The only thing harder than picking this fall's best team may be picking this season's best player.
On offense and defense.
Consider the offense. QB Maty Mauk of Kenton (Ohio) High broke the career record for passing yards, WR Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest broke the career record for receiving yards and RB Johnathan Gray of Aledo (Texas) High broke the career record for touchdowns.
And while all earned All-America status, none was the player of the year.
Safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento (Calif.) Grant and cornerback Tracy Howard of Miramar (Fla.) High are the type of defensive backs recruiters don't find often.
The same goes for the skill-level of a number of defensive lineman, including defensive tackles Eddie Goldman of Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy and Azziz Shittu of Atwater (Calif.) Buhach.
The defensive ends may have been even better, led by Mario Edwards of and Noah Spence.
Winston put up very impressive numbers leading his team to a state semifinals appearance in Alabama. He threw for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He also piled up 1,063 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 144 carries. The Florida State commit completed 163-of-234 passes, showing he is more than just an athlete at the position.
Spence was among the best players on the defensive line in the country and he led his team to a state final appearance in Pennsylvania. During his senior season, he accumulated 108 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the state as both a junior and a senior and will be headed to Ohio State. His combination of size, speed, and strength is bolstered by his intelligence on the field.
Williams took a team that had never been to the playoffs and ran it all the way to a state title. On the season, he gained 3,890 yards and scored 48 touchdowns at the Texas Class 5A level. In the mold of a Warrick Dunn-type player, Williams has the burst of speed to score on any play. But he is not locked into a small running back mold - he not only is good on the outside, he also can work within the tackles.
Goldman may have well been in the opposition's huddle this season for as much time as he spent in the backfield. From the defensive line, he recorded 38 tackles and 15 sacks despite seeing numerous double and triple teams. He elevated his school into the national spotlight as a 17-year-old senior. He is coveted by every major college program.
Brown won the national yardage title narrowly over Trey Williams by gaining 3,897 yards on the season. On his career, Gray had 10,908 yards and a national-record 205 touchdowns. He ran Aledo to three consecutive Texas Class 4A Division II state titles.
Shittu was among the best and most active defensive lineman in the country. He recorded 89 tackles and six sacks while leading his team to a 12-1 record and a spot in the California Top 30 to end the year. He reminds many analysts of current Tampa Bay Buccaneer lineman Gerald McCoy.
Most analysts ran out of adjectives to describe just how talented Green-Beckham is. The standount player hauled in 119 passes for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season. He helped lead his team into the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. His single-season receiving yards total was good for the fourth-most in high school football history.
Hamilton earned the national Defensive Player of the Year Award from RivalsHigh with his play all season. He was simply dominant on a dominant defense. He recorded 72 tackles and 21 sacks while pushing Don Bosco to the No. 2 spot in the final national rankings.
Davis shined all season as he helped get the Indians into the national title picture with his play on the outside. He had 109 catches for 2,009 yards and 25 touchdowns despite being the focal point of many defenses. His stock rose over the course of the season and it was capped with an All-America team selection.
Biegel was the heart-and-soul leader of the defense and helped take Lincoln to the state final in Wisconsin. He was all over the field, piling up 172 tackles, 21 sacks and three interceptions. He will play in the U.S. Army All-American game and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in Wisconsin.
Gilbert lined up plenty at wide receiver this year but is likley a better fit at tight end (and he did play there this season, too). He hauled in 17 touchdowns on the season and helped push the Cavaliers to their fifth consecutive state title.
Kirby was a tackling machine who was fundamentally sound and explosive. Kirby figures to move to outside linebacker in college, but he led the Stephenson defense at the middle backer position this season. He is a major mover in the recruiting world, jumping into the Rivals100 at year's end while being a finalist for the Butkus Award.
Humphries has been a well-known and equally well-hyped product at Mallard Creek. As a senior, he helped pave the way for an explosive attack that piled up more than 5,000 yards and was the go-to side of the line for a 2,000-yard rusher.
Ross led his team to a state title win in Michigan - and did so with impressive stats, including 151 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Ross reminds us of Jon Beason of the Carolina Panthers and may move inside at Michigan. He and Kirby could have swapped roster spots based on their projections.
Riser helped the Eagles push up the national rankings and kept the team inside the RivalsHigh 100 at season's end. Among the best offensive lineman in the country, he will head to the Longhorns to block for fellow All-American Johnathan Gray.
Teams in Florida did not throw the ball the way of Howard much this season. And with good reason - he is a total lockdown player at the position. He finished the year with six interceptions - which just means a few offensive coordinators did not study enough film. He helped the Patriots advance to the state title game in Class 8A.
Shuler lined up at nearly every position on the offensive line this season for Brentwood and did a very good job at each one. He has a great motor and plenty of smarts. A full-time slide to center is a solid destination for him at Stanford.
Simmons, one of the best offensive lineman in the country, will stay close to home and play at USC. He is a beast of a lineman and will most likely slide inside to guard after playing mostly at the tackle position as a senior.
Thompson is among the nominees for the U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year award with his season at Grant. He was a playmaker on both sides of the ball and in special teams. With solid fundamentals tackling as well as ball-hawking ability, he is a tremendous athlete that can do it all.
Theus is one of the best players in the country let alone limited just to his position group. His tenacity was best displayed in the state final victory over Booker T. Washington, where he was simply manhandling top-tier competition. The run-heavy Bolles team was more run-behind Theus this season.
Smith is a college-ready cornerback who shut down the best receiver on the other sideline every week. He is one of the best athletes in this class of players and has drawn early comparisons to Darrelle Revis. If he gets close to Revis-Island, Alabama fans will be thrilled to land one of the best from Georgia.
Jones, who has elevated his game every year, was a standout player at Gilman. He caught 39 passes for 635 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed for 948 yards and 13 scores. He has five interceptions on defense and added four scores in the return game. There is not much more he could have accomplished as an individual while leading the team to a Conference A title.
Neal was the focal point of the explosive Chaparral offense and it showed as he went over 1,000 yard rushing and receiving on the season. With just 100 carries, Neal tallied 1,317 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 62 passes for 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns. For good measure, he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns as well.
Harvey-Clemons was one of the best all-around players in the country this year. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award at linebacker despite spending plenty of time in the defensive backfield. He was a leading receiver on the Vikings team as well as a dangerous runner. His versatility and raw athletic ability was hard to ignore and getting him a utility position was the best descriptor for him.
Griffith boomed most all of his kickoffs into the end zone this season. He connected on double-digit field goals, including four in the state final victory over Buford. Indoors, he has a leg that showed good from 57 yards indoor and 50 outdoor.