O’Brien: Breaking down the Player of the Year race

SHARE O’Brien: Breaking down the Player of the Year race
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Pick any super positive football player cliche and it probably applies to Glenbard West’s Sam Brodner: winner; gamer; leader; clutch performer; touchdown-machine; yardage-eater; etc. He’s basically the Glen Ellyn version of Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights,” just less moody and pensive.

Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet is pulling no punches when it comes to praising his star player.

After beating Lyons in September: “Sam is a pretty powerful kid. He does a lot of things that kids can’t do, a lot of things most running backs can’t do.”

After beating Hinsdale Central in October: “(Brodner) is a freak. I told everybody in the summer he is a freak. There is a video of him doing a flip and catching the ball in mid-air. He does crazy things. We’re lucky to have him.”

And Tuesday: “He is by far the most explosive player I’ve ever seen. He is an absolute freak.”

Some may take issue with Hetlet’s take on Brodner’s explosiveness. Raw speed isn’t his top quality. However, Brodner is definitely an amazing athlete. The Vanderbilt recruit has terrific control of his body, something you rarely see in a high school or college athlete. He’s caught 19 passes for 380 yards and six touchdowns so far this season. His rushing stats are impressive: 163 carries, 1,089 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Those numbers coupled with the Hilltoppers’ undefeated run has Brodner in the top-tier of contenders for Player of the Year honors.

Here’s a rundown of the others:

Riley Lees, Libertyville, quarterback

Lees, a Northwestern recruit, is Brodner’s top competition. He has solid passing numbers: 85-for-146 for 1,255 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions passing. But Lees’ specialty is running the ball. He has 138 carries for 1,655 yards and 25 touchdowns so far this season. That’s nearly 12 yards a carry, almost double Brodner’s average of 6.6 yards.

Quayvon Skanes, Phillips, quarterback

Skanes’ had one of the season’s breakout moments when he returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown in the Wildcats’ 29-18 win over Simeon in Week 3. He hasn’t thrown a ton this year (30-for-58 for 517 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions) but has been a deadly threat running the ball, with 86 carries for 908 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s also caught two touchdowns.

Deante Harley-Hampton, Homewood-Flossmoor, running back

Part one of the Vikings’ dual Harley-Hampton threat has 104 carries for 1,009 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s caught 15 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns. The twins are captivating to watch, either one is able to break any run for a touchdown. It will be difficult to separate the performance of one from the other though, which could hurt their Player of the Year chances.

Devonte Harley-Hampton, Homewood-Flossmoor, running back

Part two of the Vikings’ stellar running combo has almost identical numbers to his twin brother: 107 carries for 1,175 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s caught 21 passes for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

Dara Laja, Loyola, running back

Laja is the Rambler’s all-time leading rusher. He’s been a rock solid threat on the area’s top team with 165 carries for 1,108 yards and 17 touchdowns. Laja is a crafty runner, but there is no doubt he’s been helped out by the Ramblers’ opponents focusing on shutting down their incredible passing attack.

The other contenders: Ricky Smalling, Brother Rice; Emmanuel Rugamba, Naperville Central; Isaiah Robertson, Neuqua Valley; Sam Taylor III, Thornton.

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