POY Watch: Top candidates in each classification

Dacula's Kaleb Edwards runs for a TD against Lanier during a recent game.
Dacula's Kaleb Edwards runs for a TD against Lanier during a recent game.

Credit: John Amis/Special to the AJC

Credit: John Amis/Special to the AJC

The Player of the Year Watch traditionally features the best 10 candidates for the annual all-classification award.

This week offers a different approach, looking at five candidates in each class.

The criteria is largely the same – a subjective projection of each player’s chances of winning the award at the end of the season. But in a class-by-class look, another consideration is the player’s impact in his own classification.

Class 7A

1. Jacurri Brown, Lowndes: The Vikings' 6-foot-4 quarterback has rushed for 516 yards, going over 140 against No. 1-ranked Lowndes' best three opponents, and he’s passed for 568 with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Brown is a four-star recruit.

2. Travis Hunter, Collins Hill: The consensus No. 1 Georgia recruit among juniors, and probably this class’s best two-way player, Hunter leads 7A with 65 receptions for 775 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games. He’s also a shutdown cornerback, which he plays to play at Florida State.

3. Phil Mafah, Grayson: Through expected circumstances, No. 2 Grayson has become a run-oriented team thus far, and Mafah has responded with 834 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in the Rams' six games, all wins. Mafah is committed to Clemson.

4. Dylan Lonergan, Brookwood: Though a freshman starter last year, Lonergan has broken out as a sophomore, throwing for 1,774 yards and 18 touchdowns in six games, all wins, for the No. 4 team in the class. Lonergan is an uncommitted four-star recruit.

5. Barrett Carter, North Gwinnett: He’s played only three games because of injury but has 15 solo tackles, six for losses, while scoring a couple of touchdowns, even passing for one. Carter is committed to Clemson.

Class 6A

1. Caleb McDowell, Lee County: This South Carolina commit is the most valuable player on the No. 1 team. He has rushed for 526 yards, caught two TD passes and averages more than 30 yards on both punt and kickoff returns.

2. Kaleb Edwards, Dacula: None in 6A has been better all-around than this two-way starter committed to Georgia Tech. In just four games played, he has 870 all-purpose yards on 74 touches, made 16 tackles and broken up six passes. He’s currently injured, though, but hopes to return by the regular-season finale against Buford.

3. Ashaud Roberson, Richmond Hill: Roberson, not big at 5 feet, 9 inches, has been a workhorse for the No. 4 Wildcats, rushing for 962 yards with at least 100 in all seven games.

4. Leo Blackburn, Westlake: Blackburn doesn’t have eye-popping stats (23 receptions, 387 yards, two touchdowns), but he’s the most valuable and versatile offensive weapon on a team full of major Division I prospects. Committed to Georgia Tech, Blackburn plays tight end, critical in the run game, and also lines up in the slot or out wide, causing mismatches at 6-foot-5.

5. Gabe Ervin, Buford: Ervin, committed to Nebraska, leads No. 2 Buford with 469 yards rushing. But he shares the spotlight with teammate Victor Venn, another D-I recruit who has 452 yard rushing. They might be the best pair of backs in the state.

Class 5A

1. Thomas Castellanos, Ware County: Castellanos, a junior, has passed for 1,578 yards and rushed for 577 with a hand in 25 touchdowns for a No. 1-ranked team that has beaten six top-10 opponents. Only about 5-11, he still has major D-I interest.

2. Justice Haynes, Blessed Trinity: Haynes, a sophomore, has rushed for 107, 255 and 331 yards with 10 touchdowns in Blessed Trinity’s three games, all victories over quality opponents. He’s a blue-chip prospect with a recent Georgia offer.

3. Jalen Addie, Warner Robins: Addie, a senior, has passed for 919 yards and run for 430 with a hand in 14 touchdowns for a 5-1 team ranked No. 3. He led the Demons to the 2019 title game.

4. Devonte Ross, Cartersville: Ross, a senior three-year starter, has 531 yards receiving and is well-positioned for a second straight season over 1,000. He’s also a solid cornerback on a 6-1 team tranked No. 4.

5. Devin Lee, Ola: The Mustangs are 6-0 and ranked for the first time in their history, and this defensive lineman is the leader in tackles for losses (five) and sacks (seven). Lee is committed to Ole Miss.

Class 4A

1. Malaki Starks, Jefferson: Starks, a triple-option quarterback, has rushed for 644 yards, averaging 9.8 yards for carry, in five games, all victories, for the No. 2-ranked team. He’s a five-star junior recruit.

2. Javon Bullard, Baldwin: In only three games, all wins, Bullard has 34 tackles, four for losses, one game-clinching sack and 270 all-purpose yards. He caught a 39-yard TD pass in the closing moments of a 19-13 victory last week. He’s committed to Georgia. Baldwin is ranked No. 10.

3. C.J. Washington, Cedartown: He’s committed to Georgia as a linebacker but showed his value last week with 157 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries. He has scored nine touchdowns as a part-time running back and delivered four sacks, two forced fumbles and nine QB hurries on offense.

