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Talking Time: Kennedy Award

About eight days ago, I began to wonder when my Harrison H. Kennedy Award ballot would make an appearance in my email. Super Six week and the all-state meeting were drawing near and I knew we (the West Virginia Sports Writers Association) usually had the prize for the top football player in the state voted on and done around this time of the year.

While sending my box and a brief story on St. Marys and East Hardy Friday night in Moorefield, the message I had been waiting on finally arrived to my inbox.

I was excited, but not quite sure why because the task of assembling the three top candidates was difficult this season. Five names stood out among the state for their performance this season and two were going to get left off, but who would they be?

You can’t leave out last year’s winner in Mingo Central’s Jeremy Dillon. The senior arguably has had a better season than last year, while handling the pressure of winning the award well according to his head coach Joey Fields.

“I don’t think he thinks about the Kennedy Award,” said Fields. “We don’t talk about it and he just goes out and plays. I told him ‘Hey we are going to live and die with you this season’ and he has been a great leader on and off the field.”

Dillon led the Miners back to the Class AA semifinals and a 12-1 record in 2017. His stats speak for themselves. As the leader of a dynamic Mingo offense, the dual-threat QB threw for more than 2,500 yards and just five interceptions and his wheels also helped him pick up 874 yards on 81 carries. Rushing and passing, Dillon had a hand in more than 50 touchdowns this season.

While we are talking about signal-callers, it would be hard to forget about Martinsburg’s Tyson Bagent. The Bulldog senior helped his team to a second-straight undefeated regular season and appearance in the state title game. Dave Walker bragged on his quarterback calling him a ‘great kid’ and a ’70-year old man in a 17-year olds body,’ as he is more mature for his age and comes in and gets the work done with no horse play and is all business.

Although he has shined all season long, with more than 3,000 passing yards and a 72 percent completion rate, Bagent has saved his best for the playoffs. He set a new state record for completion percentage in a second-round win over John Marshall by connecting on 15 of 16 passes, then threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns last week against Capital in the semis.

I can attest to his talents as I watched him play against Spring Valley and its monster defensive line in the state title game last season. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow against the Timberwolves’ pass rush and dropped several pretty balls into the hands of his receivers in stride, something hard to do for some college quarterbacks.

Speaking of rushing, two of the final three candidates had outstanding years running the football. Huntington’s Jadon Hayes and Bluefield’s Mookie Collier easily could take the label of the top two running backs in the state.

All Hayes did was rush for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in 13 games (including eight playoff teams in the regular season), and provide stellar coverage on the Highlander opponents’ best wide receiver from his safety position.

In fact many colleges are recruiting him as a defensive back according to Huntington head man Bill Seals.

“What he has been able to do on offense this season is pretty amazing,” said Seals. “But he is also a punt returner, kick returner and may be better on defense than he is on offense.

“He is the most unselfish football player I have ever seen and just wants to win.”

Collier also eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark and 30 touchdowns. Though he did it all in seven games as Fred Simon subbed him out when his Beavers got up by 30 points or more to keep him healthy. Perhaps the most impressive number out of Collier’s amazing stats is his 15 yards per carry average for the entire season.

“He is very deserving,” said Simon. “On top of everything else he did this year, he also set the scoring record for the high school. He does everything you can ask of him on the field.”

Though it has been almost 30 years since Class A Sistersville running back Jeff Swisher won the award, the smallest classification in the state has a very deserving candidate this season. East Hardy wide receiver Brett Tharp has presented matchup problems for every team on East Hardy’s schedule this year to the tune of more than 1,600 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

But Tharp isn’t just a one-trick player. West Virginia University’s Tony Gibson is calling him almost weekly to get Tharp to play defensive back for the Mountaineers. The senior has nine interceptions on the year and rarely does the ball get thrown to his side of the field … Unless it is an incompletion.

And now I have a headache after seeing all these stats and arguments.

This is a loaded field and you certainly couldn’t go wrong with any of these players.

It is a good thing my fellow sports writers and I like a challenge, because we have one on our hands this season.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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