By Matt Nestor
It is obvious when you watch Boylan senior Chris Miller play that he is a great athlete. He is among the fastest and toughest players in the conference.
But the sign of a truly great player is the ability to affect every aspect of a game, which is exactly what Miller has done this season and is exactly why he is The Rock River Times’ 2010 NIC-10 Most Valuable Player.
The senior defensive back/wide receiver was the epitome of versatility this season. Not only was he among the conference leaders in touchdowns, but he found so many different ways to do it.
Miller scored 10 rushing touchdowns, caught four touchdown passes, returned a kick for a touchdown as well as returned an interception for a touchdown.
And he did all of that as a part-time offensive player.
Miller, who was among the top defensive players last year in the conference, plays full-time on the defensive side of the ball. Boylan Head Coach Dan Appino has said several times his quickest and toughest players will play defense, and he’ll figure out the offense.
So, to look at his touchdown numbers, which is nearly two per game, is quite astonishing when you realize he doesn’t usually touch the ball more than five or six times a game on offense.
Perhaps his greatest role on the team is as the defensive leader. The Titans gave up fewer than 10 points per game this year, among the most stingy defenses in the state. And Miller played a large role in that stat as well.
“He is the leader on the field that sets the tempo,” Appino said. “He demands that the other kids play at a higher level of intensity, and then he backs up his words with his play.”
Smaha top offensive player
Coming into the season, much of the attention on Belvidere North’s offense was put on Tony Tindle after his great run to end the previous year.
But if you asked Tindle, Belvidere North Head Coach Ryan Zarembiski, or anyone else associated with the program, they went out of their way to tell you how good Austin Smaha was going to be.
And they were certainly right.
While the Blue Thunder did not have the season they were hoping for, Smaha kept fans on the edge of their seats on a weekly basis.
“I told anyone who asked during summer camp that Austin was the best player in the conference and one of the best players in the state of Illinois,” Zarembiski said. “He has a skill set that makes him a no-doubt BCS conference scholarship player.”
With it being known he was going to get the ball a lot, Smaha still managed to run for 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns, not to mention another 131 receiving yards and 56 passing yards and a passing touchdown for good measure.
Throw in a kick return for a touchdown, and it is no doubt that Smaha was far and away the easy choice for The Rock River Times’ 2010 NIC-10 Offensive Player of the Year.
“I was a junior college coach for many years and coached quite a few D1 players, and even one that is currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Austin is as good, or better, than any of those players,” Zarembiski said. “He is a once-in-a-lifetime talent for a coach to have, and he is only a junior. The best is yet to come for him.”
Purifoy top defensive player
If there was one question mark for the Hononegah Indians, it was how a defense decimated by graduation would respond to almost an entire new starting lineup.
But, without hesitation, team captain and team leader, linebacker Skylar Purifoy was right there to tell anyone who would listen that the defense would be just fine.
“We wanted to show them, since we only have three guys back on defense this year, we want to show the rest of the NIC-10 that we are here to put a stop to all the other teams,” he said early in the season. “Our defense is here, and we’re ready to play.”
Thanks to Purifoy, that statement rang true. And his leadership, as well as his tough physical play, was more than enough for him to be The Rock River Times’ 2010 NIC-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Every time the Indians needed a stop or a big play, their leader was there. In fact, except for games against high-octane offenses Freeport and Boylan, he helped lead the team to only giving up 10 points per game.
Even in those tough matchups, it was Purifoy trying to make plays, including an early fumble against Boylan, that appeared to switch momentum in that game.
From the Nov. 3-9, 2010 issue