The 2018 Deseret News high school football MVPs were the ultimate playmakers.
One was a dominant, disruptive presence on the defensive line, while another was a two-way weapon who did whatever his team needed. Four of the six were dual-threat quarterbacks who terrorized opponents through the air and on the ground.
Regardless of the setting, all six delivered when it mattered most, leading their teams to 2018 state titles.
Michael Daley, Lone Peak, DE
In the opening game of the 2018 season, Lone Peak defensive end Michael Daley sacked Herriman’s quarterback five times.
The performance foreshadowed the disruption and dominance he would unleash on opposing offenses over the next 13 weeks. The BYU commit’s stats are mind-blowing and speak for themselves — 76 tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks and four blocked punts.
On average he directly caused five negative plays for opposing offenses, and putting offenses behind the sticks usually leads to a punt.
“When Michael could pin his ears back and just focus on rushing the quarterback, he’s extremely difficult to stop with one person. He’s too quick for tackles and he’s powerful, and he’s almost impossible for a back to block when he gets a head of steam,” said Lone Peak coach Bart Brockbank.
Even if he wasn’t sacking the quarterback, he was putting pressure on the quarterback, which definitely played a role in Lone Peak’s 16 interceptions.
“The crazy things about him is he plays D-end but he does so many different things that makes it hard for teams to plan for. He can move into linebacker, he blocked a lot of punts. He’s just an incredible football mind,” said Brockbank.
One of his best games of the season came in a 29-0 semifinal win over Pleasant Grove as he finished with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
“He’s very smart with a lot athleticism who never stops. He’s always trying to improve, he’s always working hard, he’s always pushing his teammates,” said Brockbank.
Caden Johnson, Corner Canyon, LB/RB
Eric Kjar didn’t feel the need to say anything as Caden Johnson came off the field.
Johnson, who Kjar described as one of the most consistent and focused players he’s ever coached, had just let a snap go through his hands in a Wildcat formation, leading to a safety for Olympus in the semifinals.
It was a rare, rare mistake, and there was nothing for Kjar to say. He knew his senior captain wouldn’t dwell on the mistake, and when Johnson was given the opportunity to make amends in crunch time, he delivered.
With Corner Canyon trailing 15-14 midway through the fourth quarter and needing to go 80 yards for the go-ahead-score, Johnson touched the ball on nine of 12 plays and accounted for 64 yards, including the go-ahead 1-yard TD with 1:55 left in the game.
“He was pretty dynamic on that drive and he came up big time for us. He kind of put us on his back on that drive and got us into the end zone,” said Kjar.
Half of Johnson’s offensive touches came in that one drive, and reiterated why Corner Canyon couldn’t use him exclusively on defense at outside linebacker. Despite playing part time at running back this season, he still finished with 687 rushing yards and 11 TDs.
It was defensively where he made the most consistent impact for the Chargers.
His ability to play the run and the pass and protect his side of the field opened things up so much defensively for the rest of the team.
“He frees up our other safety on that weak side or the boundary where they can really be more run oriented, and that helps us a ton. The way he played his spot, teams kind of ran away from him more. He frees so much up in our scheme,” said Kjar.
Johnson finished the season with 88 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. He’s undecided on where he’ll play college football.
Cooper Legas, Orem, QB
A year ago, Cooper Legas penciled his name among an elite group of three other quarterbacks who’d accounted for over 5,000 yards of total offense in a single season. Now he’s done it twice.
In leading Orem to another dominant championship season, Legas passed for 4,338 yards and 48 touchdowns and rushing for 1,077 yards and 15 TDs.
His 5,415 yards of total offense ranks behind only Logan’s Riley Nelson (5,842) and Jordan’s Austin Kafentzis (5,707).
“I’ve never come across a kid quite like him. Him and Puka (Nacua) have a lot of similarities in their love of the game and being great leaders. He’s where he’s supposed to be, he’s the hardest worker in the weight room, he’s always to practice early and stays after practice to throw balls to receivers,” said Orem coach Jeremy Hill.
That work ethic combined with great arm strength, accuracy and great athleticism running the ball earned him a scholarship offer from new Utah State head coach Gary Andersen earlier this week.
Because of Orem’s dominant offense and defense, it really only played in two close games all season. One of those was a 51-46 win at Santa Margarita, California, a game where Hill said Legas flashed his true potential.
