Welcome back to The Deep Post, a weekly column that hits on the rumblings of the week past and ahead. This week’s offering dives into the 2023 Kennedy Award race, one without a clear favorite.
It’s that time of the year again. Kennedy Award ballots haven’t been sent out but they should be arriving in voter inboxes this week with a deadline of this weekend. It will be my seventh year voting on the award with my coverage area having produced three winners in that span.
The last two votes haven’t been particularly close with Judah Price and Atticus Goodson winning in their respective seasons by landslides.
This year’s race has a chance to be different with no clear favorite heading into semifinal weekend.
Before diving into the list of candidates I’ll explain the voting process as well as how I choose who to put on my ballot.
After we receive an email from Doug Huff, the treasurer of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, all members of the WVSWA are entitled to one ballot where they list their top three candidates. Huff then discloses the winner in the all-state meeting the morning of the Class AA title game. Thus the winner is known by a select few before the Super Six begins. It’s the only award in which we don’t discuss, something that should probably change.
For my process I take in a mixture of stats, season accomplishments and team success when casting my vote while holding my ballot as late as possible.
The best players and teams usually play deep into the postseason and while teams can pad stats in the regular season it becomes extremely difficult to do so in the playoffs.
I always refer to the 2017 Kennedy race in regards to the importance of playoff performances. Bluefield’s Mookie Collier, the eventual winner, ran for 300 yards against Bridgeport in the semifinals. Jeremy Dillon (Mingo Central), the 2016 winner, threw two interceptions at home in a loss that same weekend and Jadon Hayes (Huntington) rushed for 22 yards in a loss to Spring Valley.
For me, what you do in the semifinal matters and the results reflect that. Only two players (Will Cole, 2008; Ethan Payne, 2019) have won the award in the last 20 years without their teams advancing to the semifinals and it took pedigree and a record-breaking season for those players to win. Cole quarterbacked a Bluefield team that won the Class AA title the year before and Payne broke the scoring record at the time.
We’re talking about the most prestigious award in the state which requires honesty in both the positives and negatives of the legitimate candidates. Here we go.
Out of reach
These players had all-state seasons but their candidacy ended when their season did.
- Noah Vellaithambi, Hurricane – 205 rushing attempts, 1,436 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. Also had four passing touchdowns and another receiving.
- Curtis Jones, Cabell Midland – Over 1,000 yards rushing for the No. 1 seed in Class AAA.
- Gage Wright, Parkersburg South – 163 rushing attempts, 1,904 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. Also caught 32 passes for 495 yards and nine touchdowns.
Vellaithambi, Jones and Wright represent a group of talented players who racked up numbers against quality schedules. But their seasons ended far too soon to make a run at the Kennedy. Wright is an interesting one though. The Parkersburg faction of voters seem to favor him over a candidate like Maxwell Molessa or David Parsons. My belief is South’s 1-4 record against playoff teams doesn’t help his cause.
In the ballpark
The mix includes a list of players who have impressive numbers and made it to the quarterfinals or further. Some still have an opportunity to make a run while others have likely seen their candidacies end.
- Matt Frye, Scott – Completed 67 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 38 touchdowns.
- David Parsons, Parkersburg – Completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,725 yards and 33 touchdowns. Rushed for 294 yards and five more scores.
- Casey Minor, North Marion – Has thrown for 2,094 yards with 24 touchdown passes. Rushed for 710 yards and 14 more touchdowns.
- Zah Jackson, Huntington – Jackson’s latest stats have him with 720 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also has 223 yards receiving.
- Ethan Rosenau, Tucker County – Has completed 74 percent of his passes for 2,301 yards and 41 touchdowns with 10 interceptions for a semifinalist.
This is a fun bunch but where we get into the weeds. Starting with Frye, he was my favorite to win the Kennedy for most of the year. Class AA players have won seven of the last eight awards and Frye had it all going for him – stats, team success, etc. But the one question surrounding Scott was whether or not it could take the next step. The Skyhawks didn’t, falling at home in the quarterfinal round for the second straight year. That’s difficult to overcome.
Parsons has the numbers and school records to back up his candidacy but the Big Reds lost to George Washington, Cabell Midland, Spring Valley, Huntington and Princeton. Given their regular season record, Parsons likely needed a run to Wheeling to have a serious shot at the award.
Minor, Jackson and Rosenau are the three that still have a chance to bolster their resumes. Rosenau struggles being in an area that geographically cut off from most of the state on top of playing in the state’s smallest classification. But the Mountain Lions have handled their first two playoff opponents with ease and they’re undefeated. Rosenau’s numbers are terrific to boot but to break through he has to beat Williamtown this week. Playing in Class A already puts him at a disadvantage so he’ll need a signature performance against the defending champs and another candidate to make a serious push.
Minor heads a balanced team that shares the wealth but he’s a good two-way player on the No. 1 seed with good-not-great stats in comparison to the competition. It’s going to be tough for Minor to win because the consensus amongst area voters is he’s not the best player in his area. But a resounding North Marion win and Bridgeport loss could lead to a change of heart.
