The impact of the 2017 Deseret News high school football MVPs could be seen all over the field this season.
Some wreaked havoc defensively, while others made their impact felt offensively, whether it was running, passing or throwing. Regardless of how they got things done, each was instrumental in leading their teams to their respective state titles.
Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Simote Pepa, Bingham
Over 13 games this season, Bingham’s Simote Pepa established himself as the next great Bingham defensive lineman and in the process led the Miners to the inaugural 6A state championship.
The nose guard finished with 54 unassisted tackles, 24 assisted tackles, four hurries and three deflections. His indirect impact was just as important for Bingham’s dominant defense.
“He takes up a lot of space, he occupies blockers and makes things easier for everything else,” said Bingham coach John Lambourne.
Pepa’s coach said he played at a high level in every game, but there’s no denying he played bigger in the higher-level games against 6A runner-up East.
Against East’s triple option, in which everything is predicated on the fullback, Pepa had 12 tackles in the first win over East and nine in the championship game win.
He’s a nightmare for running teams to try and deal with.
“You’re taking away running lanes on both sides which bounces everything a little bit further outside, and then it becomes a numbers games. If he occupies two we gain a numbers advantage. I think our whole team benefits from him,” said Lambourne.
With Pepa as the defensive focal point, Bingham held opponents to just 10 points per game. It only gave up 35 total points in the playoffs.
Lambourne praised Pepa’s humbleness and positive attitude as characteristics that have helped him reach an elite level. He fully expects the interest from college coaches to pick up later this year, with Pepa likely receiving interested from every major college football program in the country.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Dallin Holker, Lehi
Lehi’s Cammon Cooper had arguably one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in state history, and it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without Dallin Holker at the other end of many of his passes.
The senior BYU commit had an absolutely monster season, hauling in 97 catches for 1,766 yards and 22 touchdowns. The 1,766 yards is the second most in state history, and came despite missing two games.
“The No. 1 thing I got from opposing coaches was, Wow, we’ve got no answer for No. 5,’” said Lehi coach Ed Larson. “And I think it will be a while before we have an answer to kind of replace him. He’s a real special kid.”
Holker went over 100 yards receiving in eight of 12 games and went over 150 yards in six games. His biggest game came in Week 1 when he caught 17 passes for 315 yards and five touchdowns against Alta.
He could beat defenses a variety of different ways, and also had great hands and a great rapport with Cooper.
“He’s big enough to bang against linebackers and fast enough to beat safeties. A guy like him comes around every so often, it’s not yearly. It’s just a wonderful treat to have him for two years,” said Larson.
In Lehi’s title game blowout of Skyridge, he caught nine passes for 151 yards and two TDs. One of his first catches was a fourth down catch early in the game, and that conversion finally helped Lehi down and then eventually take over the game.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Puka Nacua, Orem
An elite wide receiver can drastically alter the way an opponent plays defense, and that’s precisely what Puka Nacua did this year for the state champion Orem Tigers.
He was an absolute nightmare for opponents, and nobody really ever figured out the answer.
Throughout the season Nacua saw single, double and triple coverage, and despite that still managed to make a big impact both directly and indirectly.
“He changes the defenders game plan where they do have to start taking guys out of the box, which allows us to run a little more and allows some of our other receivers and tight ends to get single coverage. It’s a nightmare for other D coordinators,” said Orem coach Jeremy Hill.
Despite missing two games with injuries, Nacua tied the single-season state record with 24 touchdown receptions and he finished third in state history with 1,691 receiving yards.
He scored a touchdown in all 12 games he played in and went over 100 yards in nine games. His best performance was in the 4A quarterfinals when he went off for 270 yards and three touchdowns on eight catches. His three touchdowns were from distances of 94, 91 and 14 yards.
Nacua was dangerous on every down, but third downs were his specialty — sometimes even third and long.
“There were times early on we’d get in third and long and I’d say just throw the ball to Puka. That’s the best play you have in your playbook on third and 20,” said Hill.
