and coaches think about him)
It'll be interesting to see how this (incomplete) list evolves as the year goes on. May all depend on who wins it all, or makes an unexpected run at a title.
If nothing else, the field is slightly more wide-open than last year's coronation of Remington Baldwin. Anyone I missed?