Football: DI State Championship

Mountain Pointe wide receiver Jalen Brown left is among the candidates for Tribune Player of the Year for the Tribune coverage area.

David Jolkovski/AFN

As we bid farewell to the 2013 football season; a crazy, cooky, memorable (for all the right and wrong reasons), let’s take a look at a few impact players.

OK, more than a few, but despite being able to rattle off another handful’s worth, there’s no choice but to whittle an entire East Valley football scene down to the eight guys who did it all better than most (or all) for the season.

This wasn’t a year like D.J. Foster in 2011, or even Matt Guida in 2012, but it was a season in which so many shined.

Here’s our select few Tribune Player of the Year candidates (in alphabetical order):

Jalen Brown, Mountain Pointe, Sr., WR/DB

Headed to Oregon very soon (early, in fact), the two-way stud capped a record-setting career offensively and defensively with the Division I state championship. The team’s vertical, big-play threat set up by its powerful running game, Brown caught 52 passes for 1,229 yards and 19 touchdowns despite being a run-first offense and not seeing as many looks because of blowout scores. He scored 50 career touchdowns in four years, and already owns the school record for interceptions in a season (6) and career (16) after three interceptions and eight passes defended this year while teams threw away from him (again).

Weston Barlow, Queen Creek, Jr., RB

The Bulldogs knew they had a pretty good player waiting in the wings behind senior Matt Guida, the 2012 Tribune Player of the Year, but the secret didn’t last long. When Guida suffered a hamstring injury early in the season — one which sidelined him for most of the regular season — Barlow ran with the opportunity. A lot. He finished second in Arizona with 2,335 yards rushing (according to and had 24 touchdowns (25 total TDs), a comfy 8.75 yards per carry.

Qualen Cunningham, Hamilton, Sr., DL

Given the history of Hamilton defensive players, it’s difficult to be overly “Wowed” by anyone anymore, but the Texas A&M recruit coming around the edge or darting inside was a sight to see the past few years. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder’s speed and athleticism were practically impossible to block most nights, as evident this year by a school-record 19 sacks and a couple tackles for loss against Mountain Pointe in the state championship game.

Josh Eckley, Marcos de Niza, Sr., QB

The team went 7-5. He sometimes held the ball too long in hopes of trying to make another circus play. He threw 12 interceptions, blah, blah, blah. Statistics are half of this story: 61 percent completions, 2,678 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 INT; 767 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Pretty good. Now picture Marcos de Niza making the playoffs without Eckley, and, consequently, imagine the Padres if he didn’t play on one ankle for several weeks during the season. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, he still didn’t reportedly have a single college offer, but even more hard to believe would be that not changing real soon.

Christian Kirk, Saguaro, Jr., WR/DB

Kirk lined up everywhere on offense, and was basically never chased down from behind once he reached the back end of a defense. He ran for 825 yards and 13 touchdowns (10 yards per carry). Using quick screen passes to go with slants and the occasional deep ball, caught 65 passes for 1,164 yards and 17 touchdowns. Quick math says 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Speaking of back end defenses, he also made 50 tackles with two interceptions and five passes defended at safety.

Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge, Jr., RB

Lots of teams — especially in Divisions III through V — are going to run the ball no matter what, and the other team knows. Not so many do it in Div. I, and nobody did it better than Morrison and the Jaguars. There were at least nine defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage on every play, and it couldn’t be stopped. His 2,587 yards rushing and 38 touchdowns led all Arizona running backs, and his 12.38 yards per carry was far and away the best in Div. I.

Bryce Perkins, Chandler, Jr., QB

The comparisons to former Chandler standout Brett Hundley began long before Perkins ever took a varsity snap under center, and they’re not stopping now. Whether he compares or not is a matter of opinion, but there’s little argument he’s a dynamic two-way threat who led Chandler to uncharted waters. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,244 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions, plus 808 yards rushing and 18 more touchdowns on the ground.

Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro, Sr., QB/DB

It’s not how you start, right? No, because Rubenzer was terrific as a junior in 2012, but began his much-ballyhooed senior season with three interceptions against Chaparral on opening night. His next 13 games were a 60-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio. He set new state records for career touchdown passes (130), career yardage (9.648) and a national leader in completion percentage (73.7 percent), a Class 4A single-season record with 61 TD passes and tied a record with nine touchdown passes against Goodyear Desert Edge in the semifinals. It’s the kind of stuff which makes the 4,201 yards passing, 1,235 yards rushing, 10 rushing touchdowns and two interceptions on defense seem trivial, as does the Gatorade Player of the Year award he won.

• Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at or (480) 898-6576.

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