Reilly O'Toole, Wheaton Warrenville South's Illinois-bound quarterback, is the favorite to be the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year for 2010.
So what else is new?
Quarterbacks have won the prize six times in the last 10 years. In fact, quarterbacks or running backs have won the Sun-Times Player of the Year award 21 times since 1986. Since the award was first presented in 1951--to Evanston running back Bob McKeiver--it is rare for a defensive player to win. An interior offensive lineman hasn't won the award since 1955.
I lost all respect for the Heisman Trophy selection when Dick Butkus, who won the Sun-Times POY award in 1959, didn't win the Heisman in 1964.
I covered Illinois football for the Champaign-Urbana Courier in 1963 and 1964 and Butkus was the most dominant player on the field in every game, leading the Illini to a national ranking and the Rose Bowl. So how did he finish a distant third in the Heisman voting to Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte and Tulsa quarterback Jerry Rhome?
Linemen never win. Well, almost never. Look at the history of the Heisman. Since Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first award in 1935, the recipient has always been a quarterback or running back except on six occasions--end Larry Kelley of Yale in 1936, end Leon Hart of Notre Dame in 1949, wide receiver/kick returner Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska in 1972, wide receiver Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987, wide receiver Desmond Howard of Michigan in 1991 and defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997.
A quarterback has won the Heisman in eight of the last 10 years. At one point, a running back received the award for 11 years in a row.
Does the media that selects the winner ever look at anything but passing or rushing statistics? Do they ever look at who is blocking or tackling? Why don't linemen or linebackers ever get any respect?
As a student at Illinois, I watched Bill Burrell dominate games in 1959. He was from Chebanse, south of Kankakee, and was an old-time two-way player who doubled as a guard and linebacker. He finished fourth in the Heisman voting behind Billy Cannon of LSU, Richie Lucas of Penn State and Don Meredith of SMU.
I'm not saying that O'Toole isn't worthy of the Sun-Times POY award this year. From start to finish, he clearly has been the most dominant player in the Chicago area, offensively or defensively. Plainfield North's Kapri Bibbs is in the conversation. On defense, Tommy Schutt, Glenbard West's junior end, has been most impressive.
And I have absolutely no argument with recent winners--Maine South's Matt Perez, Charlie Goro and Sean Price, Naperville North's Jordan Tassio, Wheaton Warrenville South's Dan Dierking, Morris' John Dergo and Buffalo Grove's Tom Zbikowski.
But as I scan over the years and the list of winners, I recall offensive linemen and linebackers and defensive linemen who deserved more recognition than they received. I didn't see Butkus in high school but I did see St. Francis de Sales' Chris Boskey in 1976 and Weber's Tim Marshall in 1979. They were the only defensive linemen to receive the award.
Two offensive linemen were recipients--Fenwick's John Carroll in 1953 and Vocational's John Sawin in 1955. Remember them?
Linebackers who were recipients were Joliet Catholic's Chris Jeske (2004), St. Rita's John Foley (1985) and Mount Carmel's Tony Furjanic (1981).
When Boskey won in 1976, the next most dominant player on the field was Kurt Bankson, a guard/linebacker who led East Leyden to the state championship.
While running back Carlos Matthews led Evanston to an unbeaten season in 1968, there was no one more dominant than Dave Butz, Maine South's 6-6, 265-pound tackle.
St. Laurence fullback Kevin King was the 1973 winner. But was he more dominant than New Trier linebacker Clay Matthews?
Running back Billy Marek was a popular choice in 1971, leading St. Rita to the mythical state championship. But was anyone more dominant than Dennis Lick, the massive tackle who overpowered defensive linemen while opening gaping holes for Marek to run through? They even took their act to Wisconsin and were a smash hit. Marek was singled out as the third best running back in the Big 10 in the 1970s.
Other overlooked players who come to mind are tackle Dan Doering of Barrington (2004), linebacker Oliver Gibson of Romeoville (1994), linebacker Erick Anderson of Glenbrook South (1986), tackle Frank Kmet of Hersey (1987), linebacker Matt Roth of Willowbrook (2000), linebacker Mark Zavagnin of St. Rita (1978), linebackers Mel Owens (1976) and Mike Mallory (1980) of De Kalb, defensive end Bryant Young of Bloom (1989), tackle Eric Steinbach of Providence (1997), linebacker Joey Goodspeed of Oswego (1995), linebacker Mike Goolsby of Joliet Catholic (1999) and tackle Jim Juriga of Wheaton North (1981).