Let’s introduce the eight nominees for the Arizona High School Football Player of the Year, in alphabetical order.
The Football Player of the Year award winner will be announced in June at the azcentral Sports Awards live event.
Chandler, RB, 5-11, 180, Sr.
Anderson, after missing two seasons because of hip surgeries, shared the running duties with junior DeCarlos Brooks — until the 6A state championship game. In Chandler’s 49-42 win over Gilbert Perry, Anderson didn’t let a broken hand sustained in the second quarter keep him out. He carried the ball a career-high 35 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, including maybe the most memorable high school play of the season, a 43-yard run early in the final quarter, in which he broke four tackles, giving Chandler a 42-28 lead. Anderson finished with 2,009 yards and 32 rushing TDs on 218 carries (9.2 yards a carry) in a comeback season to remember.
Gilbert Higley, RB, 5-8, 174, Sr.
This dynamic back carried the ball fewer times than his Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year junior season, but he averaged more yards per carry (12.5) and ran for more touchdowns (32). He had a total of 36 touchdowns, leading Higley to the 4A semifinals, finishing with more than 200 yards in an overtime loss to Scottsdale Saguaro. Hall finished the season with 1,893 rushing yards on 152 carries. He also caught 22 passes for 461 yards and three TDs.
Gilbert Perry, QB, 6-1, 197, Sr.
He set single-season 6A state records for passing yardage (4,405) and passing TDs (57), leading Perry to its first state championship game appearance. In his final high school game, Purdy kept coming back after Chandler had scored 20 unanswered points to take a 27-14 lead early in the third quarter. He finished with 322 yards and five TDs passing and 131 yards and another score rushing, launching a fourth-quarter comeback bid after the Pumas fell behind 42-28. He led the Pumas on the season in rushing with 1,017 yards. All-Arizona his junior year, Purdy had 7,738 yards passing with 99 TDs in his final two years.
Phoenix Pinnacle, QB, 6-2, 180, Jr.
He had two 500-yard passing game, including his final game, in which he passed for 580 yards and five touchdowns, completing 39 of 67 in a 77-52 6A quarterfinal loss to Chandler. He finished the season with 3,946 yards and 45 TDs, completing 246 of 379 passes. He had four rushing TDs. He passed for 302 yards and four TDs in a 58-34 loss to Phoenix Mountain Pointe, following that up the next game with 393 yards and five TDs in a 77-29 win over Scottsdale Desert Mountain. He has passed for 9,220 yards and 93 TDs in his three-year varsity career.
Tucson Salpointe Catholic, RB, 6-1, 195, So.
He averaged 10.7 yards on 189 carries for the 4A state runnerup team, finishing with 2,023 yards and 26 touchdowns rushing. Just a sophomore, he had a total of 30 TDs, three catching, and two returning kicks. Robinson’s biggest game came in the state semifinals, rushing for 303 yards and two TDs on 27 carries in a 49-27 win over Peoria Sunrise Mountain. It was his third game of rushing for more than 200 yards.
Chandler, WR, 6-3, 200, Sr.
A knee injury that caused him to miss 3 ½ games didn’t cause any kind of drop-off. In fact, it fueled his finish, helping key the Wolves’ late-season charge to a second consecutive state championship. In his last six games, he caught 52 passes for 1,039 yards and 13 touchdowns. He finishes the season with 73 catches for 1,419 yards and 16 TDs. He caught eight passes for 140 yards and two TDs in the state final win over Perry.
Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, RB/WR, 6-0, 185, Jr.
Smith was a 1,000-1,000 dual threat for rushing and receiving, helping the Saints reach the 5A state final for the first time since 2008. Smith ran for 1,132 yards and 11 touchdowns on 117 carries. He caught 33 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs. He hauled in an 81-yard scoring pass in the 5A championship game loss to Peoria Centennial. Smith had three catches for 137 yards and two TDs, including an 81-yarder in first-round playoff win over Goodyear Desert Edge.
Centennial, RB, 5-10, 205, Sr.
Thomas ended his career brilliantly, running for 278 yards and three TDs in a 42-37 5A semifinal win over Peoria Liberty and 282 yards and two TDs in the 42-21 championship win over Notre Dame. He finished with 2,123 yards and 26 TDs on 207 carries in 13 games. He twice ran for more than 200 yards against Liberty, had 334 yards and two TDs in a 23-20 win over Pinnacle, and sealed the 12-0 win over then No. 3 nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas, the defending 7A Florida champion, with a late 56-yard scoring run.
How they were selected
The eight nominees for High School Football Player of the Year were chosen by the azcentral sports high school sports reporters, using personal observations and interviews with athletes and coaches as well as statistics, rankings and state tournament results.
Editor’s note: The American Family Insurance ALL-USA Arizona Football Team, along with the Big Schools (combining 6A through 4A) and Small Schools (3A-1A) Teams, will be announced Sunday, Dec. 17. There will only be a First Team with Honorable Mentions. Making HM will be like making second team and something to be very proud of. There will also just be a First Team for both the Big Schools and the Small Schools teams. The Football Player of the Year award winner will be announced in June at the azcentral Sports Awards live event.
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