For the seventh straight year, West Valley Preps honors the best football players from schools in the Northwest Valley.
Editor Richard Smith picked three running backs for each team, since there was a bumper crop of tailbacks this year. With most teams running a variant of the spread offense, the first team has three receivers and the second two receivers and an all purpose player, instead of two receivers and a tight end.
Also selected were four defensive linemen and four linebackers for each team.
Players may only be selected for offense or defense, but can earn a secondary nomination on special teams.
All players are seniors unless noted
QB – Chase Cord, Sunrise Mountain
RB – Zidane Thomas (Jr.), Centennial
RB – Damien Campbell, Kellis
RB – Damaria Norris (Jr.), Cactus
WR – Matt Eberhardt, Cactus
WR – Vodrey Gates, Valley Vista
WR – Zach Pells, Sunrise Mountain
OL – Joey Ramos (Jr.), Deer Valley
OL – Jeremy Benton, Kellis
OL – Andrew Ruelas, Centennial
OL – Nathan Torres, Peoria
OL – Creston Cooledge, Valley Vista
DL – Andrew Nichols, Centennial
DL – Scott Jones (Jr.), Cactus
DL – Nagey Abugour, Kellis
DL – Gabe King, Mountain Ridge
LB – Pacey Prettyman, Dysart
LB – Taylor Fiame, Centennial
LB – Rob Duque, Peoria
LB – Frank Maisano, Sunrise Mountain
DB – Caleb Egherman, Northwest Christian
DB – Ty Cunningham, Kellis
DB – Ryan Puskas (Soph.), Liberty
DB – Kruise Brown, Dysart
K – J.J. Nash, Sunrise Mountain
P – Jacob Parks, Centennial
KR – Egherman, Northwest Christian
PR – Gates, Valley Vista
QB – Nate Dobson (Jr.), Peoria
RB – Brandon Brown, Paradise Honors
RB – Colton Newton, Liberty
RB – Dez Melton (Soph.), Deer Valley
WR – Josiah Bailey (Jr.), Kellis
WR – Alex Ponce, Northwest Christian
AP – Chris Medcalf, Dysart
OL – Brett Gale, Liberty
OL – Alijah Stewart, Cactus
OL – William Hinton, Paradise Honors
OL – Jake Wagner, Sunrise Mountain
OL – Simeon Rivera, Dysart
DL – Ryley Conaway (Jr.), Deer Valley
DL – Zach Bingham, Peoria
DL – Jaden Hoyt (Jr.), Northwest Christian
DL – Raymond Cruz (Jr.), Dysart
LB – Nate Tomlinson, Paradise Honors
LB – Brendan Kinnee, Willow Canyon
LB – Marcus Wakeham, Centennial
LB – Bryson Anderson, Liberty
DB – Bobby Ramirez (Jr.), Sunrise Mountain
DB – Isaac Haney, Centennial
DB – Sekou Tyler (Jr.), Paradise Honors
DB – Gleson Sprewell, Centennial
K – Xavier Rojas (Jr.), Centennial
P – Cole Nixon, Liberty
KR – Eberthardt, Cactus
PR – Kade Heddings (Jr.), Liberty
SOPHOMORES TO WATCH
Cactus: Matthew Herrera LB; Centennial: Carson Keltner, OL; Deer Valley: Alex McKeon, LB, Justin Quintero, DB; Dysart: Kobe Ganados, QB; Glendale Prep: Gavin Beck, OL/DL; Ironwood: Stone Aguirre, LB, Devante Wimbish, LB; Liberty: Ryan Pitts, LB; Mountain Ridge: Jett Kinsch, RB; Northwest Christian: Dustin Inness, LB; Paradise Honors: Clay Duzy WR/DB; Peoria: Juwaun Price, RB; Shadow Ridge: Zaach Cullop, WR, George Lamb, LB; Sunrise Mountain: Jay Anderson, WR; Valley Vista: Daniel Villegas, LB; Willow Canyon: Zack Enhelder, TE.
OVERALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Pacey Prettyman, senior LB/FB, Dysart. A linebacker/running back earns this award for the third straight year. Prettyman may not be as explosive as his Centennial predecessors the past two years, but no player that I have seen has been more crucial for his team in both roles. Prettyman rarely got a play off at fullback and middle linebacker and was named the Black Canyon Region offensive and defensive player of the year. Yes, that is the weakest 4A region but Prettyman didn’t put these numbers up against air — 1,629 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns, 80 solo tackles and 13 tackles for loss.
Runner-up: Vodrey Gates, WR/PR/DB senior, Valley Vista. The Monsoon gave Gates only spot duty as a defensive back this year because of his size and his value with the ball in his hands. Only a handful of players in the state were as dynamic as the slot receiver. Gates caught 61 passes for 1162 yards and 12 touchdowns and caused even more headaches as a punt returner. He averages 19 yards per return and scored twice. Plus he tacked on two rushing touchdowns to boot. Small school swiss army knives Caleb Egherman (Northwest Christian) and Brandon Brown (Paradise Honors) also deserve mention.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Zidane Thomas, junior RB, Centennial. Even when there are no experienced tailbacks returning, prep football fans know Centennial has a runner waiting in the wings. By halftime of the season opening Sollenberger Classic against Desert Edge the next man up in Coyote country. Thomas slashed for 170 yards in that game on his way to a 2,000-yard season. It would have been more, but he received less than 10 carries in five lopsided wins. His decisive running style, size and speed evoked memories of great backs from the 80s and 90s. And rushing for 225 yards and three scores and 336 yards and four touchdowns in back to back road playoff wins over Desert Edge and Cienega put him over the top.
Runner-up: Chase Cord, senior QB, Sunrise Mountain. Almost written in pen in the offseason, a combination of factors denied Cord this award for the third straight year, most of them having to do with Thomas arriving like a supernova. Cord also eased into the season after recovering from a holiday ACL injury. He rarely ran this year due to that, after a 1,000-yard junior season. He even sat out a full game and parts of two others. But Cord was back in form in his final four games with 20 touchdown passes and only one pick. And you certainly can’t pin another bitter playoff defeat on him, as he threw for 325 yards and four scores in the 52-49 shootout with Catalina Foothills.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andrew Nichols, senior DE, Centennial. He was the known quantity on the Coyotes defense and the focus of constant double teams. His less heralded linemates began to flourish and Nichols still took over at key moments. He had 11.5 sacks and perhaps more impressively, 56 solo tackles. That is an excellent number for a linebacker, never mind a defensive end that opponents are trying desperately to avoid.
Runner-up: Scott Jones, junior DT, Cactus The Cobras have not rolled out a defensive tackle this disruptive since they regularly reached state title games. Jones’ nine sacks are impressive in a scheme that has always relied on outside speed rushers. He got in on 67 total tackles, which is quite a feat for an interior lineman.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Shawn Copeland, Kellis. There were about seven coaches with an equal claim to the award this year. But like Dysart’s Manuel Alcantar last year (he was a top candidate again this year) Copeland has transformed a program that lost far more kids in its boundaries than it kept. There are not as many challenges at Kellis as Dysart, but in football terms, it is tough when Centennial and tradition-rich Peoria are your neighbors. Two years ago, Copeland got many of the local youth football players to stay and he patiently built them up into the backbone of this varsity squad. The 9-2 season was more than mere talent retention, as the Cougars were noticeably more physical on both sides of the ball and transformed their defensive play from awful in 2015 to solid in 2016.
Runner-up: Will Babb, Peoria. Many candidates had a good case for the award this year. Alcantar took the Dysart story to another level. Larry Fetkenhier, Dave Inness and Richard Taylor are right there every year and again got the most out of their perennial powerhouses. Duane Brown came into the Paradise Honors job very late, tinkered a bit but knew when to let off. Josh Sekoch had his best year at Valley Vista and Steve Decker debuted well at Sunrise Mountain. But Babb wins by a nose. After the most baffling and perplexing season of his coaching career in 2015, he deserves credit for this back to basics campaign and quarterfinal berth. Peoria played to its strengths along both sides of the line and slowly brought along newcomers into key skill position roles. The Panthers also maxed out their talent and played very hard for the green and gold this year.