Riffe: Product of GW 'system' or worthy of Kennedy Award?
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In some respects, George Washington may be getting too good for its own good.
At least in the eyes and minds of voters on the Kennedy Award, which goes to the state's top high school football player.
Draven Riffe, a senior running back and GW's offensive leader, ranks among the top rushers in West Virginia and is actually ahead of the pace of Ryan Switzer, the Patriots' two-time Kennedy Award winner, in either the 2011 or 2012 seasons (see chart).
Riffe has run for 1,158 yards and 15 touchdowns for the unbeaten Patriots (5-0), who are ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, and is well on his way to becoming GW's fourth straight 2,000-yard rusher, joining Felix Mollett (2010) and Switzer, a Division I recruit.
That's where the rub starts to come in.
Some voters around the state - members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association - might get the feeling that Riffe is simply the latest product of "the system'' - that is, GW's proven ground game with assistant coach Jason Smith, who handles the offensive line.
You know, the same things folks used to say about Nitro quarterbacks and Morgantown running backs. Their numbers are inflated because of the program's emphasis on that phase of the game. Or maybe a few voters are even simply tired of voting for a GW running back, intent on giving the prestigious award to someone else.
Well, Riffe should at least merit consideration. Like Switzer, he's proven durable in his stint as lead back.
In his first five starts, Riffe's toted the ball 127 times - more than 25 per game. He lugged it 38 times against Ashland (Ohio) and 36 more against Princeton. Switzer never carried that many times in a game, reaching 30 only thrice in two years, with a career-high of 34 in the 2011 title game against Martinsburg.
Recently, Kennedy votes have a way of following GW running backs.
Switzer was a near-unanimous selection in 2011, earning all but two of the first-place votes submitted from around West Virginia. He was also almost a 2-to-1 favorite over runner-up Justin "Cookie'' Clinton of Martinsburg last year. In 2010, Mollett finished sixth in the balloting after not much preseason buildup.
As far as this year goes, Riffe's candidacy could face peaks and valleys.
One southern voter, for instance, felt like Riffe's chances are actually enhanced by comparing his numbers to Switzer's.
"I don't think that Switzer's success will hurt Riffe for consideration,'' the voter said. "Instead, I think it will help to illuminate what he's doing because there is the ability for side-by-side comparison to another Kennedy winner.''
However, that same writer - with no ties to any school that Riffe has attended - thinks his moving around "will not be looked on favorably'' by those doing the voting. Riffe competed as a sophomore at Scott before transferring to Van, where he didn't play because of injury.
"It does send the wrong message when a kid decides he wants to jump around at will to be in a better position,'' the voter said. "It begs the question: 'Do we really want individuals who put themselves before their team representing the state's top award?' It's something that goes through the minds of the voters, I would say.''
Then there's another issue at stake in this year's Kennedy balloting: What to do with Martinsburg's Malique Watkins?
Watkins, a senior quarterback and the leading rusher for the three-time defending Class AAA champion Bulldogs, possibly has his eligibility hanging by a court order as the regular season winds down.
Watkins, who attended the eighth grade twice - once in West Virginia and once in Maryland - has already been ruled ineligible by the SSAC, but a Jefferson County circuit court judge issued a temporary injunction, allowing Watkins to play. The SSAC awaits a court order explaining the decision before making its next move.
His credentials are certainly impressive enough - Watkins has run for 865 yards and seven touchdowns and has completed 31 of 53 passes for 372 yards and three TDs. In one of Martinsburg's biggest tests, he rushed for 277 yards and three TDs in a 28-21 win over otherwise-unbeaten Morgantown.
But some media members will surely penalize Watkins on their ballots - or not vote for him at all - because of the circumstances. The same thing happened in 2010 when Justin Fox of Magnolia edged South Charleston quarterback Tyler Harris in one of the closest votes in the history of the Kennedy Award, now in its 65th year.
Harris, who won the Kennedy in 2009, was one of four Black Eagles suspended after their involvement in an end-of-game fight in the playoff quarterfinals and received a local court injunction to be able to compete in the 2010 semifinals. That move was later rescinded after rulings by the state Supreme Court and the SSAC, forcing a forfeit loss.
Several voters around the state admitted they didn't vote for Harris due to the controversy.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.
A look at recent George Washington running backs, their total yards rushing and per-game average:
Year Player Yards Avg
2010 Felix Mollett 2,024 168.7
2011 Ryan Switzer 2,796 199.7
2012 Ryan Switzer 2,379 198.3
2013 Draven Riffe 1,158 231.6
Note: Mollett finished sixth in the Kennedy Award voting and Switzer won it twice.