4. Narada Levett, Central (Carrollton): Levett, a first-year starter having a breakout year, has rushed for 1,394 yards, putting him on pace for just short of 2,000 in the regular season.

5. Holden Geriner, Benedictine: Geriner, a junior three-star recruit, has thrown for 1,456 yards and 14 touchdowns without an interception for a 5-2 team ranked No. 5.

Class 3A

1. Chris Paul Jr., Crisp County: This Arkansas-committed linebacker is the leading tackler on a team that hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in any game against a competitive schedule. Crisp is 5-1 and ranked No. 4.

2. Rashod Dubinion, Cedar Grove: He’s got 415 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns, one on a punt return, in four games for the No. 1-ranked team. A junior, Dubinion has several major D-I offers.

3. Terrance Ferguson, Peach County: Ferguson, a right tackle and occasional defensive end, is a four-year starter and the classification’s highest-rated recruit, a five-star player committed to Alabama. Peach County is ranked No. 3.

4. Justin Coleman, Oconee County: Not a big guy, just 5-10, but there’s been no more productive 3A linebacker this season. He has 77 tackles, four sacks and a blocked punt on a team with seven wins, four against top-10 teams from higher classifications.

5. Zach Holtzclaw, Dawson County: He’s the classification’s passing leader, and it’s not real close. Holtzclaw is 99-of-162 for 1,617 yards and 19 touchdowns for a team given a 66.4 percent chancing of winning 7-3A by the computer Maxwell Ratings.

Class 2A

1. Gunner Stockton, Rabun County: Stockton quietly surpassed 8,000 passing yards and 100 TD passes for his career last week. A junior committed to South Carolina, he’s bearing down on another 3,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season. Rabun is 5-1 and ranked No. 3.

2. Chance Gamble, Fitzgerald: No Class 2A player affects the game in so many positive ways. Gamble has 422 yards rushing, 166 passing and 339 receiving while starting in the secondary for a 7-0 team ranked No. 2. Gamble also factors in the return game.

3. Amarius Mims, Bleckley County: The consensus No. 1 senior recruit in Georgia, this left tackle has led Bleckley to its first top-five ranking in school history. He’s committed to Georgia.

4. Demetrius Coleman, Callaway: Coleman is a three-star recruit and leader of the No. 1-ranked team, the classic athlete/quarterback that so often rules the smaller classifications.

5. Phillip Johnson, Temple: Johnson is over 1,000 yards rushing in seven games after going for 1,665 in 2019. He’s scored 14 touchdowns for an underrated 5-2 team that bears watching in Region 5-2A.

Class A Private

1. Brock Vandagriff, Prince Avenue Christian: Vandagriff, a Georgia commit, has had the year expected of him, throwing for 1,878 yards and 22 touchdowns in seven games. Prince Avenue is No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since 2015.

2. Murphy Reeves, Fellowship Christian: Reeves has rushed for 989 yards on the season, 4,342 for his career. Fellowship is 6-0 and ranked No. 3.

3. James Schlegel, Aquinas: The Irish quarterback has rushed for 902 yards on this 7-0 team. He has completed 27 of 42 passes for 287 yards. He plays strong safety and has four tackles for losses.

4. Spencer Robicheaux, Savannah Christian: This three-year starter has thrown for 1,348 yards and rushed for 411 with a hand in 19 touchdowns for a 6-1 team. He’s closing in on 5,000 career passing yards.

5. Landon Owens, Prince Avenue Christian: Less-famous teammates of star quarterbacks aren’t likely to be players of the year, but Owens' season can’t be ignored. It comes to 1,297 all-purpose yards – 478 rushing, 344 receiving, 475 returning. That’s with 14 touchdowns. And throw in five solo tackles.

Class A Public

1. Gabe Benyard, Irwin County: At cornerback, he’s been thrown at eight times – one caught, three broken up, three intercepted, all returned for touchdowns, and one other incompletion. On offense, he has 597 rushing and receiving yards on 40 touches, five going for touchdowns.

2. Martez Thrower, Wilcox County: A Kentucky commit, Thrower is a two-way force. He’s a better linebacker than running back, but he’s scored three touchdowns each of the past two games. Wilcox County is ranked No. 9.

3. Omari Arnold, Brooks County: Arnold, a junior, has 1,091 yards from scrimmage on 89 touches and scored 13 touchdowns. He ran for 1,796 yards last season. Brooks County is 5-1 and ranked No. 3.

4. Sammy Brown, Commerce: A freshman phenom, Brown has 879 all-purpose yards on 55 touches with 12 going for touchdowns. That’s 625 rushing on 48 carries, 139 receiving on eight catches and 115 returning on three returns. Commerce is 5-1, ranked No. 4.

5. Trenton Johnson, McIntosh County Academy: Johnson has rushed for 1,141 yards, the most in the class and more than half of his team’s total offense. MCA is 4-0 against Class A Public opponents.

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