We asked Illinois high school football fans to vote on their choice for the Illinois high school football offensive and defensive players of the year and the results are in.
Fan vote winner:
Aiden Riser, LB, Maroa-Forsyth
Riser’s senior season play earned him all-county, all-conference, and IHSFCA 2A All-State honors, as well as the school’s all-time tackles for loss record. He recorded 136 tackles (25 TFL) and seven sacks and helped lead Maroa-Forsyth to a 12-1 overall record and an appearance in the IHSA 2A semifinals.
Here’s another look at the rest of the nominees:
Austin Alexander, DB, Marian Catholic
The junior defensive back was a big-time playmaker this season. He made 49 tackles and was among the regions leaders with seven interceptions (according to the NWITimes) while playing in seven games for the Spartans. The 6-foot-1, 165-pounder earned all-conference honors and was recognized as the Outstanding Defensive Player within the CCL Purple Division.
Jovan Clark, LB, Morgan Park
Although only a sophomore, Clark was a key contributor on a Mustangs squad that posted a 10-2 record and advanced to the 5A quarterfinals. He was the team’s leader in tackles with 111 (12 tackles for loss), had a team-high five interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdowns), five sacks and three forced fumbles. He was a first-team all-Public League selection.
Dominique Dixon, LB, East St. Louis
Dixon was all over the field for the top-ranked Flyers this season. The 6-0, 186-pounder led the team with 163 total tackles, 11 sacks and two fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown. Dixon led a defensive unit that held opponents to less than nine points per game on average and he helped the Flyers to a 12-2 record to go with their 6A state title.
Iose Epenesa, DL, Edwardsville
Epenesa showed why he’s one of the top sophomore prospects in the Midwest with his work on the Tigers’ defensive line this fall. During the team’s 7-4 season, the 6-4, 250-pounder recorded 58 tackles (13 TFL), a team-leading six sacks and a fumble recovery while helping Edwardsville to a second-round appearance in the 8A state playoffs.
Antwon Hayden, LB, East St. Louis
An Illinois signee, Hayden had a very good season as one of the leaders on the Flyers defense and earned IHSFCA 6A first-team All-State honors. He totaled an impressive 106 total tackles, 10 sacks, an interception, and two touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball while helping East St. Louis to a 12-2 record – 12-0 against in-state opponents – and the 6A state title.
Jayden Howard, LB, Belleville East
Howard was one of the leaders on a Belleville East team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2015. In the Lancers’ 10 games, the 6-0, 205-pound senior totaled 118 tackles (10 TFL), three sacks, and a forced fumble on a defense that shut out two opponents and held two others to 14 points or less. In the Lancers’ season opener against Collinsville, Howard broke out with 18 total tackles and a sack to help Belleville East win 20-12.
Tyler Jansey, LB, Batavia
A senior linebacker and Wisconsin signee, Jansey was one of the leaders on a talented Bulldogs defense. During Batavia’s 10-4 season, the 6-1, 224-pound IHSFCA 7A All-State selection had a team high 128 total tackles (17 TFL), four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He helped Batavia to a 7A runner-up finish on a defense that held opponents to less than 14 points per game.
Matt Kingsbury, LB, St. Rita
A 6-3, 225-pound senior, Kingsbury led the Mustangs with 118 tackles (three TFL) while adding a sack, an interception, a blocked punt, and two safeties. He helped St. Rita finish with a 10-3 record and a 7A semifinal appearance. Kingsbury was a IHSFCA 7A All-State selection and earned all-conference honors in the CCL Green as well as the CCL Green Tony Lawless Athlete of the Year Award.
Marquise Lightfoot, DL, Kenwood
Lightfoot had a breakout junior season for the Broncos that has earned him recognition on the national recruiting circuit. He was all over the field with 122 tackles (15 TFL), nine sacks, 18 quarterback hurries, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. The 6-5, 215-pounder was a big part of a Kenwood defense that held opponents to less than 12 points per game. He was an IHSFCA 6A All-State selection.
John Nestor, DB, Marist
An Iowa signee, Nestor had a great season for the RedHawks and was a leader on their defense. He had 52 tackles, four interceptions – one returned for a touchdown – to go along with a forced fumble and a safety. He was an all-conference selection in the CCL Blue, was named the CCL Blue’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, and earned a selection to the IHSFCA 8A All-State team. He helped Marist to a 7-4 overall record and a second round appearance in the 8A state playoffs.
