The top 20 blueprint wasn’t necessarily based strictly on recruiting interest, although it did play into account, but rather a collection of players that influence the outcome each Friday night in the realm of Utah high school football.
I’ll publish a blog post each day unveiling the top 20 impact players in the state — in no particular order — in my unabashed opinion. All selections are entirely my own. Submit your feedback in the comment section below and I’ll respond accordingly. Stay up to date with Utah high school football on Twitter by following me @TPhibbsDNews.
Now, without further ado:
20. Korey Rush, East. Defensive End.
19. Baron Gajkowski, Lone Peak. Quarterback.
18. Gaje Ferguson, Mountain Crest. Running back; outside linebacker.
17. Cole Nelson, Juan Diego. Quarterback; safety.
16. Nolan Gray, Orem. Receiver.
15. Mori Savini, Taylorsville. Defensive tackle; fullback.
14. Koi Cook, Grand. Running back; defensive back.
13. Isaiah Holloway, Timpview. Defensive back.
12. Brandon Farmer, Herriman. Running back.
11. Drew Batchelor, Dixie. Receiver.
10. Kavika Fonua, Syracuse. Defensive back; running back.
9. Bryan Mone, Highland. Defensive line, offensive line.
8. Chase Christiansen, Stansbury. Quarterback; linebacker.
7. Tani Lehauli, Granger. Running back.
6. Trent Roberts, Duchesne. Quarterback
5. Breckin Gunter, Box Elder. Linebacker; running back.
4. Taylor Compton, Logan. Receiver; cornerback.
3. Mack Richards, Alta. Receiver
2. Scott Nichols, Bingham. Running back
1. Austin Kafentzis, Jordan. Quarterback
Nitty-gritty: 6-foot-1, 195-pounds; committed to Wisconsin.
Qualifications: Although the countdown never followed a particular order, I couldn’t resist saving the best for last. It comes as no surprise that Austin Kafentzis is the most influential and arguably the best player in the state on every Friday night.
In only two years Kafentzis has been named Deseret News’ First-Team All-State as a freshman, Mr. Football as a sophomore, National Freshman and Sophomore of the Year by MaxPreps and Second-Team All-America by USA Today in 2012. To put that into perspective, the First-Team quarterback on USA Today’s list was Max Browne, a USC signee that threw for 4,526 yards and 49 touchdowns as a senior.
It’s conceivable that in two years Kafentzis will rewrite every significant passing and rushing record in state history. He’s currently 4,906 yards and 47 touchdowns behind Mountain Crest’s Alex Kuresa’s high passing marks, and only 3,803 yards behind Kuresa’s total offense record. On the ground he’s 2,597 yards back of Granger’s Fahu Tahi’s record and 26 touchdowns behind Grantsville’s Alan Mouritsen.
This season, however, will truly illustrate his importance to the program. Jordan graduated its entire offensive line — one of the best groups in state history. The receiving corps also suffered through attrition, including the departure of Mason Krueger, who elected to focus strictly on baseball. All that remains from an offense that averaged 47.5 points per game is Kafentzis and running back Clay Moss.
Jordan, with a bullseye on its back as the returning state champions, is dependent upon Kafentzis more than ever, and this time he may not have as much help.
ON THE FRINGE
When I first decided to embark on this project I knew that it was an overwhelming task. Considering I evaluated 102 teams extensively (I didn’t take first-year program Corner Canyon in account), and estimating that rosters vary anywhere between 50-85 players — that’s roughly 5000-8,700 registered players in the state.
I eventually narrowed the list down to 126 players from 56 different programs. I continued to trim until I started to get into the 40-player range, and that’s where things got sticky. There are so many talented, influential players in this state that when it was time for finalization I faced numerous tough decisions. Obviously there are several players worthy of the Top 20 that didn’t make the list. Here are the main snubs, most of which appeared on my big board at one point in time, and a brief explanation of why they were ultimately excluded:
East’s Ula Tolutau: The Wisconsin commit is undoubtedly one of the top athletes in the sport, and certainly a profound influence on Friday nights. Tolutau easily was the hardest to leave off the list. However, with Preston Curtis, Isaac Valles and Malakai Solovi returning, how much do the Leopards rely on his production? In his absence, after being suspended for one-game, Solovi rumbled for 132 yards and one score against Fremont.
Brighton’s Jackson Barton and Bear River’s Justus Wise: Both are dominant at their respected positions. The list didn’t address any offensive lineman, and the reasoning is simple: I believe the offensive line is the most important position on the field, but also the most dependent on the support from the other four members of the group. All five upfront are critical to any success throughout the season, and selecting one is difficult.
Other running backs were: Jordan’s Moss, Brighton’s Osa Masina, Juan Diego’s Chase Williams and Desert Hills’ Bridger Cowdin. For Moss and Williams it was a matter of personnel — Kafentzis is capable of producing on the ground, too, and Juan Diego is stacked at running back. I waffled frequently with Masina and Cowdin. Both will be the focal point of their respected offenses this season. It boiled down to only having 20 spots available.
Two defenders, Highland’s Adam Webber and Cottonwood’s T.J. Fehoko, were casualties on the list, but expect both of them to contribute profusely this season.
Then, of course, quarterbacks supersede most positions in terms of importance. Layton’s Hunter Evans, Spanish Fork’s Jason Money, Manti’s Connor Aste and Morgan’s Ben Saunders easily could have made the list for various factors, but once again there were only 20 available spots.
I want to know what you think of the final 20? Did I get it right? If not, who deserved to be on the list more than the others? Direct your praise and or criticism to the comments below, and I’ll be happy to join in the conversation.