6-1, 220, Jr.. RB/LB
After leading the Panther offense to a 2-1A state championship in 2015, Phillipsburg running back Kirk Coomes had another big season in his junior campaign. With Phillipsburg jumping up to Class 3A in 2016, Coomes again helped Phillipsburg advance to the sectional round of the playoffs after an undefeated regular season.
The fullback consistently produced on the ground for coach J.B. Covington.
“Kirk was the guy we went to when we needed tough yards and produced for our offense time after time,” Covington said. “ He very rarely gets tackled by a single player. He also has very good speed for such a big RB.”
Coomes used his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame to power for 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground and averaged nearly eight yards per carry. He added three more touchdowns in the passing game, catching 13 balls for 233 yards.
Behind Coomes, the Phillipsburg offense averaged better than 40 points per game.
The Phillipsburg junior also contributed on the defensive end, playing outside linebacker for the Panthers.
6-3, 175, Sr., QB/DB
St. Francis Indians
Smart, tough and accurate where three words Osborne High School head coach Cullen Riner used to describe Quinton Cravens, the Bulldogs’ opposing quarterback from St. Francis in this year’s Eight-Man Division I state championship game at Fischer Field in Newton.
That accuracy and toughness nearly were what helped a big comeback win for the Indians in St. Francis’ first trip to a state title game in school history.
Cravens fueled the 11-1 campaign with a stellar season. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound senior completed 114 of 162 passes for 1,979 yards and had 26 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He carried a quarterback rating of 140.9, averaging 164.9 passing yards per game. In addition, the senior rushed for 819 yards and 14 more scores, second only to lead running back Taylor Rogers.
Playing with a hurt hamstring in the state runner-up finish to Osborne, St. Francis coach Rodney Yates said he didn’t even know if Cravens was at 70 percent.
Still, he brought his team back from a 22-6 halftime deficit, and the Indians led 24-22 heading into the fourth quarter after a 50-yard pass play to his favorite target, senior Brock Waters.
He threw two TD passes and rushed for one more in the rally, after he rushed in for the Indians’ only first-half score.
En route to the runner-up finish, the Indians knocked off state favorite and defending state champion Spearville in the sub-state round. In that contest, Cravens passed for 240 yards and two scores, while rushing for 104 yards and two more, his third-best rushing outing of the season.
5-10, 165, Sr., QB/DB
Friend became the Cardinals’ all-time rushing and passing leader this season. Friend’s mix of speed and elusiveness, along with a much-improved passing approach, helped the senior put up 2,039 passing yards with 28 passing TDs, and rush for 1,268 yards and 18 scores. He became the MCL’s all-time leader in career passing yards, and moved up the list in passing TDs, rushing yards and rushing TDs. He is one of the most dynamic players the area — and the state — has ever seen.
The top QB in the MCL this season, Friend finished his career with 3,834 yards and 38 passing TDs as the MCL leader, and became Plainville’s all-time career rushing leader with 3,329 yards and 52 touchdowns, surpassing Trevor Axelson’s 2,840 yards he posted from 2010 to 2012.
“He was just to tough to defend,” said Norton coach Lucas Melvin. “He could do so much. A great high school football player.”
Friend spent just two years as Plainville’s quarterback after serving as the primary running back as a sophomore. Friend’s play helped Plainville make it to the state title game for the third time in program history. He had a hand in at least one touchdown in every game, and three times passed for at least four scores. He had at least two passing TDs in nine games, and had at least two rushing scores in six.
6-3, 200, Jr., OL/LB
To say the Plainville High School football team improved might be a bit of an understatement. The Cardinals went from 3-6 in 2015 to 11-2 in 2016 and made the school’s third appearance in a state championship football game.
Players like Hayden Gillum, who played two positions on defense and was a key offensive lineman, were a big part of that.
Gillum, with 97, was the leading tackler for a Plainville team that permitted just 20 points in its final seven games before a Class 2-1A state title game appearance. He also was a key component on an offensive line that paved the way for a Cardinal team that gained more than 5,000 yards and scored 68 touchdowns.
“Just a big body and he’s very physical,” Plainville coach Grant Stephenson said of Gillum, who also had 14.5 tackles for loss to lead the team with four sacks. “He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, and he tackles well.”
Gillum’s season was highlighted by a 15-tackle performance in a 46-12 road win against La Crosse. He had two TFLs that game. Three games later in the Class 2-1A sub-state title game, Gillum collected 10 tackles and stopped Smith Center three times in the backfield.
