South Dakota doesn't boast a lot of Div. I football recruits this season, but that doesn't figure to make the race for the state's Gatorade Player of the Year Award any less interesting.
One of the early leaders has to be Lincoln High's (Sioux Falls, SD) senior quarterback Alex Schultz. Schultz threw for 2,950 yards and 25 TDs as a junior and has increased his pace this year. Through five games (4-1), Schultz has completed 99 of 161 attempts for 1,647 yards and 22 TDs, with just three interceptions. Returning All-State teammate Trey Naasz (33-366) has broken the state's career record for receptions, but 6-foot-3 senior Josh Kunzmann has been Schultz's big play target, hauling in 34 passes for 703 yards and 12 TDs.
Schultz isn't the only talented quarterback in the state. Milbank High (Milbank, SD) QB/DB Nick Mears is a dual-threat signal-caller who has passed for 600 yards and rushed for 727. The only quarterback among the Argus Leader Elite 45 Team's five returnees, Mears has had a hand in 107 of Milbank's 132 points (81.6%), leading the Bulldogs to a 3-1 start in Class 11A.
Defending Class 11A champ Dell Rapids (Dell Rapids, SD) has been missing its top player, junior Cole Langer (grandson of NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Langer) for most of the season with a groin injury. Langer rushed for 1,236 yards as a sophomore and made 113 tackles on defense. Senior twin brothers Channing and Zach Barber -- the quarterback and running back, respectively -- have picked up the slack, however, boosting the Quarriers to a 3-1 start.
Another pair of senior twins, Jason and Justin Greenway -- cousins of Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway -- have played well for surprising 4-1 Mitchell (Mitchell, SD). Justin Greenway, a returning Elite 45 defensive player, is competing despite a torn ACL in his right knee. Jason Greenway has carried most of the offensive load, rushing for 714 yards on 90 carries, a season after compiling 1,114 yards and 17 TDs.
Yankton High (Yankton, SD) is off to a strong 5-0 start, thanks in part to junior quarterback Mike Rucker and the return of senior running back Connor Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons was injured in 2010, but has averaged double figures on the ground this season, picking up 517 yards on 51 carries.
Another player sure not to be overlooked is bruising fullback/middle linebacker Sam Steffl of O'Gorman (Sioux Falls, SD). The senior pounded for 1,423 yards and 18 TDs to lead the Knights all the way to the Class 11AA title game a year ago.
A dedicated POY team at ESPNHS manages the Gatorade Player of the Year program selection process and oversees all research, reporting, comparative analysis and criteria-compliance on the award program’s behalf. Candidates are judged upon athletic production and impact in the current season. Contenders must also demonstrate high academic achievement and exemplary personal character, including volunteerism, sportsmanship and community leadership. Any class year is eligible, senior status has no bearing on a candidate’s merit and selections are made independent of ESPNU's recruit rankings.
To nominate a student-athlete for Player of the Year honors, contact the POY team at firstname.lastname@example.org.