Last year, we decided our inaugural awards show had too few awards to recognize all the truly great student-athletes in the Big Central Conference, on or off the field. So besides Players and Coach of the Year, we decided to give out “Specialty Awards.”
And we’re back with more for 2021, so get ready for some fantastic stories!
Offensive Line of the Year: Cranford
They literally paved the way for Cranford’s third state championship in eleven seasons. The five guys up front kept quarterback Shane VanDam on his feet, and cleared a path for Colin Murray, who had a career-best 334 yards in the North 2 Group 3 championship game against Sparta.
Geoff Gretta, Kevin Shriner, Kyle Fay, Ryan Heesters, and Matt Fries – who signed his National Letter of Intent this week to attend the University of Illinois – were all instrumental in Cranford’s success. Four of the five – with the exception being center Kyle Fay – are at least 6-2 and 280 pounds.
“It helps we have a bunch of large humans,” head coach Erik Rosenmeier told us earlier this season.
It also helps they can all flat out play.
Listen below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with all five Cranford offensive linemen:
The “Nobody Scores” Award:
It took eight games for someone to score on St. Thomas Aquinas, and nobody threw a touchdown pass against them all year.
Those were the kind of dominant defensive numbers the Trojans put up on 2021, not an easy task considering they led most of their games pretty big this year, and a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds could easily have lost their focus.
They didn’t, only allowing nine points the entire regular season, all of them coming in their finale against Delaware Valley, on a mud-soaked field in North Edison.
Senior Jon Wyatt, who’s going to Villanova, was a lock-down corner. Barely anyone threw toward him – and if they did, they couldn’t complete a single pass. If they did manage to get a ball caught, it was in the hands of Wyatt.
Click below to hear Wyatt talk about how it all worked out for St. Thomas Aquinas:
“Rising Star” Award
Last season, sophomore quarterbacks were making an impact, whether it be Franklie Garbolino, Matt Yasko, or a host of others around the league.
In 2021, sophomore Zaimer Wright of Sayreville is one who had a big impact for his team, leaving a bright future for the Bombers.
Wright was a Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week earlier this year, and finished the season with 1,401 yards rushing, 25 touchdowns, and five two-point conversions, scoring 160 total points. He also starts at safety, contributing on defense, and returns punts and kickoffs, as well as runs down on the kick coverage team.
He’s been under the weather recently, so we didn’t get a chance to speak to him, but we think we’ll have plenty of opportunities the next couple of years. Feel better, Zaimer!
There’s no doubt this award goes to Alex Benitez, a senior from Montgomery. He has played runningback, moved back to quarterback, then back to runningback while also playing outside linebacker on defense.
A four-year starter, Benitez didn’t miss a single game, and only fumbled four times in his career – three of them coming in his freshman year!
He also punts, kicks off, kicks PATs, long snaps and return kickoffs. He’d probably drive the team bus if it wasn’t an insurance issue.
Coach Zoran Milich calls him “the best all-around player in New Jersey.”
Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with jack-of-all-trades Alex Benitez:
With a strong influence in his own family, Jehu Andrews realizes that not every boy in Carteret is as lucky as he is.
So that’s why, in addition to being a leader on his own Carteret Rambler football team, and being a great asset to first-year head coach Kevin Freeman, he’s involved with youth football.
Sure, he helped pave the way up front on offense and defense to a three-win season after not playing at all in 202 because Carteret cancelled fall sports due to COVID
But he laid some of that knowledge on the 14-and-under Bulldogs in town, becoming a father figure to, perhaps, a bunch of future Jehu Andrews.
Click below to hear Andrews talk with Mike Pavlichko talk about his season, community involvement, and influences:
Sure, a lot of football players face obstacles in their seasons. Maybe it’s a nagging injury, a tough defeat, or just some bad luck.
How many have a fire destroy everything they own, save only their football jersey, and show up to play that night?
Matthew Ihemsie of Hillside does, and to be honest, there are no words that can do it justice, except for his. So give a listen:
“Mr. Dynamic” (Most Electrifying Player):
He can run, he can throw, but his ability to inspire his teammates to great heights, quickly shift the momentum of a game, make Josh Oluremi of Colonia the obvoious choice for most electrifying player in the Big Central Conference.
Mr. Dynamic, Oluremi rushed for 1,594 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, while throwing for 954 and 6 touchdown passes. He also had 32 tackles and a pair of picks from his cornerback spot on defense.
He almost single-handedly got Colonia past Edison on September 10th, rushing for four and throwing another touchdown in the game, a 38-7 victory over the Eagles.
For his career, he finishes with 2,000+ rushing yards, and nearly 1,800 passing yards, responsible for a total of 36 overall touchdowns.
Click below to hear Josh Oluremi talk about his season, career, and style of play:
Red-Hot Recruit of the Year:
Picking these awards aren’t always easy. Which means sometimes it is. In this case, it was a no-brainer.
Davison Igbinsoun of Union holds 30-plus Division I scholarship offers, and is still deciding where he’ll attend college, getting a lot of attention in the past week from Rutgers’ Greg Schiano – who arrived in a chopper for the second time this season – and Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, who took him for a ride in a Porsche.
He originally committed to Rutgers, but withdrew that commitment after his recruiting ranting picked up a fourth star, though the Scarlet Knights remain in contention for him.
One of the most dominant players in the area in recent memory, his numbers weren’t off the charts in 2021, but that’s because he’s an incredibly unselfish player, and the Farmers had a lot of athletes to go around.
This year, he had 18 total touchdowns, 76 carries for 903 yards and 12 touchdown, 20 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 74 tackles, 4 picks, and two tackles for a loss.
He’ll be special wherever he goes.