Patrick Ochs

Decisions, decisions: Who are the frontrunners for Sun Herald Player of the Year?

A trio of Hattiesburg defenders stop Picayune running back Shaun Anderson during the second quarter of their game at Lee-Triplett Stadium in Picayune on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
A trio of Hattiesburg defenders stop Picayune running back Shaun Anderson during the second quarter of their game at Lee-Triplett Stadium in Picayune on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. file

It’s almost time to decide our early awards at the Sun Herald. With Class 4A concluding its regular season — and everyone else wrapping things up next week — it’s about that time.

Resumes are mostly written, with a few more lines to add before “Decision Day.” It’s arguably one of the toughest days of the year on our staff as we meet try to piece together our All-South Mississippi team. It’s always more excruciating than it probably should be as we wade through deserving candidates to compile the most complete list of the Coast’s best.

Without question this will be one of those years.

With that in mind, some years our Player of the Year and Coach of the Year are pretty obvious. Frankly, I’m not so sure this will be one of those years.

This year’s collection of frontrunners aren’t in contention for national statistical titles like in years past, but for the most part they do have their teams in the hunt for region championships and possibly more. It’s a difficult balance. We’re not looking to name the best recruit; we’re looking for the best high school player. One of the things I often consider is, if Player X was removed from Team Y, would they still be in contention? How would his exclusion impact the team’s success? That’s not the No. 1 criteria, but sometimes it helps paint a more complete picture.

Without rambling on too much longer, here’s a list of Coast players I believe will be in contention for the Sun Herald Player of the Year crown once we make our final decision in December.

(This is probably the perfect spot for a disclaimer: This is not an official Sun Herald list and does not represent the sports department as a whole.)

RB Shaun Anderson

Breakdown: The Picayune senior running back is a game changer. He’s explosive, shifty, tough and all the things you like to see out of a high school back. With two games remaining in the regular season, Anderson is second in the state with 1,874 yards on 206 carries for a 9.1 average. His 22 touchdowns are the fifth-most in Mississippi (sandwiched between two others on this list). While Anderson had a costly fumble in last week’s loss to Hattiesburg, it’s hard to deny his explosiveness out of the backfield is a big reason Picayune is considered one of the top Class 5A teams in the state. Picayune coach Dodd Lee said as much post-game:

“We wouldn’t have been where we were without him,” he told the Sun Herald. “I know he’s given us a great effort every night. I hate that he fumbled for him almost more than I do for me.”

RB Austin Bolton

Breakdown: Every time the Poplarville running back takes the handoff you have to pay attention. Bolton, like several others on the list, is worth the price of admission as an exciting home run threat. Bolton is right behind Andrews with 1,733 yards, but he’s only carried the ball 141 times and has still broken free for 23 touchdowns. It seems even when the opposition knows which direction he’s going to run, the senior Hornet still finds a way to make it into the end zone.

RB Tony Brown

Breakdown: Another prolific running back, Brown’s name carries a lot of weight in the state. When discussing the most electric players around, Brown’s name consistently comes up. He’s averaging 10.2 yards per carry and enters Friday’s game at Vancleave with 1,588 yards and 21 touchdowns on 156 carries. The Hornets have had a lot of blowouts this year so they haven’t had to lean as heavily on the senior this year, but it will be interesting to see what he does once the Hornets open the playoffs. I have a hunch his production won’t wane.

LB Karlos Dillard

Breakdown: If you were to draw up an ideal high school linebacker, the Gulfport senior fits the mold. He has the perfect blend of size, speed in instincts that should send shivers through opposing coordinators. Dillard deserves plenty of credit for Gulfport’s smothering defense, which has allowed just 48 points through five Region 4-5A contests. Though nine games, Dillard has 102 tackles with 21 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two recovered fumbles.

LB Trenton Ladner

Breakdown: Hancock’s junior linebacker is a gamechanger on defense. Like Dillard, he’s exactly what you want from a next-level linebacker and the fact he doesn’t have more college offers is simply baffling. The Hawks have a lot of great players leading their resurgence this year, but I’m not sure any player in 4-6A is more important to his team than Ladner. Entering Friday’s game against Biloxi, Ladner has 120 tackles with 20 TFLs, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.

ATH Enrique Whaley

Breakdown: The biggest X-factor on this list, Stone’s senior is the equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. It would be easier to list things Whaley can’t do. On offense: Whaley leads the Tomcats with 259 yards and three touchdowns passing; he has rushed for 479 yards and seven scores; he has seven receptions for 132 yards and four TDs. All Whaley has done defensively is record 16 tackles with five interceptions and six passes defended. He even kicks — averaging 37.2 yards on nine punts. He also returned one kick for a touchdown.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs