Nine football players from the West Valley View, Glendale Star and Peoria Times coverage-area schools were nominated for the Ed Doherty Award, given to the player recognized as the best in Arizona by the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club. 56 Arizona students were nominated for special season-long and single-game performances throughout the football season.
Tucson Salpointe Catholic running back Bijan Robinson claimed the award on Saturday for the second time in as many years, but the nomination alone served as a reward for much of Arizona’s top talent.
Among those nominated was Odyssey Institute running back Chris Weaver. Weaver, who received his award for a Week 10 performance that saw him break the 3A career rushing record – he finished with a total of 7,018 yards in four seasons – said the last few weeks of the season were “crazy.” He received the Doherty medallion, was recognized for the award and still had to prepare for the final game of the season and the Minotaurs’ first-round playoff game.
Few of the players nominated competed in smaller conferences, though a few 3A, 2A and 1A players peppered spots of the 56. Weaver was happy to be an outlier, in this case.
“In a way I’m representing myself but also the small schools in general,” Weaver said. “And it’s really cool for an Odyssey player to get nominated and show what we can do, so I’m going to soak this all in.”
Like Odyssey, it is not a given that a player from Mountain Ridge in Glendale will walk the podium in December. Senior Mountain Lion linebacker Tommy Ellis, who received his nomination after a Week 11 performance against Sandra Day O’Connor that saw him total 14 tackles and two tackles for loss, was a major factor in turning Mountain Ridge into a playoff team from going 0-10 the season before.
He said the loss to Perry in the first round of the 6A playoffs was something he regrets a bit, still, but admitted it felt rewarding to be in the room with many of the state’s most talented players.
“I look around and see all these great guys and I’ve watched a lot of them and seen their recruitment on social media. It feels really good to be mentioned in the same sentence as them and belong here,” Ellis said.
Other schools, like Centennial, have players nominated nearly every season for the Ed Doherty Award. One of the Coyotes to receive a nomination medallion in 2019 was senior Eric Haney, who received his nomination for a Week 8game in which he recorded a rushing, receiving and return touchdown, as well as three tackles and an interception, in a 40-8 win over Sunnyslope. He was joined in nomination by senior Jaydin Young, who could not make the ceremony due to a prior commitment.
Centennial fell to Hamilton in the first round of the new Open Division playoff bracket, halting a two-year championship streak.
Haney expressed gratitude for his nomination, and mentioned that the younger players on Centennial’s roster could look up to him and Young as examples of the rewards that await those willing to put in the work for them, and get back to the playoff wins Centennial has come to expect from itself.
“I hope seeing me here and seeing what great chances the players still have in next season is motivation for them,” Haney said. “There are so many talented players that I think we’re set up for some big things.”
The quarterback of Centennial’s opponent in that Centennial game was senior Niko Haen, who earned a nomination for a Week 6, 41-14 victory over Agua Fria in which he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
He and twin brother David are committed to play football at NAU next season. But before preparing for college ball, Niko had one final chance to appreciate his high school football career in the public eye.
“These years at Sunnyslope have been the best of my life,” Haen said. “And this is a really cool way to cap it off.”
While only one player could ultimately win the championship, each player that walked across the stage with their medallions shining had a moment to reflect on both their individual successes and what their performance meant to their respective teams.
“Now that there’s been some time and the dust has settled a little,” Ellis said. “I can look back and appreciate what we accomplished. Everyone in this room deserves to be really proud of what they’ve done.”
Other nominees not mentioned:
Kevin Daniels – Glendale running back
Christian Johnson – Greenway running back
Jalan Early – Millennium quarterback
Steven Ortiz – Desert Edge defensive back