Player of the Year race up for grabsOswego East's Chris Cooper celebrates after scoring in the second quarter Friday at Oswego. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 22, 2011 9:28PM
Passing over the midway point of the regular season, 15 of the 16 Beacon-News coverage area programs are .500 or better, including seven unbeaten teams. It’s an almost unprecedented start to a season that has multiple schools thinking playoffs for the first time in decades.
Perhaps due to such widespread team success, the area hasn’t had any single individual player step to the forefront of the Player of the Year race.
Since I joined The Beacon prior to the 2007 season, the Player of the Year has identified himself usually by this point and without much contest. The only heated raced was in 2008, when Aurora Christian quarterback Jordan Roberts and Geneva running back Michael Ratay each had phenomenal, record-breaking seasons in leading their respective teams to state title games.
But other than that, one player has stood above them all for the most part. Yet here we are, heading into Week 5 — and there is no clear favorite.
That’s not to say there isn’t a bevy of individual talent this year. In fact, the Class of 2012 will probably have the most Division I recruits than any in recent memory.
And they’re all playing well to this point. Anthony Maddie (Western Michigan), Matt Williams (Northern Illinois) and Joseph Jones (Northwestern) all are playing up to their billing. So are future FCS commits Ryan Glasgow, Ryan West and Dee Gray.
Then you have a player like running back Neil O’Brien pushing Yorkville to the brink of playoff eligibility, and sleepers like Chris Cooper at Oswego East, Drew David at Kaneland, P.J. Crotty at Sandwich, Noel Gaspari in Batavia and Austin Guido at Waubonsie Valley.
Perhaps, like in 2009 when Geneva defensive tackle Frank Boenzi earned the honor, a defensive player will prove himself as the Player of the Year. Maybe it’ll be a player who excels at all three phases of the game.
In 2006, while I was working at our sister paper in Naperville, I covered an athlete at Benet Academy named Jim Schmieder. He wasn’t a D-I player, yet he returned kicks, was so much of a lockdown corner that he had to be moved to safety in order to be a part of the defense and was a nearly unstoppable receiver. It took until the very end of that season for it to become clear he was the best player in the area.
That year reminds me a lot of 2006 in that regard, where there are so many interesting teams and games that the individual stuff is being overshadowed. All of the players and coaches will say that’s what the season should be about, but having this much intrigue surrounding the Player of the Year race only makes those games and matchups that much more compelling.