Bolden, Brown lead midseason Player of the Year Watch

Buford defensive back K.J. Bolden (1) returns an interception during the first half against St. Frances Academy at Tom Riden Stadium, Friday, August 18, 2023, in Buford, Ga. Bolden is a 2023 AJC Super 11. Buford won 18-0. (Jason Getz /


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Buford defensive back K.J. Bolden (1) returns an interception during the first half against St. Frances Academy at Tom Riden Stadium, Friday, August 18, 2023, in Buford, Ga. Bolden is a 2023 AJC Super 11. Buford won 18-0. (Jason Getz /


The regular season is halfway complete. Six weeks down, six weeks remaining.

Below is GHSF Daily’s midseason Player of the Year Watch.

It is not a ranking of the players’ seasons to date. Rather, it is a projection of the players’ long-term chances of being chosen for the all-class player-of-the-year award in December, when all the artificial grass has settled at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the GHSA finals.

This ranking favors the qualities that players of the year possess. That is, they’re more likely to be offensive players. They often play on championship teams. They often are highly rated recruits.

Here are the 10 with their best arguments and statistics to date.

1. K.J. Bolden, Buford: If No.1 Buford wins Class 7A, Bolden can be marketed as the best all-around player for the best team. He’s the state’s No. 1 home-grown recruit. That’s the formula that earned Mill Creek’s Josh Downs and Collins Hill’s Travis Hunter the award the past two seasons. Both were WR/DB types, as is Bolden. He has only seven receptions – but six for touchdowns. He’s second on the team in solo tackles with 15, and he leads the team with four pass breakups. Bolden, the consensus No. 9 recruit nationally, is committed to Florida State.

2. Sammy Brown, Jefferson: No one is having a better all-around season or a bigger impact on his team. In five games, Brown has rushed for 664 yards and 13 touchdowns on 83 carries (8.0 per carry). He has scored at least two touchdowns in every game. He has 32 solo tackles and five tackles for losses at linebacker, his projected college position. He’s even averaging 50.3 yards on 10 punts. Brown is a five-star recruit committed to Clemson and playing on a 5-0 team ranked No. 3 in Class 5A. Jefferson might need to win a state title to boost Brown to the top. The computer Maxwell Ratings give the Dragons a 16.1% chance.

3. Dylan Raiola, Buford: Unless you like Buford or Georgia, you won’t like to hear this. Raiola is a transfer with only five Georgia games under his belt, and his numbers are good but not eye-popping. He’s 66-of-95 passing (69.5%) for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception. But Buford is Class 7A’s No. 1 team, and Raiola is the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit. The Wolves have never won the highest classification, and they haven’t finished undefeated since 2014, when they played in 4A. The table is set for Raiola to lead Buford to a historic season and prove he’s the nation’s best player.

4. Ju Ju Lewis, Carrollton: Lewis is the nation’s most famous and highest-rated sophomore player and a safe bet to remain in the conversation into December. He’s 71-of-103 passing for 990 yards and 14 touchdowns without an interception for a 4-1 team ranked No. 5 in Class 7A. He’s 325 yards short of where he was this time a year ago, but that’s easily fixed for a player who passed for 531 yards in the 2022 title game. It will be important for the Trojans to make another deep run, though. Lewis didn’t win player of the year after throwing for 4,118 yards and leading Carrollton to the 2022 finals, and a sophomore has never been the all-class player of the year.

5. Ny Carr, Colquitt County: Wide receivers win this award more than one might think. There’s been Travis Hunter and Jadon Haselwood recently and Da’Rick Rogers (2009 AJC) and Tavarres King (2007 Gatorade) going back some years. Carr plays only offense, but otherwise, he’s building a formidable case. He has 34 receptions for 589 yards and 10 touchdowns (at least one TD in every game) for a 5-0 team that is ranked No. 4 in Class 7A. Carr is a top-100 national recruit who this week decommitted from Georgia as his stock continues to rise.

6. Mike Matthews, Parkview: Matthews is another WR/DB like Bolden, Downs and Hunter. His team and his recruiting profile are just a little below those, but not much. Matthews is a top-25 national recruit projected to play wide receiver at Tennessee. Matthews plays almost every play for a 4-1 team ranked No. 8 in Class 7A. Parkview lost to No. 3 Mill Creek 30-20 last week, but that didn’t dampen the Panthers’ prospects much as a top state contender. Matthews has 15 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He has 17 solo tackles.

7. A.J. Hill, Houston County: For a junior to win it in Class 6A, it might require a state championship and/or a special statistical performance. Hill could deliver both. He’s 88-of-118 passing (74.6%) for 1,254 yards and 18 touchdowns with only one interception for a 5-0 team ranked No. 3 in 6A. Hill is a consensus top-100 national recruit and the consensus No. 4 quarterback prospect among juniors. He’s uncommitted.

8. Luke Kromenhoek, Benedictine: Kromenhoek is a Florida State-committed quarterback on a Class 4A team that likely will be favored to win each of its remaining games. Benedictine is 5-0 and ranked No. 1. Kromenhoek is 57-of-95 passing for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions and has rushed for 262 yards on 46 carries.

9. Aaron Philo, Prince Avenue Christian: Philo, a quarterback committed to Georgia Tech, is chasing Trevor Lawrence’s career passing state record. He’s 134-of-198 passing for 1,926 yards and 25 touchdowns with three interceptions this season. If he maintains his 2023 average of 321 yards per game through 15 games, he’ll finish with 14,141, beating Lawrence’s mark with 239 yards to spare. The Maxwell ratings give Prince Avenue a 79.1% chance of repeating, the highest for a team in any class. That means Philo is probably the player most certain to be a finalist in player-of-the-year talk, but winning is another matter. Player of the year isn’t a career award, and Prince Avenue is a Class A Division I school. Granted, the last Class A player to win all-class player of the year was Brock Vandagriff, Philo’s Prince Avenue predecessor.

10. Elliott Colson, Cedar Grove: Yes, the Saints have lost four games, but Colson is balling against some of the best teams in the country. Those include Colquitt County and Mill Creek, both in the national top 25. Cedar Grove’s schedule is rated the third-hardest overall in any class by the Maxwell Ratings. In six games, Colson is 92-of-147 passing (62.6%) for 1,283 yards and 18 touchdowns without an interception. He’s run for 405 yards and three touchdowns. His team is averaging 38.5 points per game. A junior, Colson is a top-400 national recruit committed to Central Florida.

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