Often times, Gillum would switch from linebacker to the defensive line, depending on how the Cardinals were lining up defensively.
“He’s a very good player, and thankful to have him back next year,” Stephenson said.
5-11, 175, Jr., FB/LB
Phillipsburg junior John Gower saw his time studying opposing offenses pay off in a big way during the 2016 season.
Panther head coach J.B. Covington said Gower spent a good chunk of time preparing for each week’s opponent by watching whatever film was available.
Gower was the leader of the Panther defense that limited opponents to 13.4 points per game and pitched two shutouts during the team’s 11-1 season.
From his outside linebacker spot, Gower recorded 139 total tackles on the season, 12 of which went for a loss. He finished the year with two sacks and a pair of interceptions. He also recovered three fumbles and forced one.
“John was the heart and soul of our defense,” Covington said. “He is an extremely physical player with a relentless motor.”
Gower had one of his better games this season against Plainville in Week 3. He notched 13 tackles, two of which went for a loss and sacked the Cardinals’ elusive quarterback, Hayden Friend. The junior also recorded a pair of rushing touchdowns as a fullback in the Mid-Continent League win.
“He is not the fastest or strongest kid that we have but he is just a tough, hard-nosed football player that knows and studies the game,” Covington said.
6-1, 165, Sr., RB/DB
Grabast’s versatility on offense helped the Bulldogs capture their second eight-man championship this fall.
After starting at running back the first eight games of the season, the senior shifted to quarterback after Justin Burch suffered an injury and led Osborne through the playoffs despite little experience under center.
In his time at quarterback, the senior completed 23 of 30 passes for 272 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception.
“He’s a running back, doesn’t throw the ball great, but he makes good decisions. I think he completed like 75 percent of his passes,” Osborne coach Cullen Riner said.
“When you get pressure, he’s athletic enough to escape and make plays. That was big. In the state championship game, he made some big plays.”
He ran for more than 1,600 yards and added a team-high 32 rushing touchdowns and surpassed 100 rushing yards in eight of the Bulldogs’ 13 games this season.
Grabast also led the Bulldogs with 19 catches that resulted in 212 yards with two more touchdowns.
In the Bulldogs’ biggest game of the season, a 38-24 win over St. Francis in the state title game, Grabast completed 10 of 11 passes for 63 yards and two scores. He added 25 carries for 196 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground and three catches for 19 yards after Burch returned to quarterback.
Defensively, Grabast used his athleticism to record 49 tackles, seven interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. He returned one interception for a touchdown and scored 238 points for the Bulldogs.
Riner called him his best defensive back, and teams avoided throwing his way.
“People didn’t want to pick on Cullen,” the Osborne coach said. “We put Cullen on their best guy.”
6-1, 226, OL/LB, Sr.
Earning his third straight appearance on the Super 11 team as well as his third straight Defensive Player of the Year honor, Green racked up 178 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, an interception returned 47 yards to go along with a quarterback sack.
That all came while playing as a linebacker for the first time in a dominant Bluejay career.
Green moved to linebacker in Norton’s 5-2 scheme this season after coach Lucas Melvin said they didn’t have the linebacking personnel they had in the past. Green, a 6-foot-1, 225-pounder, who played nose guard as a junior, was quick to step to the challenge though.
Green broke the MCL career record for tackles by a mile, now having 438 in four seasons. Green racked up at last 23 tackles on three different occasions, and had at least 11 tackles in all but two other games. He had just eight in a blowout win against Southwestern Heights and just five in a blowout win against TMP-Marian. Both times, Norton had its backups playing in the second half. Offensively, Green was part of a line that led the charge in Norton gaining 3,393 yards and scoring 49 touchdowns.
Green, also a solid wrestler for the Bluejays’ storied program, is weighing his college options at this point and has yet to make any definite decisions.
6-2, 225, Jr., OL/DL
Smith Center Redmen
Smith Center junior Dalton Kuhn is not the biggest lineman in the area, but he’s one of the best.
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Kuhn had an impact on offense, defense and special teams for a Smith Center team that went 9-3 and advanced to the Class 2-1A semifinals.
“Dalton is a tremendous athlete for his size,” Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said. “He is strong and fast and plays the game with aggression. He is a difference maker in all three phases of the game.”
On offense, Kuhn helped paved the way for a Smith Center run game that amassed 3,440 yards.
