GW's Ryan Switzer has run for 1,523 yards and 19 touchdowns.
WHEN THE high school football season started, it was swarming with intrigue regarding the top teams in the state.Can Martinsburg become the first school in 42 years to win three straight titles in Class AAA?Could George Washington finally take that last step to capturing a championship?How would the transfer of David Gaydosz to Cabell Midland affect the Knights' already-powerful ground game?Could the rest of AA and Class A catch up to Wayne and Wheeling Central?
But when it came to discussion about the top player in the state, there was hardly the same level of fascination.Running back Ryan Switzer of GW took the Kennedy Award as the state's best player as a junior last year, winning the voting in runaway fashion, much like one of his touchdown bursts, and hardly anyone expected that to change this season.And then it happened.Switzer went down with a concussion and shoulder injury early in the first quarter of GW's opener and, in effect, missed two full games. Suddenly, the Kennedy Award wasn't such a slam dunk anymore.Maybe Switzer wouldn't come back in top form, or maybe the time he missed would penalize him in the eyes of the voters, who are members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.Well, here we are six weeks later, and at least one of those questions has been answered resoundingly. Switzer has indeed returned to form.The senior, who has committed to the football program at North Carolina, has run for 1,523 yards and 19 touchdowns to spark GW to a 6-1 record and the No. 4 ranking in Class AAA.In fact, he's ahead of the pace he set last year when, through seven games, he'd gained 1,255 yards on the ground with 17 TDs. (He ended with 2,796 yards and 40 TDs).If you want to discount the two games he missed (subtracting the 69 yards he picked up in two carries in the opener against South Charleston), Switzer is averaging just about 291 yards per game with 18 rushing TDs in five games. Through his first five games last year, he averaged 192 yards rushing with 12 TDs.
Clearly, he's outdoing himself on the field. And in a way, it doesn't hurt his chances that in the one full game he sat out - against Kentucky power Ashland Paul Blazer (8-1) - GW suffered its only regular-season loss over the last 33 games.
So if Kennedy voters turn in their ballots at the end of the regular season, as many are wont to do, it probably won't matter that Switzer has played in what amounts to eight games as opposed to 10 for most of the other candidates.That seems to be the overriding sentiment around the state, too. An informal check with a few other sportswriters put support squarely behind Switzer.Shawn Rine of Wheeling considers Switzer "the front-runner,'' and said "his numbers are astronomical as they stand today.''Chris Johnson of Clarksburg said Switzer is "still at the top of the list,'' and Grant Traylor of Huntington added, "for me, it is still Ryan Switzer's award to lose.''As always, there are deserving Kennedy candidates popping up all around the state:Gaydosz, of course, could probably be the leader in just about any other Switzer-free season, with 1,149 yards and 19 TDs, including a pair of six-TD games, despite sharing the workload with another 1,000-yard rusher in fullback Lowell Farley.
Martinsburg quarterback Justin "Cookie'' Clinton has thrown for 941 yards and nine TDs and run for 736 yards and 11 scores;
Running back Chazzy Thomas of Morgantown has rushed for 1,191 yards and 16 TDs;Oak Hill running back Jalen Jones has run for 1,524 yards and 18 TDs and scored 135 points;Quarterback Caleb Dombeck of Musselman has passed for 1,561 yards and 20 TDs;Running back L.J. Lawrence of Elkins has run for 1,359 yards and 15 scores out of a single-wing formation;Wayne running back Brandon Spurlock (918 yards, 13 TDs) averages about 14 yards a carry, but plays in a balanced attack and seldom gets a carry in the second half as the unbeaten Pioneers' closest game has been 39 points.
Gaydosz and Clinton would be the players most likely to make a run at Switzer for the Kennedy, since their teams project to be AAA title contenders, like GW. Gaydosz doesn't mistake which quest means more to him."I'm honored to be named, to be mentioned with all those guys,'' Gaydosz said. "They're great players. Ryan Switzer is one of my good friends. . . . This is a team sport. I don't play for individual awards. There's one that's my goal and the team's goal - and that's to get to the state championship. That's what we're going for.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.What they're saying about the Kennedy Award race
"I 100 percent consider Ryan Switzer the Kennedy Award front-runner. His numbers are astronomical as they stand today, and he is clearly the best high school player in the state.'' - SHAWN RINE, The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register_______"Statistically speaking, Ryan Switzer's numbers are close to where they were this time last season. If I'm not mistaken, he's averaging one touchdown every four times he touches the ball, which is an incredible ratio. There are several talented running backs in the state - Brandon Spurlock from Wayne, Brett Hathaway from Bridgeport, L.J. Lawrence from Elkins and Chazzy Thomas from Morgantown to name just a few. But Switzer is still at the top of the list and should be considered the front-runner for the Kennedy Award.'' - CHRIS JOHNSON, Exponent Telegram (Clarksburg)_______ "For me, it is still Ryan Switzer's award to lose. I think the two games that Ryan missed solidify how important he is to his team. The team struggled in his absence and hasn't really been challenged with him on the field. Cabell Midland's David Gaydosz and Wayne's Brandon Spurlock are both players from my area that I think are in the running as well, but Switzer is a kid that is known statewide and every defense goes into a contest trying to shut him down. No one has been able to do so, and that speaks volumes about his abilities as a player and about the offensive line in front of him.'' - GRANT TRAYLOR, Herald-Dispatch (Huntington)_______"Injuries are part of the game and should not be held against a deserving candidate. I do have a personal rule that I won't support any athlete who gets himself suspended and misses game[s] for an unexcused absence.'' - DAVE POE, Parkersburg News and Sentinel_______ "Given the statistic-driven nature of awards like the Kennedy, any person, no matter the circumstances, who achieves high numbers has an opportunity to win the award.'' - RICK KOZLOWSKI, The Journal (Martinsburg)