Derek Taylor: Lesser-known names make big impression
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been 22 years since a player whose team failed to make the high school football playoffs won the Kennedy Award.
The trend looks to continue this year, as each of the small handful of candidates will spend this week's regular season finales pushing for home-field advantage for the playoffs, which begin Nov. 9.
The postseason typically reveals the best the state has to offer in terms of individual talent, and often separates the best from the better. It also tends to shroud the accomplishments of players whose seasons end after their 10th game.
That's an unfortunate side effect of competitive sports, for the 2012 season has seen plenty of showings worthy of memory in the Kanawha Valley alone.
Take, for instance, Winfield senior running back Seth Lewis. When the Generals lost All-State running back David Gaydosz to transfer in June, many - including myself - wondered if first-year Coach Craig Snyder would win so much as a single game in 2012. After the team lost its quicker of two backs, junior Colt Richardson, to a preseason injury, the situation looked even more dire.
Lewis has responded almost heroically. The senior has carried the ball 218 times for 1,224 yards, leading the Generals (4-5) to within a game of the .500 mark when they end their season Friday at home against Class AAA No. 9 Spring Valley (6-3).
Lewis' yardage total topped that of Gaydosz from 2011, when the current Cabell Midland standout became the first Winfield runner in more than a decade to break the 1,000-yard mark.
"The Lewis kid at Winfield, who would have expected that this year," one area offensive coordinator asked rhetorically on Monday. "I mean, that kid's as tough as anybody in the (Mountain State Athletic Conference)."
Another tough runner, St. Albans senior Drew Kirby, missed his prep finale against the Generals last week because of an injury.
Still, he managed to break the 1,000-yard mark just the same with a strong showing the week earlier at Lincoln County.
Kirby finished his season with 1,097 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the Red Dragons (2-8) in scoring with 78 points.
Kirby's case is an interesting one in that he seems custom-built for the I-formation offense used by former Red Dragons Coach Derek Christian.
After a breakout sophomore year in 2010, however, Kirby saw his carries and role on offense decline in Christian's final year with the team.
When first-year Coach Steve Stoffel Jr. came to SA this season he brought with him a zone-read, spread offense that highlighted a short passing game, and the Dragons threw the ball more in 2012 than they had in the previous three years combined. Nevertheless, by the end of the season it was Kirby who stood out as the team's go-to offensive weapon.
Ethan Clark from Nitro (2-7) is another top-flight performer who will be spending most of November prepping for basketball. After suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the 2011 season, Clark rebounded to lead the Wildcats with 44 catches for 906 yards and four TDs. He led the Kanawha Valley in receiving yardage for much of the season.
Clark got stiff competition for the receiving lead from week to week from Riverside senior Marcus Reed. The Daily Mail's Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year in basketball in 2010, Reed joined the Warriors (1-8) football program last summer and has forged an impressive pass-catch combo with senior quarterback Trevor Rumberg. Reed has 40 catches for 818 yards and seven TDs, while Rumberg has thrown for 1,513 yards and 11 scores.
As evidenced by Ravenswood senior linebacker Brad Titus, the phenomenon is not restricted to the Charleston area.
The Red Devils (2-7) won their first two games under first-year Coach Mick Price, but after a blowout loss to Wayne in Week 4, the team has yet to re-enter the win column.
Along the way, however, Titus has brought a bright end to a bright career. A key member of Ravenswood's 2010 team that finished as the Class AA runner-up, Titus broke the historic program's career tackles record this season, and has 357 entering the team's season finale Friday at home against Ripley.
In a loss last week at St. Marys, Titus registered 23 tackles, tying Joe Jelich's single-game record at the school.
With 10 tackles against the Vikings, Titus will break the school's season tackles record, which stands at 148. He currently has 138 on the year.
All-State teams, which will be released beginning with Class A on Dec. 11, are commonly filled with playoff performers. Quite often, however, one has to look deeper and pay attention longer in order to appreciate the efforts of the best players everywhere.
The above-named players may or may not find their names among the first team of any All-State list. In fact, the odds are that some of them won't. But as the season nears its end and another year of football is put into the books, they have a right to know their efforts were appreciated. It's what keeps people like me coming back for more year after year.