Perhaps it’s because he’s a generational athlete – the center of what many locals believe is the best football team in Independence history – but the question surrounding Atticus Goodson is getting louder.
“Will he win the Kennedy Award?”
I’ve been posed the question weekly as Goodson and the Patriots continue their march towards an undefeated regular season.
The truth is it’s too soon to tell, but he has a case. In examining his chances it helps to take a look at how the winner is decided, recent winners, necessary qualifications and the other candidates.
The Kennedy Award is the most unique amongst the major awards as it’s one that’s decided before a meeting. While all-state teams and winners of awards like the Howley, Moss, Warner, Huff and other awards are decided in a meeting that usually takes place the morning of the Class AA championship game in Wheeling, the Kennedy is decided earlier that week. Every member of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association receives a ballot and lists their top three choices in order.
For better or worse, no cases are made for candidates behind closed doors in a meeting. The winner is revealed to those in the all-state meeting with no further discussion on the matter aside from who is tasked with writing the story that runs across the state on Christmas Eve.
Ballots are not due until two days after the semifinals are played, though some voters elect to turn theirs in at the conclusion of the regular season. I’ve always held mine until after the semifinals, which I’ll explain later.
Since the award has been given out only eight winners have come from south of the Kanawha Valley – Mookie Collier (Bluefield, 2017), Jeremy Dillon (Mingo Central, 2016), Will Cole (Bluefield, 2008), Jordan Roberts (Scott, 2007), Curt Warner (Pineville, 1978), James Smithberger (Welch, 1963), Randall Broyles (Beckley, 1948) and Darrell Shires (Hinton, 1947).
Classification has historically played a role in winning the award as Class AAA teams generally play tougher schedules, though Dillon started to buck that trend and was the first of four straight Class AA players to win the award, a streak snapped by Musselman’s Blake Hartman last year. Prior to Dillon winning in 2016, the previous five winners came from Class AAA. Coincidentally 2016 was also the first year the classifications were rattled with Class AA becoming the largest with over 50 schools.
Collier is likely the player Goodson will draw comparisons to. Both are running backs from area schools on dominant teams loaded with weapons. Collier was joined in the backfield by another 1,000-yard rusher and first-teamer in Truck Edwards. Goodson is surrounded by a talented group of skill players as well that thrive and benefit from the extra attention he receives.
My belief is Goodson is the best offensive player the area has seen since Collier dominated in 2017. Both players are likely to finish with similar regular season numbers as well. Collier had right around 1,400 yards rushing while Goodson is at 1,100, having missed a game with one more to go. Both sat out the second half of most of their games which were blowout wins.
There is a key difference between the two though – strength of schedule.
The truth is it’s hard to tell years out how good a team is going to be when contracts are agreed upon between schools. Unfortunately when statewide voters look down the Independence schedule there will be reservations.
The Patriots have done exactly what they should do in blowing out the teams that they’re better than. The problem is there are three Class A schools on the schedule and none of them are in the top 20 of that classification. There are quality wins over Liberty and Nicholas County, both of which would be in the playoffs if they started today but that’s two games.
When the vote was tallied in 2017, it was disclosed to us that it was the tightest race in years. Collier edged out Dillon, the reigning Kennedy winner, Martinsburg’s Tyson Bagent and Huntington’s Jadon Hayes.
The final result likely took into account the strength of the Beavers’ regular season schedule.
The Beavers opened with a 17-14 win over Graham, Va., a team that won the 2A Virginia state title the following year, ran off three straight wins against Class AAA schools Princeton, Greenbrier East and Beckley, beat Richlands, Va., a team that played in the 2A state title game the year before, crushed eventual quarterfinalist Point Pleasant and capped the regular season with a blowout win over James Monroe, a team coming off of a semifinal appearance the season before.
Each year is different, but as it stands the Patriots’ schedule doesn’t stack up to that slate and while anybody that watches Goodson can attest he belongs in the conversation, the schedule hurts him.
All of that was barely enough to secure Collier a Kennedy, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Shawn Rine, who wrote for the Intelligencer in Wheeling at the time, was transparent with his ballot. He elected to turn it in after the regular season and publicized in a column that he voted for Collier – something he disclosed was influenced by Collier’s regular season slate, one where he barely played in the second half of most games and split carries with another force. Goodson is in a similar situation with most of Indy’s game decided by the intermission.
When Poca’s Ethan Payne won the award in 2019 I was skeptical of the Dots’ schedule as it was a down year for the Cardinal Conference with only two other teams representing it and neither securing a home playoff game. The Dots themselves were eliminated at home in the quarterfinals but Payne’s numbers were hard to say no to. He ran for over 2,500 yards and added over 50 touchdowns in a historic campaign.
Referencing back to the classification note, Class AAA schools generally are viewed more favorably because of their schedules. The Mountain State Athletic Conference is a good example. While an MSAC player hasn’t won the award since 2015, players that make it through the conference – widely considered the best in the state – are at the front of the conversation.
It’s no different this year as Huntington Gavin Lochow and Cabell Midland’s Jackson Fetty are both having excellent seasons. Lochow has over 13 passing touchdowns for the undefeated Highlanders who have wins over Cabell Midland, Spring Valley, South Charleston and George Washington – all teams on track to qualify for the Class AAA playoffs. He’s also rushed for over 600 yards and eight more scores. Midland largely has the same resume with its only loss a 21-17 decision against Huntington.
Then there’s always Martinsburg which has been the best program in the state for a decade now. The 9-0 Bulldogs are sure to have a contender for the award as they sit atop the Class AAA ratings.
Even in Class AA Robert C. Byrd’s Jeremiah King figures to factor into the conversation.
Goodson’s case will likely depend on his team’s ability to largely outlast the competition.
The year Collier won the Kennedy I had a front row seat as he dazzled. I covered his regular season games against Beckley and Oak Hill as well as his playoff wins against Point Pleasant, Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior.
Each year I hold my ballot until after the semifinal games are completed. The playoff games are likely the toughest any given team is going to play in a season so how a candidate performs in them should matter. Simply put, if you’re the best player in the state, prove it against the best teams.
Collier’s Kennedy campaign coincided with my first year on the job and I had mostly decided before the semifinals that he would be atop my ballot. Considering the reigning Kennedy winner was still playing, I believed it was in the best interest of fairness to hold it until Sunday.
For those undecided, the Bluefield running back made the decision pretty easy.
He had what I still consider the best performance I’ve seen from a player in my five seasons doing this. He ran the ball 17 times for 293 yards and four touchdowns, all of which came on runs of over 20 yards.
While Collier did that against the state’s premier Class AA program at the time (The Indians had won three straight titles from 2013-15) Huntington’s Hayes was held to 22 yards rushing in a loss against Spring Valley while Dillon threw two interceptions in a home semifinal loss to Fairmont Senior.
History tells us playoff success matters. Before Payne won the award in 2019, only one player from a team that didn’t at least make the semifinals (Will Cole, 2007) had won it since 1989. Working in Cole’s favor was the fact he was the returning quarterback for the defending champions.
Goodson reminds me of Collier, not just on the field but off it as well. Both are respectful, humble and sing the praises of their teammates.
Goodson in particular has been transparent, stating numerous times that making it to the state championship and winning it would mean much more than a Kennedy Award ever would.
In all likelihood the two may go hand in hand.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @tjack94