Football season is around the corner. Finally.
Preseason practices for the upcoming season began Monday, with games beginning Friday, Aug. 30. Why not start it off by handing out some pre-season awards? But we have to do some housekeeping first.
This is not an announcement for our Area Player of the Year and Macon County Player of the Year months ahead of time. These are my picks before one single game is played. At the end of the season, the Herald & Review sports staff will look at stats, talk to coaches and read nominations before we announce our awards winners. There's a good chance I'll be wrong. If I am, I'll eat crow, served however you would like.
We know who's coming back and the body of work they've already put together, so we can make pretty educated guesses about who will have a big season. I'll predict the following today: Area Player of the Year, Area Breakout Player of the Year. Click here for Macon County Player of the Year and Macon County Breakout Player of the Year.
Area Player of the Year
There's nothing that indicates that Central A&M senior Jacob Paradee is going to slow down after a monster junior year. Usually the quarterback who gets the receiver the ball gets all the attention (and don't sleep on QB Connor Heaton), but Paradee in space and one-on-one matchups is a problem for defenders.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound receiver is quick, strong and has breakaway speed. Paradee had 1,592 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns last year, while also rushing for 268 yards and a score. Defensively, he had 121 tackles and three interceptions.
Few can match his athleticism. We saw it last football season, then in basketball season and have seen it all summer in both sports.
Expect a bigger year for Paradee, my pre-season Area Player of the Year pick.
ALSO A THREAT
Heaton, Sr., QB, Central A&M
He threw for 2,554 yards and 25 touchdowns last year while running for 473 yards and nine TDs. Heaton has plenty of options at his disposal and a full season of varsity quarterbacking under his belt.
Austin Hopkins, Sr., RB, Arcola
He's coming off of a year where he rushed for 1,435 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hopkins could be the catalyst for a big year for the Purple Riders. With other strong skill position players around him, defenses can't afford to put everything into stopping Hopkins.
Tristin Duncan, Jr., WR, Effingham
Duncan will have to adapt to a new quarterback getting him the ball with the graduation of Landon Wolfe, but he's a legit threat at the receiver spot. As a sophomore last year he had 833 yards on 33 catches and 11 touchdowns. He's 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, and will give defenders fits in the Apollo.
Brandon Douglas, Sr., WR, Tuscola
Douglas could be on the cusp of a monster season for the Warriors. He's the top playmaking threat on offense and is coming off of a season where he had 48 catches for 906 yards and 10 touchdowns. With quarterback Logan Tabeling showing a strong, accurate arm, and Douglas' ability to find creases in the defense, he's going to be difficult for opponents to stop.
Kentrell Beck, Sr., QB, Shelbyville
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Beck, after missing his junior season because of an injury, is now a quarterback after two excellent seasons at receiver. He'll be a primary playmaker for the Rams with the size and speed to cause any team nightmares. The Rams will need other players to step up and take the pressure off of Beck, and have candidates to do so.
DON'T SLEEP ON
Matt Kerr, Sr., TE, Monticello
Matthew Wells, Sr., QB, Vandalia
Tyrese Petty, Sr., RB, Clinton
Bryce Edmiston, Sr., WR, Pana
Area Breakout Player
Don't sleep on Pana quarterback Jonah Lauff. He has a rocket arm and has slung the ball all over the field during the summer. He's got one year as Pana's quarterback and I expect him to really shine. It's not his first year as a quarterback, but it's his first year as the team's starter, replacing Jack Armstrong. Lauff isn't as mobile as Armstrong, but if he's got time, he can pick apart a defense.
Injuries have slowed Lauff down to this point, but if healthy he could prove to be one of the area's best arms. Lauff has the size at 6-5, 190 pounds and has more than enough receivers on the outside to help him settle into his first year as a varsity starter.
Keep an eye on him, and the Panthers, who some coaches feel are the best team in the South Central Conference, and perhaps even better than last season's 9-2 record and trip to the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.
ALSO A THREAT
Jalen Quinn, So., WR, Tuscola
Quinn was a strong defensive back for the Warriors last season, and will likely also play there this year. He really found his own during basketball season and exploded onto the map. His weight room work is noticeable and will be a tough assignment for defenders on the outside this year.
Chris Brown, Jr., RB, Monticello
The Sages will have a new look after a strong senior class led the team to a Class 3A state championship game last season. Brown is back for his junior season after rushing for 597 yards and for touchdowns on just 62 carries last season. He'll get the opportunity to shine in coach Cully Welter's offense.
Beau Jones, Jr., QB, Arcola
Jones grew game-by-game as a sophomore and is in line to take a big leap this season with a lot of offensive skill pieces returning. He threw for 948 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season. There's plenty more to unlock on a team that could make a nice run in the postseason.
Logan Brown, Sr., RB, Effingham
Though he did rush 733 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns last season, Brown fits on this list. Last year's offense was centered around quarterback Landon Wolfe and do-it-all Kendall Ballman. Coach Brett Hefner has that program humming and Brown could be a major part of the offense.