When the plays needed to be made this year, the 2010 Deseret News football MVPs were usually the ones making them.
Their leadership qualities off the field were just as important, and the combination of the two was the perfect recipe for a championship season.
Bingham's Stefan Cantwell, Highland's Nate Fakahafua, Juan Diego's Taylor Cassita, San Juan's Stetler Shumway and Duchesne's Grant Marett were the driving forces behind their respective teams' championship seasons, and the obvious MVP choices for the Deseret News.
5A MVP: Stefan Cantwell, Bingham
Bingham's nationally-ranked football team includes 13 players who've received Division I college football offers. Bingham quarterback Stefan Cantwell isn't one of them.
Yet despite being surrounded by stars, Cantwell quickly emerged as the unquestioned leader of a team bound for greatness.
"He was no doubt the leader on the team, the one the kids would follow and listen to," said Bingham coach Dave Peck, who's convinced Cantwell will eventually get scholarship offers. "I just know when he's got the ball in his hands everyone on the team knows he's not going to let us lose. He means more to our team than I think a lot of people realize."
He was the ultimate dual-threat quarterback for the 5A state champions. Cantwell completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 2,160 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 506 yards and eight scores.
Cantwell developed a reputation during his junior season as a Tim Tebow-like quarterback who couldn't really throw. That was a silly notion, considering his exploits on the mound in baseball, something the rest of the state found out pretty quickly during his senior season.
Throughout the year several teams tried to stack the box to stuff Bingham's powerful running game, but Cantwell quickly punished them through the air.
"Stefan all of the sudden could light you up," said Peck.
On the biggest stage at Rice-Eccles Stadium during Bingham's semifinal and championship games, Cantwell threw for a combined 515 yards and seven touchdowns in convincing victories over Jordan and Fremont.
"He's really going to be missed," Peck said. "I sure appreciate what he brought to the team."
4A MVP: Nate Fakahafua, Highland
If there's such thing as a perfect football player, this Highland senior might be the guy.
As if being hard-working, intelligent and unselfish weren't enough, Fakahafua is also one of the best athletes in the state. His dominance helped the Rams win their first state title since 1986.
"Right now he's pointed in the right direction and you know that's destined for great things," said Highland coach Brody Benson.
The bigger the stage the better he performed, and his fourth-down touchdown catch in overtime will go down as one of the best plays in state championship game history.
Everybody knew the ball was going to Fakahafua on fourth-and-10, but Mountain Crest simply couldn't stop it.
"He willed us to win. He wasn't going to be denied," said Benson.
That 25-yard touchdown grab was the exclamation point on a 200-yard receiving day for Fakahafua, who finished the season with 1,351 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
He was just as dominant on the defensive side of the ball, racking up 62 tackles and 17.5 sacks.
"I've never had a kid on both sides of the ball have an impact the way he does," said Benson. "We've had some great kids who've been two-way guys, but to have him turn around and do what he did on offense and with no rest flip over and be as dominant as he was on defense was unbelievable, and the kids fed off of that."
Fakahafua has verbally committed to the University of Utah, and will likely play receiver. Whatever position he ends up playing though, the Utes have landed a high-character player who has a bright future ahead of him.
3A MVP: Taylor Cassita, Juan Diego
The age-old adage of defense winning championships was never more apparent than in 3A this year. Juan Diego held Hurricane's high-flying offense in check through the championship game, and the play of its middle linebacker was a big reason why.
"Our defense was really something special this year. It really took us to the state title and Taylor was the heart and soul of the defense," said Juan Diego coach John Colosimo.
In the championship game, Cassita finished with 14 tackles, an effort that epitomized his importance this year.
"I think great linebackers have a nose for the football, and he was one that was always around the ball," said Colosimo. "You can put them in the right spots and have a good scheme against teams, but you need someone like him who was able to sniff out the play and make great plays, especially against Hurricane that runs so much misdirection. He really shut them down."
One of just four returning starters for Juan Diego this season, Cassita finished with 109 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was at his best in the biggest games, which included his 14 tackles against Hurricane and his 18-tackle performance in Juan Diego's region showdown with Morgan.
Colosimo believes Cassita's leadership and positive influence on a defense that featured six underclassmen was just as important.
2A MVP: Stetler Shumway, San Juan
It doesn't take much coaxing to convince coach Monty Lee to brag about San Juan star Stetler Shumway.
Lee described Shumway, a starter since his freshman season, as a coach's dream. Even when he was "a scrawny snot-nosed little kid that played defensive tackle," everyone could see he was bound for greatness at the 2A level.
"He's one of those kids that everyone grows up wanting to be like," said Lee, who believes Shumway can take a lot of credit for San Juan's dominant ways the past three years.
He's had plenty of complementary players on offense and defense along the way, but his dominance was unmatched.
Shumway started at linebacker and led San Juan's stout defense with 108 tackles. He was a starter on the defensive line the previous three seasons, but Lee believed he owed it to Shumway to let him play linebacker to improve his chances to play at the next level. Shumway didn't miss a beat.
Offensively Shumway was a duel-threat back out of the backfield. He rushed for 348 yards and six touchdowns while adding 508 receiving yards and six scores.
"He's not the epitome of the physical appearance of a great football player. But he has everything that great football players are comprised of: heart, determination, strength, quickness and a no-lose attitude," said Lee.
1A MVP: Grant Marett, Duchesne
No one dominated 1A this year like this senior lineman.
He's the reason Duchesne running back Braiden Despain rushed for more than 1,500 yards. He's the reason Duchesne led 1A in scoring at 33.7 points per game, and he's the reason the Eagles' defense allowed only two touchdowns per game.
"He was the heart and soul of our entire team. He's a leader on both the offensive and defensive line, and that was the key to what we did all year," said Duchesne coach Billy Hoopes.
Marett started at center, and his blocking on Duchesne's primary trap play sprang Despain for gains time after time after time.
Defensively, Marett started at nose guard and faced constant double teams. He only finished with 31 tackles as a result, but his teammates benefitted in a big way.
"All the other players on defense got to clean up the tackles after Grant would spearhead the attack," said Hoopes.
Marett did most of his leading by example, and that was never more evident than during the playoffs. Despite tearing the meniscus in a knee on Oct. 13 against Monticello, Marett refused to have surgery until after the season was over.
He rested for two weeks and then played sparingly against Altamont in the semifinals. In the championship game he went all-out knowing his knee could give out any moment. It finally happened with three minutes left in regulation, but his dedication served as an inspiration for his teammates and Duchesne eventually beat Rich in overtime, 21-14.
He had surgery the following Monday.
MVPs, first-team selections to be honored on Dec. 20
The Deseret News All-State Awards night, in conjunction with the Utah High School Football Coaches Association, is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. at Jordan High School (9800 S. State).11 comments on this story
MVPs and first-team selections and their families are invited. Admission is free.
MVPs and first-teamers will be presented with an all-state trophy and a certificate. Players should bring their jersey for a group photo.
There will be a hospitality room open for college and high school coaches at 5 p.m. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.