Every team looks for that one player who can change a game in a moment’s notice, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams. Some are fortunate to have more than one.
It’s difficult to whittle a list down to 10 game changers.
But here are my 10 to watch during the 2015 football season:
Top 10 Dynamos
No. 1 Byron Murphy, Saguaro, 6-0, 170, DB/WR, Sr.
He is everybody’s No.1 cornerback but Murphy was so good on offense last season when the Sabercats ran the table that azcentral sports put him on the All-Arizona team at wide receiver. He caught four more passes than Christian Kirk on the season. He turned his 65 catches into 1,348 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had a long of 74 yards. He had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown and had an interception and a fumble recovery in Saguaro’s 45-21 Division III championship win over Gilbert Williams Field. And, oh yeah, he had six interceptions with 127 return yards on the season. With Kirk gone, Murphy will be used even more in an offense that could once again be unstoppable with Murphy’s amazing game-changing abilities as he is surrounded by talent.
No. 2 Chase Lucas, Chandler, 6-1, 180, RB/KR, Sr.
Rushing the ball, catching it, returning it, watch out. Lucas is Mr. Touchdown. He put on a show in the first half against Phoenix Mountain Pointe in the regular-season meeting last season when he broke loose on a 71-yard touchdown run on a trap play, and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score. He had 235 all-purpose yards in just a half. He was ill that night and wasn’t able to play in the second half. When he is at full strength, the havoc he wreaks on teams is devastating. He’ll be utilized as much as possible as Chandler tries to defend its Division I championship.
No. 3 N’Keal Harry, Chandler, 6-4, 220, WR, Sr.
He already has a pro body. Harry stretches the secondary as well as anybody in the state. His ability to get up and haul in difficult catches make him one of the more recruited players in the state. He loves to compete in anything. He was Chandler’s best basketball player. He averaged 22 yards a catch and hauled in 13 touchdown passes last season. Against Chandler Basha, Harry had 107 yards and two TDs on just three catches. He is even bigger and more athletic now.
No. 4 John Okwoli, North Canyon, 6-2, 190, WR/DB/KR, Sr.
North Canyon has won a total of four games in Okwoli’s first three years on varsity, but this kid has stood out, leaving opposing coaches and players remembering him. Defenses will bracket this guy all game long, but he’ll find ways to get loose. And if you kick the ball to him, you’re likely to pay. On defense, you’ll find him at cornerback or safety, matching up against the opposing team’s best receiver. In his last five games, Okwoli totaled 866 receiving yards, including 221 yards on 15 catches against Phoenix Pinnacle and 262 yards on 13 catches against Phoenix Horizon in back-to-back weeks.
No. 5 Ryan Kelley, Chandler Basha, 6-3, 190, QB, Jr.
Colleges are seeing what we’re seeing and this spring rewarded him with one big scholarship offer after another. In a short time during spring workouts, Kelley got offered by UCLA, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Nebraska. He has been tearing it up this month in 7 on 7s, after passing for 3,108 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore. He immediately showed how special he can be last season when he passed for 394 yards and four touchdowns the second game of his varsity career as a starter in a 31-21 win over eventual Division II champion Peoria Centennial. Kelley is next in the line of great quarterbacks who are coming through Arizona.
No. 6 Tyler Johnson, Gilbert Highland, 6-4, 245, TE/WR/DE, Jr.
This is a man-child on the football field, making things happen on offense and defense. He’ll be used more this year at defensive end than ever before. Opponents already know what he can do after he catches the ball. He is capable of taking it all the way. Big, physical, athletic, dynamic. Colleges have noticed. He has offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Michigan, Tennessee, UCLA and Michigan State. Division I teams already know to try to key on this guy. He’ll line up at tight end, at slot and wide receiver. But even in double teams, Johnson is capable of breaking it. He scored touchdowns on eight of the 20 catches he had last season.
No. 7 Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Laveen Cesar Chavez, 6-4, 225, DE/OLB/WR/TE
Rashed had 20 sacks, including three against Mountain Pointe, against Division I competition last season. Imagine the numbers he’ll put up playing in Division III now. Rashed’s motor is not only revved up for defense, but on offense he is expected to take on a bigger role, playing in the slot and wide out with a more balanced attack. Cesar Chavez wants to take advantage of his explosiveness and size. Rashed is ready for anything. The greater the opponents, the bigger he plays. Watch for Rashed to really take off as a senior.
No. 8 Kurt Shughart, Scottsdale Chaparral, 5-11, 211, SS/RB, Sr.
When this tough-as-nails player went down with an ankle injury in the regular-season finale, Chaparral lost the heart of its team. Shughart was called on to play running back and he became a workhorse late in the season. He will change the game on both sides of the ball this season, as a strong safety and a running back/slot receiver. He was strong last season, but he is stronger, faster and hungrier this year with the ability to be a major impact player.
No. 9 Jacob Brown, Paradise Valley, 6-0, 185, WR/DB, Sr.
This three-sport athlete can do it all with an array of moves that leaves defensive backs breathless. He caught 54 passes for 1,163 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, hooking up with another player who was knocking hard on the door of this list, quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd. Brown had two games for the ages last season, when he caught nine passes for 226 yards and four touchdowns against Phoenix Arcadia two weeks after grabbing eight passes for 210 yards and three TDs against Division I playoff team Phoenix Horizon.
No. 10 Justice Summerset, Marana Mountain View, 6-4, 180, QB/S, Sr.
Summerset is a phenomenal athlete who had a high jump of 6 feet, 10 inches during the track season this spring. He has made tremendous strides as a quarterback. As he goes, so goes Mountain View’s offense. It will only get better after he passed for 2,742 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions and ran for 303 yards and eight TDs last season.He also is a special teams weapon at punter, averaging 43.9 yards a punt last season. “You must get to him and bang him up, because, if you don’t, he has the ability to make plays and beat you,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said.