Welcome to the first watch list for the Varsity Kansas Defensive Player of the Year award, something I have created due to popular demand.
It’s pretty simple: the best defensive players who make the biggest plays in the biggest games will be rewarded. I will try to publish this list on a weekly basis and crown a Defensive Player of the Year at the end of the season. Don’t see a player you think deserves to be on the list? E-mail Taylor Eldridge with his stats at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Players must be in Sedgwick, Butler, and Harvey counties to be ranked.
1. Larry Wilson, Valley Center junior DB
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Season stats: 12 tackles, 3 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown), 6 passes broken up.
When he’s not leading the team in rushing, Wilson has been an impact player for the Hornets’ stingy defense as a defensive back. Wilson has scored on an interception return the last two weeks, which helped Valley Center beat Campus and Arkansas City to improve to 3-0. He’s also broken up six passes through the air, which has helped make Valley Center continue its recent run of good defensive play.
Looking ahead: Valley Center (3-0) at Newton (1-2)
2. Tristen Knoblauch, Maize South senior DB
Season stats: 20 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 passes broken up.
Maize South’s defense hasn’t allowed a single point yet through its 3-0 start and Knoblauch, a returning all-state player, has picked up right where he left off from last season. He already has three interceptions through three games and is the team’s third-leading tackler. Maize South’s starters have been pulled early in the second half all three weeks so far, but they’ll have their stiffest challenge to date this Friday against Buhler.
Looking ahead: Maize South (3-0, No. 2 in 4A I) vs. Buhler (2-1)
3. Jacob Howell, Cheney senior DL
Season stats: 19 tackles (6 for a loss), 5 sacks, 1 pass broken up.
Cheney hasn’t been in a close game yet in its 3-0 start to the season, as its defense has been able to shut down three straight opponents in the first half of games. Howell has been a monster on the defensive line for the Cardinals, as he has come up with five sacks already and six tackles for loss in limited playing time.
Looking ahead: Cheney (3-0) vs. Douglass (0-3)
4. Marcus Hicks, Northwest junior DL
Season stats: 21 tackles (5.5 for a loss), 3 sacks, 2 passes broken up.
The production has matched the hype through three games of Hicks’ junior season. One of the top prospects in the Class of 2019, Hicks has delivered 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks so far. Northwest even has him standing up and playing some linebacker, which shows just how versatile of a defender Hicks can be.
Looking ahead: Northwest (2-1) vs. West (2-1)
5. Grant Fairchild, Andale senior DL
Season stats: 16 tackles (5 for a loss), 4 sacks.
Andale’s defense has been excellent in the team’s 3-0 start under first-year coach Dylan Schmidt and Fairchild has set the tone for the defense from his spot on the line. He has produced four sacks through three game and five tackles for loss. Andale will have a battle of unbeatens at home this Friday with Wellington.
Looking ahead: Andale (3-0) vs. Wellington (3-0)
6. PJ Smith, Maize senior LB
Season stats: 43 tackles (8 for a loss), 0.5 sack, 4 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble.
Smith has been everywhere for the Maize defense in the first three games of the season. He is among the state leaders in tackles through three games, as he has come through with 43 takedowns and eight tackles for loss. Maize’s defense was excellent in its first two games and will have another test this Friday against Salina South.
Looking ahead: Maize (2-1) vs. Salina South (1-2)
7. Cade Schoenhofer, Andover Central senior LB
Season stats: 26 tackles (4 for a loss), 4 sacks, 2 QB hurries.
The Andover Central senior linebacker has been excellent through the first three games of the season, as he has come through with 26 tackles, four for a loss, and four sacks. The Jaguars will have a huge showdown this Friday against their cross-town rival Andover.
Looking ahead: Andover Central (1-2) vs. Andover (1-2)
8. Josh Carter, Northwest junior LB
Season stats: 50 tackles (1.5 for a loss).
Last season Carter was seemingly everywhere for the Northwest defense as a sophomore middle linebacker. Not much has changed over the course of a year, as Carter is bigger and faster and getting to even more balls this season. He’s among the state leaders in tackles with 50 through Northwest’s 2-1 start to the season.
Looking ahead: Northwest (2-1) vs. West (2-1)
9. Riggs Robben, Bishop Carroll senior LB
Season stats: 23 tackles (4 for a loss), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Carroll is off to a 3-0 start to the season and the defense has been much improved this season. The Golden Eagles have standouts at each level (Isaiah Carter on the line and Zach Roth and Luke Evans in the secondary come to mind), but Robben has produced the most statistically with 23 tackles, four for a loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
Looking ahead: Bishop Carroll (3-0, No. 2 in 5A) vs. East (1-2) at South
10. Justin Amaro, Goddard senior LB
Season stats: 21 tackles (3 for a loss), 2 sacks.
Amaro missed last week’s game against Andover due to an illness and Goddard’s defense didn’t have its usual bite. There’s no questioning that Amaro is the heart and soul of the defense playing the Jack linebacker position in Goddard’s 3-4 scheme. He’s already at 21 tackles and two sacks and has only played in two games. Goddard plays rival Eisenhower this Friday.
Looking ahead: Goddard (3-0, No. 1 in 5A) vs. Eisenhower (0-3)
Other players to watch
Linemen: Kendall Davis, Augusta senior; Grant Deiter, Collegiate senior; Conner Eastburn, Garden Plain senior; Brandt Huckaby, Clearwater senior; Jacob Mondragon, Goddard senior; John Moses, Maize South senior; Adrian Roberts, Heights senior; Dalen Williams, Heights senior.
Linebackers: Tyler Boone, Valley Center senior; Cole Cusick, Mulvane senior; Antonio Espinoza, Maize senior; Kam’ron Gonzalez, Goddard junior; Corbin Ingram, Circle junior; Kaden Kraus, Halstead sophomore; Casey Mayes, Andover senior; Braden Morgan, El Dorado junior; Clark Schoonover, Andover Central senior.
Secondary: Drake Beatty, Clearwater sophomore; Dax Benway, Derby junior; Parker Bruce, Andale senior; Dalton Cross, Valley Center senior; Warren Dietz, Newton senior; Luke Evans, Carroll senior; Federico Harvey, Campus senior; Coban Honey, Augusta senior; Ian McSwain, Goddard senior; Zach Roth, Bishop Carroll senior.