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Derek Taylor: Informal poll has Morgantown's Thomas as Kennedy winner

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kennedy Award could be given to a runaway winner for the third consecutive year, if an impromptu polling of voters in any indicator.

In a straw poll of West Virginia Sports Writers Association members conducted Friday and Saturday, Morgantown senior running back Chazzy Thomas secured 14 of 15 first-place votes and easily outdistanced runner-up Draven Riffe of George Washington with 44 points to Riffe's 16.

Informal ballots were emailed to every WVSWA member newspaper. With just 15 returned, only a small sampling of the voters responded.

Between 35 and 40 members of the WVSWA submit ballots for the Kennedy Award, given annually to the state's top prep football player with the winner announced Dec. 15. Thomas' dominance of first-place votes among approximately 40 percent of those voters is a strong enough showing to project him as the winner with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

But while Thomas is currently the overwhelming leader, the prep football season - in reality - only reached its midpoint last week. There are still six weeks of games to be played before actual Kennedy ballots must be returned to outgoing WVSWA Secretary/Treasurer Doug Huff.

Huff will step down from the position he has held for more than 30 years after a transition period that will see none other than myself take over the position.

I've got big shoes to fill, as does the 2013 Kennedy Award winner. In each of the last two seasons the award was won by George Washington's Ryan Switzer in landslide fashions, and Switzer's currently seeing plenty of playing time as a freshman at North Carolina.

While Thomas was in runaway mode Friday morning, by Friday night he had his ankle wrapped and his foot on ice after an injury against Musselman. He's expected to sit out this week against John Marshall then return for the Mohigans' regular-season finale against rival University on Nov. 1.

Riffe was unable to close the gap, however. The GW standout did not play against Cabell Midland in a 49-40 loss.

"(I) just got a little banged up against Hurricane," Riffe wrote in a text Sunday night. "I should be back this week hopefully."

Thomas has 2,010 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns on 149 carries, an average of 14.2 yards per carry. The Mohigans (7-1) are ranked third in the Daily Mail Class AAA poll, and should come into this week's SSAC playoff ratings ranked ninth.

Riffe averages 8.9 yards per carry and has run for 1,379 yards on 155 carries. He's reached the end zone 18 times on rushes and 19 times overall.

The backs are the only players to acquire 10 points or more in the straw poll. In fact, their dominance above the pack right now is so complete that the third-and fourth-place finishers - Meadow Bridge senior running back Jake Parker and Madonna senior quarterback Ross Comis - each play in Class A, which gives them little statistical chance of winning the award given that such a small number of writers become aware of their successes during the course of a season.

Let alone the fact that Class A competition lacks what Class AAA offers in speed, size, depth and physicality. Parker and Comis are doomed to join a legion of former Class A stars that failed to win the award since 1986 if for no other reason than that they are still not household names.

Sure, the Internet and radio scoreboard shows give fans greater access to the trials and travails of the Meadow Bridge Wildcats, but voters whose primary focus is the coverage of their area rarely get the opportunity to see a Class A school unless it plays one of their local teams.

Sistersville's Jeff Swisher was the last Class A player to win the Kennedy. Since Swisher graduated, a treasure trove of small-school players have made their way through the ranks without claiming the state's top individual honor.

Players like Duval's Darren Griffith (1990), Valley-Wetzel's Jason Manear ('96), Moorefield's Will Fisher ('97), Linsly's Eddie Drummond ('98) and more recently Moorefield's Reed Williams (2004), Mount Hope's Da'Von Marion ('08) and Richwood's Dustin Brown ('09) all had dominant senior seasons. Drummond eventually found his way to the NFL, in fact.

None of them won the Kennedy Award, and a Class A player will not win it this year, either.

At this time, there is only one player other than Thomas or Riffe who appears capable of making a successful run at winning the Kennedy: Martinsburg quarterback Malique Watkins.

Watkins was finally ruled eligible by the SSAC on Monday (See story, this page) after more than a month of legal wrangling between the governing body and lawyers and representatives of Martinsburg High. Now that he is eligible and in the clear, his numbers - and those of the Bulldogs - can speak a little more loudly.

Only one voter who participated in the straw poll put Watkins in the top three. Watkins has accounted for 1,449 yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns in six games, having been held out of two games. That averages out to 241.5 yards per game. Thomas has averaged 256.4 total yards in eight games.

The SSAC's grant of eligibility to Watkins might not only have granted Martinsburg renewed life in its pursuit of a fourth consecutive Class AAA state title, it just made the Kennedy Award race much more interesting.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.


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