There are five leading candidates for the Player of the Year award in high school football in 2010. They compare favorably with the No. 1 players of recent years. Curiously, there isn't a quarterback in the mix, a rarity. But it offers an interesting diversity of offense and defense.
The front-runner, in my view, is 6-2, 225-pound running back/linebacker James Wilder Jr. of Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., son of the former All-NFL running back. Based on production, he is the best player in the nation. He was All-State at running back and linebacker last year and led his team to the state championship. He rushed for 1,500 yards and had 145 tackles and 19 sacks.
Personally, I like him as a linebacker in college. Why? Because great linebackers are harder to find. He has been offered by every big-time college, including Florida, USC, Florida State and Alabama. He has iffy grades but is expected to qualify.
Cyrus Kouandjio, a 6-7, 290-pound offensive lineman from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., is almost as talented as Seantrel Henderson, the USC-bound tackle who was rated as the No. 1 player in 2009. He is a great athlete, very dominating and looks thin at 290 pounds. In college, he will fill out to 320 or more. Alabama is the favorite because Cyrus' brother Arie signed with Alabama this year.
On film, 6-3, 220-pound linebacker Stephone Anthony of Wadesboro, N.C., is a human highlight film. He has 4.5 speed and has made 18 interceptions in three years, an incredible statistic for a linebacker. He is a good student with great speed and great production. He has many offers from SEC and ACC schools. I don't think anyone else will rank Anthony this high. But they should.
The best athlete in the nation at his position is 6-6, 245-pound defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of Rock Hill, S.C. He is a freak of nature. He has the most upside of anyone with this kind of potential. He has bad grades but he will still be offered by big-time schools because of his skills. He reminds me of Julius Peppers, the Bears' new defensive end. He is as talented as Peppers.
Running back Kenny Hilliard of Patterson, La., is committed to LSU and is the nephew of former LSU star Dalton Hilliard. The 6-1, 230-pounder is a two-time All-State selection who figures to surpass the state career rushing record as a senior.
Who is the best quarterback in the nation? Braxton Miller of Huber Heights, Ohio. Ohio State hopes to groom him to replace Terrelle Pryor. He has been offered by Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida and Michigan.