Photo by Brian Paglia
Eagle's Landing Christian running back/linebacker (left) and Travis Custis of Lovejoy are leading candidates for player of the year honors.
As the season heads into its third week, it’s never too early to pinpoint players that should be considered for postseason accolades.
The Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald sports staff has compiled an initial list of candidates for their annual Player of the Year award.
Each week, the POY Watch will be updated to reflect the players’ movement throughout the course of the season.
1. Travis Custis, Lovejoy, RB
There may not be a more complete running back in the Southern Crescent. With a combination of power, durability and speed, he 6-foot, 215-pound Georgia Tech commit has been slicing up opposing defenses since his sophomore year. Custis rushed for 1,839 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2011 for the state runner up Wildcats. He ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 42 more yards in Lovejoy’s 44-6 season opening win against Mundy’s Mill.
2. Alejandro Bennifield Lovejoy, QB
With so many offensive weapons at his disposal, the second-year starter at quarterback has the liberty to distribute the football like a basketball point guard. After committing to Tennesee-Chattanooga over the summer, Bennifeld can now focus on leading his Class AAAAAA ninth-ranked Wildcats back to the playoffs. The senior finished 11-of-15 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns last week against Mundy’s Mill. With Lovejoy looking to air it out more this year, Bennifield’s arm will be a key to Lovejoy’s success.
3. Cameron Sutton Jonesboro, ATH
During summer camp, Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd said he felt he could put Sutton anywhere on the field and he’d be successful. The senior has backed up his coach’s confidence, as he stars for the Cardinals both as a wide receiver and a cornerback on defense. A dangerous kick and punt returner, Sutton can burn you in various ways. Sutton’s 31 catches and 502 yards and nine touchdowns led the Cardinals last year. The Tennessee commit will no doubt become a favorite target for new quarterback Mario Atkinson.
4. Ti’Keem Cooper Riverdale, RB
If Riverdale is going to challenge for a playoff spot, then the diminutive running back will need another big season. He rushed for 870 yards last season as the Raiders had a 4-6 record. A very shifty runner, Cooper is plenty durable despite his small build. Last week, he helped the Raiders defeat North Clayton 21-0 to open the season.
5. La’Darrius Mathis North Clayton, RB
The senior has started on the varsity since his sophomore season. He has been a workhorse in the Eagles’ Wing-T offensive attack the last two seasons. In 2010, Mathis rushed for close to 1,000 yards. Running behind an experienced interior line this year should help him pile up a lot of yardage this year as well. Against Riverdale last week, he had 156 yards on 21 carries.
1. Keyante Green, ELCA, RB
As a sophomore, he was named the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald Henry County Player of the Year after leading the team to the Class A quarterfinals. Injuries sidelined him for five games last season, but he still managed to rush for 907 yards and finish second on the team in tackles. In a big win over Alabama powerhouse Briarwood Christian last week, he finished with three touchdowns before sustaining an injury in the third quarter.
2. JoJo Spann Ola, ATH
Spann has been a key playmaker for the Mustangs the last three seasons. Now, the rest of the Southern Crescent may soon find out what his teammates already knew about him. Spann had one of the area’s best performances last week, rushing for 136 yards and scoring two touchdowns. And as a safety on defense, he grabbed an interception in the waning moments of regulation that helped secure Ola’s 38-30 win over Eagle’s Landing. If Spann continues at this rate, look for the Mustangs’ playoff stock to rise quickly.
3. Donovahn Jones, Dutchtown, QB
The senior has over 20 scholarship offers and the athleticism to back them up. He plays quarterback and matches up against opponents’ top receivers on defense. Just as many colleges want Jones to play receiver based off his 6-foot-3 size and basketball leaping ability. Jones displayed his play-making potential last Friday in the Bulldogs’ 42-16 season-opening loss to Griffin. He was 10-of-17 passing for 195 yards and rushed for a 9-yard touchdown.
4. Josh Shockley ELCA, LB
He has quickly risen among the elite players in Class A after leading the team in tackles last season. Despite playing on a team that has several major college prospects, Shockley is one of the players on the Chargers’ squad. In addition to playing linebacker, the junior will play some at fullback and in some of the team’s offensive packages.
5. Malcolm Miller, Woodland, RB
The diminutive running back led the Wolfpack in rushing last season, though that wasn’t much of a distinction for a 2-8 team. Well, Miller stood out last week. He rushed for a game-high 159 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and caught a 9-yard touchdown reception. And it got Woodland off to a better start, too — a 27-10 season-opening victory over Walnut Grove.