Baumholder quarterback Ben McDaniels is the Stars and Stripes football Athlete of the Year. See story here. He was neither an easy choice nor a unanimous one among the reporters, editors, coaches and other followers of the game with whom I discussed the decision.
The evidence in support of McDaniels is massive. First of all, he led his team to an undefeated season and a European championship from the quarterback position. That’s a great start. He contributed immensely in other areas, not just filling a spot on defense and special teams but altering games with his kicking, kick returning, tackling and pass coverage. He is a senior ending a remarkable prep career that began on a winless team.
He abandoned his comfort zone at wide receiver to assume the sport’s most intricate position. He is not Baumholder’s only difference-maker, but without McDaniels, Baumholder might be closer to that downtrodden 2009 outfit than today’s championship team.
The arguments against McDaniels are also compelling. Foremost is the fact that he plays nine-man football at the Division III level. Yes, he has fewer blockers, but eluding nine guys is not as difficult as eluding 11 guys on a field of the same size.
That difference is substantial and can’t be ignored. But there are formidable opponents at the D-III level, and McDaniels can’t control what division his school lands in. He can only play the game available to him, and he did it better than anyone. Besides, McDaniels was an All-Europe player at the Division II level a year ago, and he’d have played a huge role for Ramstein, Bitburg or any other upper-division power if he had been on those teams.
Finally, there is the issue of the other contenders for the honor. I would have liked to have more primary defensive players in the mix, and actively solicited nominations. I’m very sensitive to skill-position bias, but just couldn’t pin down a defender for inclusion. Here are the players my colleagues and I considered for the award:
1. QB Joseph Pitts, Naples. The best pure quarterback in DODDS-Europe, Pitts was central in every conversation I had over the course of choosing an Athlete of the Year. I won’t try to make a case against him; I think he’s a fantastic player and a real prospect to play collegiate ball. A Super Six upset of Bitburg might have changed things entirely, but McDaniels’ championship and contributions all over the field put him over the top.
2. OL/DL Colton Engelmeier and RB CJ Evans, Bitburg. Fairly or not, it’s difficult to tell which of these players made the other look better. Would Evans rack up the same yardage without Engelmeier clearing a wide swath of grass? Is Engelmeier’s effectiveness exaggerated by the gifted runner behind him? In the end, the relationship is too symbiotic to choose either.
3. QB Dylan LePage, Ramstein. A gifted runner who carried the Royals to a Division I title in the fourth quarter of the Super Six championship game. But the Ramstein system has too many working parts to single out one for individual glory.
4. RB David Vidovic, Hohenfels. An incredibly intriguing up-and-coming player, it’s a year too soon to seriously consider him. Stay tuned.
5. RB Carlton Campbell and RB Shawn Peebles, Vilseck. The impossibly speedy tandem can’t be separated for athlete of the year purposes.
6. RB Demar Flake, Ansbach. A remarkable athlete who would have figured larger in the discussion had the Cougars pushed deeper into the fall.
7. OL/DL Ian Hudak, Lakenheath. Like Flake, his team simply didn’t make enough noise to be heard over the likes of McDaniels and Pitts.
I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to our selection. It’s not meant to be a contrarian or deliberately provocative choice.