Defensively, Kuhn ranked third on the team with 80 tackles at defensive end, while his 15 tackles for a loss led the squad. He also forced a team-best five fumbles and recovered four loose balls while adding one sack on the season.
Behind Kuhn, the Smith Center defense pitched five shutouts and limited opponents to 10 points per game.
6-1, 200, Sr., OL/LB
Naegele, an Osborne senior, played a big part of the Osborne’s title run as he led the team in the trenches.
Head coach Cullen Riner used Naegele at three different positions on defense — tackle, end and linebacker, where he’s most comfortable.
“Naegele’s a stud. He’s a good kid, our best lineman,” Osborne coach Cullen Riner said. “Defensively, on the front, he was our best nose guard, our best d(efensive) end and our best linebacker.”
The senior led the Bulldogs with 96 tackles, seven of which were for a loss. He also recorded three sacks, two fumble recoveries and one blocked punt.
He anchored the right side of the line and helped the Bulldogs rush for nearly 350 yards per game. In total, the Bulldogs rushed for 4,500 yards on the season and passed for another 705 yards.
“We ran behind him,” Riner said. “That’s what we did.”
In the process, Naegele and his linemates paved the way not only for a state championship but for a state scoring record as well after the Bulldogs scored 764 points in 13 games.
6-0, 215, Sr., RB/DL
In 2015, Nyp was a junior on a Logan-Palco team that finished 7-2, just missing the playoffs in Eight-Man Division I. He was the second-leading rusher, gaining 626 yards and scoring nine times.
Then Nyp decided to transfer from Palco to Plainville for his senior campaign, noting he wanted the chance to possibly play for a state championship and also wanted to develop his 11-man game for the opportunity to play at the next level. After the senior campaign he put together for the Cardinals, it’s looking more and more like he might get that shot.
A big back with good speed, Nyp was a key factor in the Cardinals’ run to the Class 2-1A state title game. The 6-foot, 215-pounder bruised his way to 1,539 rushing yards and scored 22 rushing touchdowns, adding a 2 to the 1-2 punch along with senior quarterback Hayden Friend.
“He doesn’t have Hayden Friend speed, but he’s not slow,” Plainville coach Grant Stephenson said of the big back. “When he did get in the open field, he could go all the way to the end zone and no one could catch him.”
That was never more evident in 2016, then when he posted 346 yards and four scores in the Week 9 win against La Crosse. Friend was all but shut down by the Leopards and Nyp took over. The following week, he scored four more times in a playoff win against Elkhart, and in the state title game finished with 89 yards and the Cardinals’ two offensive touchdowns in a 28-24 loss. And on the defensive line, Nyp collected 41 tackles wth 10.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks.
“As strong as he is, he just added a whole other piece to our puzzle,” Stephenson said.
Nyp was in the process of finishing his highlight film and plans on playing collegiately, but it is undecided yet as to where.
6-1, 190, Jr., RB/LB
Need proof to how key David Thompson was to Logan-Palco’s success in a 7-2 campaign for the Trojans? Take a look at the junior’s stats in the Trojans’ two losses.
Only twice were teams able to stop Thompson from running roughshod, and both times resulted in two losses that kept the Trojans out of the playoffs for the second straight season, despite the fact they gained seven wins in each.
Still, those two teams — undefeated Eight-Man Division I state champion Osborne and playoff qualifier Solomon — weren’t able to completely keep him down.
Thompson gained more than 200 yards combined in the two games and scored two touchdowns. Outside of those games, Thompson bullied his way to 212.5 yards per game rushing, finishing his junior campaign with 1,696 rushing yards and 31 scores. He also got a hand on the ball receiving, collecting six catches for 101 yards and a pair of scores.
“He’s just so strong and will not give up,” Logan-Palco coach Mike Jenner said of Thompson after a Week 5 win against perennial power Victoria. “He actually gets stronger the more touches he gets.”
Leading Logan-Palco to a 5-0 start, Thompson scored at least three touchdowns in each of those first five games to go along with at least 150 rushing yards in each. He had 333 yards and five scores in a 56-30 win against Stockton, an eventual playoff qualifier in Eight-Man Division II. In addition, Thompson was the team’s third-leading tackler with 99 tackles, two for loss and three sacks.
In three seasons, Thompson has 3,417 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns, and could be in line for a bigger season in 2017 as the Trojans graduate playmaking quarterback Josh VanLaeys.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly listed Smith Center junior Dalton Kuhn's height and weight. The HDN apologizes for the error.