Lastly there’s Jackson. He’s a terrific talent, one of the best athletes in the state and maybe an even better defensive player than offensive player. The issue he’s going to run into is one that plagues many of the great programs like Martinsburg, Fairmont Senior and Independence – numbers. Huntington won a lot of blowouts this year and rested starters. Jackson’s offensive numbers aren’t impressive but he has the name recognition, plays for the defending state champions and has an established pedigree as the reigning Lee Award (best defensive back) winner.
The heading says it all. These are the four players I currently expect will litter the top of ballots in no particular order.
- Zach Rohrig, Bridgeport – Rohrig has rushed for 1,714 yards and 23 touchdowns, leads the team in points with 147 and has three interceptions on defense for a state semifinalist. The case for Rohrig is easy and has few flaws. He leads the team in nearly every major statistical category on offense and is impactful on defense. The Indians’ schedule is weaker than you’d like but that hasn’t mattered in the playoffs for one of Class AAA’s smallest schools. They survived George Washington at home and hammered the No. 1 seed (Cabell Midland) on the road which negates any schedule complaints and is thus why I hold my ballot until the semifinals. The negative on Rohrig is the same as nearly every Bridgeport running back before him – is he a system player? The Indians produce prolific rushers like they grow on trees in their system and Rohrig isn’t the only productive rusher on his team. His teammate Josh Love has rushed for 1,052 yards and 16 touchdowns.
- Dominick Collins, Princeton – Collins has caught 67 passes for 1,402 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also has 105 yards rushing and four touchdowns on eight carries to go with three special teams return touchdowns and a defensive touchdown for 29 total scores on a state semifinalist. Collins is this year’s feel-good contender for the award. Princeton is on a magical run, earning its first semifinal berth in school history. Like Rohrig, Collins’ schedule isn’t overly difficult. Princeton played three Class AAA playoff teams but has put those concerns to bed with a pair of postseason wins. Aside from schedule it’s difficult to poke holes in his candidacy other than his yardage totals are less than his peers due to playing receiver.
- Maxwell Molessa, Williamstown – Molessa has completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,105 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s done most of his damage on the ground though, rushing for a team-high 1,448 yards and 27 touchdowns. For good measure he had 57 tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles on a semifinal team seeking its third trip to Wheeling. For a single-A player, there aren’t any holes in Molessa’s candidacy. He’s been to the title game two times, winning it last year, and has the numbers to back it. He’s largely the reason most expect Williamstown to waltz to another title. Williamstown played one close game this year, a 12-8 win over St. Marys, one where Molessa got hurt and had to exit for the remainder of the contest. That should prove his value.
- Murphy Clement, Martinsburg – Clement has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,527 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 698 yards and 15 more scores. Murphy’s numbers aren’t gaudy but he plays for the state’s premier program which is probably long overdue for a Kennedy. Martinsburg’s schedule is always challenging and it usually walks through the playoffs. The Bulldogs have lost just three playoffs games over the last 10 years and have not played a one-score postseason game since beating Huntington 9-7 in the 2013 title game. Back to Clement, he’s deemed Martinsburg’s best player and gets a chance to add to his case this week against the reigning state champion in Huntington. Aside from numbers his case is airtight. You could throw the system player allegations his way with the talent around him but football is played with 11 members for a reason.
Where I’m going with my vote
Heading into Black Friday my ballot currently looks like this – 1. Collins, 2. Clement, 3. Rohrig.
I like being transparent with my votes and explaining my thought process
I like Collins a lot here, but I believe he has to win Friday against Rohrig and Bridgeport or put up an insane performance in a loss to maintain that top spot on my ballot. For me I believe Collins is Princeton’s offense. That may sound crazy with a 1,600-yard rusher, a QB with 38 touchdown passes and a guard with two first-team all-state selections already but it’s all made possible because of his presence.
Collins’ receiving numbers are unreal by any standard, especially in triple-A. But his speed – he ran a 4.25 in the 40-yard dash at WVU’s camp this past summer – opens everything. Put on his film and you’ll see he routinely drew bracket coverages, sometimes with a third defender getting eyes on him. Parkersburg South put its best tackler on him when they played at the end of the regular season. It opened the box for Marquel Lowe who scored five times in that game. Hurricane tried to single him and he responded with 10 catches for 175 yards and four touchdowns in a rainstorm.
He’s dynamic wherever you put him, hence the four rushing touchdowns on eight carries. Parkersburg found that out the hard way when he returned the opening kickoff 56 yards and later added a 100-yard return for a touchdown. His biggest play of that game came when he chased down the returner at the Princeton 9 on an onside kick. It feels safe to say with his speed he may have been the only player in the state that could’ve made that play and it likely saved the game for the Tigers.
Amongst those final four candidates, I don’t feel like there’s a wrong choice. This year’s race is immune to favorites and we’ll be provided some transparency this weekend.
As a last bit, this is my plea to coaches and statisticians to make statistics easily accessible whether it be via Maxpreps or a website like Huntington does. I had to contact fellow voters for statistics for Martinsburg, Cabell Midland and Williamstown. Box score scouting can be harmful but not having statistics that are easily accessible is worse. That can be remedied in all-state meetings but for the Kennedy we already have a small number of voters that actually participate. If you’re not making your statistics available for everyone it hurts your players and program in the long run.
Email: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @tjack94