Joe Reinhart, LB, North Mac
Reinhart was a force for the Panthers’ defense all season and he has helped them to an 8-2 season, a share of the South Central Conference title, and a 2A playoff appearance. In 10 games this season, the 5-11, 215-pounder racked up 136 tackles (9.5 TFL), a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In North Mac’s lone playoff matchup against Fairfield, Reinhart turned in an impressive 21-tackle effort. Reinhart earned IHSFCA 2A All-State honorable mention honors.
Braden Revermann, DB, Breese Central
Revermann stood out in the Cougars’ secondary in his senior season. During their 8-3 season, the 6-0, 150-pounder recorded 31 tackles and was among the state leaders in interceptions with 10. Revermann helped lead the Cougars to the second round of the 4A state playoffs and notched a key interception in their first-round 21-18 victory over Mt. Zion. He was an IHSFCA 4A All-State selection.
Jake Scianna, LB, Lincoln-Way East
Scianna was the heart and soul for the Griffins defense, which was one of the better units in the state. The 6-0, 220-pound senior linebacker had a team leading 87 tackles (seven TFL), two sacks and two interceptions. He helped lead Lincoln-Way East to a 13-1 overall record and an 8A runner-up finish while being an IHSFCA 8A All-State selection. The most impressive part of his season is that he was still one of the top linebackers in the state while playing on a torn ACL that he suffered over the summer.
DeAndrew Seals, DL, Richards
A senior defensive end, Seals seemed to be in the opponent backfield every play this season. Going into the playoffs, Seals had already racked up 55 tackles (19 TFL), 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown), and an interception while helping Richards to a 5-4 record and 6A playoff spot. In the Warriors’ lone playoff game, the 6-0, 170-pounder had seven tackles (one TFL) and scored his team’s lone touchdown on offense while lining up at receiver.
Thomas Sims, LB, Leo
A 5-11, 190-pounder, Sims had an accolade-filled senior season. He had 131 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception which earned him all-conference honors as well as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award in the CCL Red. In the Lions’ Week 4 game against Thornton, he had his best effort with 20 tackles (two TFL), a sack and an interception in a 22-0 shutout.
Drew Surges, DB/LB, St. Charles North
Surges was a two-way player for the North Stars but was particularly impressive on the defensive side of the ball. Surges helped lead North to a 10-2 overall record and a 7A quarterfinal appearance while racking up a team-high 118 tackles (nine TFL), three forced fumbles, two interceptions, and one sack. The senior earned all-Fox Valley Conference honors and was an IHSFCA 7A all-state selection.
K’Vion Thunderbird, LB, Kenwood
A highly-recruited senior linebacker, Thunderbird enjoyed a great season with the Broncos with 109 total tackles (six TFL), three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles while helping Kenwood to an 8-4 overall record and an appearance in the 6A quarterfinals. The 6-1, 215-pounder was a first-team IHSFCA 6A All-State selection.
Cory West, LB, Sacred Heart-Griffin
While SHG may be known for its high scoring offense, West was the leader of a stubborn Cyclone defense that held opponents to less than 13 points per game during their undefeated season. The 6-0, 195-pound senior racked up 171 tackles, five fumble recoveries, two sacks and two blocked punts to help Sacred Heart-Griffin to a Central State Eight Conference title and the IHSA 4A state title. West was an IHSFCA 4A All-State Team selection.
Marcell Wiggins, DL, Bremen
A senior defensive lineman, Wiggins was a key contributor on a defense that held opponents to less than 16 points per game. During the Braves’ 9-2 season, the 6-2, 190-pounder recorded 65 tackles (11 TFL), nine sacks and three fumble recoveries. Wiggins helped Bremen to a second-round appearance in the 6A playoffs.
Bryan Wilson, DL, Eisenhower
A standout junior defensive end, Wilson helped lead Eisenhower to a 6A state playoff appearance as he recorded 71 tackles (17 TFL), 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. For his efforts, the 6-3, 215-pounder earned an all-conference selection in the South Suburban-Red. In the season opener against Brooks, Wilson earned defensive player of the game as he had eight tackles (three TFL) and a forced fumble.
Luke Zimmerman, LB, Villa Grove
A senior linebacker, Zimmerman made plays for the Villa Grove defense all season. Going into the playoffs, Zimmerman had totaled a state-leading 164 tackles and was a unanimous first team all-conference selection and an all-area selection. In the lone 1A playoff game against Routt Catholic/Lutheran, Zimmerman racked up 15 total tackles. He was selected as a 1A All-State Honorable Mention.