He was slowed a bit in the semifinals and championship with an ankle injury, but in each game he was a presence defenses had to deal with and he still finished with a TD in each game.
Ravell Call, Deseret News
Zach Hoffman, Juan Diego
A returning all-stater from Juan Diego’s state championship from a year ago, expectations were naturally high for quarterback Zach Hoffman this year.
A bit surprisingly the senior got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but he quickly got back on track and was instrumental in leading the Soaring Eagle to a second straight 3A state championship.
“Terrific quarterback, a great team leader and a superb athlete. I just can’t say enough about the kid,” said Juan Diego coach John Colosimo.
“He was a little rusty to start the year and we didn’t play very well our first couple of games, but he got back on track and I think he had a tremendous year from there on out.”
Hoffman rushed for 1,170 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and passed for over 1,00 yards and eight scores.
His ability to throw efficiently out of Juan Diego’s veer offense made defending Hoffman extremely difficult.
“It’s always difficult to stop a dual-threat quarterback no matter the offense you run. As the year went on he got better and better as a passer and was able to throw for first downs,” said Colosimo.
Hoffman passed for over 100 yards in three of Juan Diego’s last four games, and just as important was his understanding of the veer offense and making the correct reads most of the time.
“It is truly a triple option and he does a great job making that read. A lot of times it is a simple handoff because that is the right read, but there are times if the read is to pull it, he’ll pull it. When it’s time to pitch it, he’ll pitch,” said Colosimo.
Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Kael Atkinson, South Summit
One of the biggest question marks this season to outsiders regarding South Summit’s football program was how the pass-happy offense would fare with a new quarterback.
Coach Mike Grajek wasn’t worried though. He got a glimpse of the future last year in a game South Summit’s senior starter was suspended, and Kael Atkinson showed in that one game his potential.
In that one start he completed 7 of 9 passes for 97 yards and three touchdowns — and that efficiency spilled over to his junior season no problem.
Atkinson had a sensational season and was instrumental in leading South Summit to a perfect record and the 2A state title this season.
“We had a lot of great players but all of that success had to go through him, he distributed the ball to our receiver spots very well,” said Grajek. “Being coachable and humble and doing everything we asked him to do on and off the field enabled us to obviously have the success we had.”
Atkinson completed 223 of 329 passes for 3,155 yards and 42 touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 541 yards and seven touchdowns.
Atkinson is athletic enough that he could’ve easily rushed for 1,000 yards this season, but Grajek said, “my goal was to keep Kael healthy the whole year.”
The coaching staff minimized that risk of injury by never having him carry the ball more than nine times in a single game. With his efficiency offensively, there was no need either. Atkinson completed 68 percent of his passes, including going over 70 percent on four occasions.
He was at his best in big games as well, throwing for six touchdowns against Morgan and Delta and then four against Grand in the semifinals.
Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Ty Netto, Milford
When Ty Netto joined Milford’s football program as a freshman, his coach Thane Marshall said, “He was a little skinny kid who had probably never watched a football game in his life.”
Four years later he’s the 1A MVP after leading Milford to its first state title in over two decades.
“He’s probably improved more from his freshman year to senior year than anybody I’ve ever coached in my 20-something years of coaching,” said Marshall. “He became a student of the game.”
Netto ate and drank football over the past year.
He finishing his senior season rushing for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns while defensively he recorded 72 tackles and four interceptions from his safety position. In the playoffs Netto rushed for 315 yards and five touchdowns.
Netto’s explosiveness in the running game was a big reason quarterback Bryson Barnes was able to throw for 2,822 yards and 30 TDs.
“They couldn’t drop eight guys to guard the pass because they had to put enough guys up front to try to stop Ty first,” said Marshall, whose team ended the season with a 51-49 run-pass percentage.
Marshall said Netto’s importance to Milford was best exemplified in last year’s semifinals against Duchesne. He missed the game with appendicitis, and Milford lost 47-0.
Netto and his underclassmen teammates vowed to get back this year and make amends.
“This whole senior class, and Ty was the leader of that, changed the whole culture of Milford football,” said Marshall.