With Orem facing a fourth and long on what proved to be the game-winning drive in the final two minutes, Legas threw an out pass to Nacua despite double coverage and placed it perfectly to where only his receiver could get it.
“We knew Coop had to make the perfect throw and he had all the confidence to make the throw despite knowing he would get hit,” said Hill.
Legas’ 10,419 yards of career total offense ranks fifth in state history.
Kasey Briggs, Summit Academy, QB
After coming up short in the semifinals each of the previous two years despite all-state caliber quarterbacks, Summit Academy finally got over the hump this season, and a big reason why was the play of newcomer Kasey Briggs.
The senior showed tremendous poise throughout the season, but particularly during an eight-game winning streak to end the season as Summit Academy claimed the state title.
“He’s really calm, cool, collected. Even in tight games he always kept his composure, and he seemed to make a play to help us get over the top,” said Summit Academy coach Les Hamilton. “He’s not just good on the football field, he’s good off the field. He’s a great kid, he works hard, he’s respectful, he gets good grades. He’s just the whole package.”
Briggs finished the season completing 69 percent of his passes for 2,796 yards and 30 touchdowns with a QB rating of 119.
He had great pocket presence and escape ability that allowed him to turn broken plays into positive gains.
Once Briggs got more and more comfortable in the offense, and the coaching staff recognized he was more accurate throwing the ball outside than to the middle of the field, that’s when the Bears started turning the corner and stringing together win after win.
“I thought our quarterback coach did a great job of recognizing what he did well and then we kind of tailored offense around what he did well. As the season progressed, the number of interceptions dropped and his completion percentage went up,” said Hamilton.
Eight of his 12 interceptions were down the middle, but in the latter half of the season, the coaching staff started calling more bubble screens, hitches and fades, which Hamilton said are big in his offense anyway.
Kael Atkinson, South Summit, QB
Over the past 12 years in 2A football, there have been six straight back-to-back state champions. South Summit became the latest program to join that list, and quarterback Kael Atkinson was the catalyst behind that success.
A year after accounting for 49 total touchdowns and being named the Deseret News 2A MVP, Atkinson accounted for 51 touchdowns this season in leading the Wildcats to another dominant championship season in yet another MVP season.
He finishes his career with a 23-1 record as a starter — which includes one playoff start as a sophomore.
“It wasn’t all ability, it was hard work with that, and when you have a guy of that caliber on your team, it opens up a lot of windows for a lot of other players to have success,” said South Summit coach Mike Grajek.
Atkinson finished the season completing 220 of 355 passes for 3,519 yards and 39 touchdowns. He also rushed for 632 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Atkinson had a big arm who could spread the ball around the field, but he also had tremendous athleticism that he could cut up defenses with at any time.
He showed off that ability in South Summit’s three playoff wins. As defense keyed more and more and shutting down the Wildcats’ vaunted passing attack, Atkinson rushed for over 100 yards in all three playoff games for a total of 381 yards and eight touchdowns.
“That was always there, but it wasn’t something we needed to use, and I didn’t have to take that risk of running him because we had other weapons to catch the ball, and he was great throwing it,” said Grajek.
Bryson Barnes, Milford, QB
After quarterbacking Milford to a state title as a sophomore, Bryson Barnes could’ve taken the easy road as a junior knowing he’d already been there, done that.
That’s not in his nature.
“He probably prepares for a football game better than any player that I’ve ever coached. He studies the game and studies the opponent. He’s pretty much ahead of them before we even step on the football field,” said Milford coach Thane Marshall.
That dedication and work ethic contributed to an unbelievable encore season during Barnes’ junior season as he led the Tigers to an undefeated state championship season.
A year after accounting for 45 total touchdowns, Barnes passed for 3,073 yards and 48 touchdowns while also rushing for 752 yards and 12 TDs. He only threw five interceptions.
His 60 total touchdowns ranks sixth in state history for a single season.
Marshall said Barnes did a great job of taking whatever the defenses were giving. He could make all the throws and capitalize on what was there, but he rarely tried to force the issue.4 comments on this story
His leadership might’ve been what set Milford apart from the rest of 1A this year.
“He was our total leader. We didn’t even make it mandatory to go to the weight room, he did. And in the summer he organized the route running with his receivers all on his own,” said Marshall. “He’s a good enough leader even as a junior that everybody stepped up and wanted to follow him and do what he wanted.”
It’s hard to imagine what Barnes can do for a senior year encore, but he’ll probably have some kind of magic up his sleeve.