To be sure, this is a task that falls under the category of inexact science. Do you side with the best player? Or the best player on the most successful team? And do you automatically pick the winningest coach? Or do you like the coach who turned a sleeping giant into a winner?
Tough questions. No right or wrong answers, either.
After boiling my list of candidates down to five, I picked Lincoln-Way East quarterback Blake Winkler as the winner of my Southland Patch Player of the Year sweepstakes.
He earned the nod over Oak Forest running back Tevin Coleman, Brother Rice running back Martez Walker, Providence Catholic offensive lineman Ryan Ward and Homewood-Flossmoor quarterback Tim Williams. Let me explain how I arrived at my decision.
Winkler completed 131-of-213 passes (62 percent) for 2,369 yards. He finished with a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (30-5). He led Lincoln-Way East to 10 straight victories, the second round of the Class 7A playoffs and the Southwest Suburban Blue Conference championship. Included in the string were wins over H-F (38-21) and Bolingbrook (20-14), a Class 8A state finalist.
The head-to-head tie-breaker—Winkler’s performance in Lincoln-Way East’s victory over H-F—elevates him past Williams. As for the others, a case can be made for Coleman and his speed or Walker and his power. Yet, neither of the two backs did any more than Winkler.
And Ward (6-6, 280) very well could be the best player in the Southland. Providence’s offensive line coaches graded him out at 93 percent for technique and completion of assignments. He will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January in San Antonio. But, an offensive lineman as Player of the Year? Unheard of.
My choice for Coach of the Year is one that mirrors Edgy Tim’s philosophy in the sense that I side with Andrew’s Jim Malec because of what he accomplished in his first season guiding the T-Bolts on the varsity level. The word that comes to mind is over-achiever. Little was expected from Andrew after the T-Bolts started 0-2.
Malec rallied the troops. His steady leadership hand helped Andrew gain a share of the Southwest Suburban Red Conference championship and finish with a 7-4 record, all seven wins coming in the last nine games. The T-Bolts reached the second round of the Class 7A playoffs before being ousted by St. Rita (28-13). Evergreen Park’s Dan Hartman took the Mustangs to a Class 4A state quarterfinal berth and an 8-4 record in his first season on the job.
How do you pick one over the other? You could throw darts. Or you could argue for quality of competition, a component that comes in to play here. Andrew faced a tougher schedule than Evergreen Park.
So, congrats to Winkler and Malec, my choices for Southland Patch Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. Give them credit for a job well done. Give me credit for making it possible to recognize them for their achievements, daring to do the impossible, just like Edgy Tim.
And, by all means, feel free to let me have it in the comments section if you disagree with my choices.