Teams win championships. But no high school football squad makes it there without a couple legendary players.
We surveyed coaches around the Treasure Valley, from 5A to 1A, searching for the prospects bound for a breakout season this fall. And the same 20 names kept coming up over and over again.
These are the Friday night stars opposing coaches spent the past year worrying about. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Landon Cheney, QB/LB, Nampa ChristianThe Trojans’ unquestioned leader since he entered middle school, Cheney has done it all. The senior proved himself as an option quarterback, then transitioned into a spread passer, one who threw for 2,138 yards with 20 TDs and seven interceptions last fall as the 2A WIC’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
His legs and strong arm have Nampa Christian eyeing a conference title.
“(He’s) the real deal at QB — athletic, smart and very clever on the move,” Melba coach Juan Colunga said. “(He’s) hard to game plan for because he makes plays happen outside the pocket.”
Max Clark, QB, CapitalQuarterbacks at Capital typically cut an imposing figure, standing 6-foot-3 or more. Clark hails from a different mold at 5-11. But the swashbuckling passer has more than proved his worth.
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He threw six touchdowns, and ran for another, in his varsity debut last year. He added 302 more yards and another three TDs in his second game before a broken collarbone ended his season.
With the senior back to full health, passing records at the quarterback factory stand in danger.
“He is one of the most accurate downfield passers that I’ve seen at the high school level,” Borah coach JQ Kenyon said. “Combine that with his football IQ and the weapons surrounding him, I expect him to put up some big numbers.”
Casey Cope, QB/DB, VallivueFormer Vallivue quarterback Lan Larison, a two-time All-Idaho Player of the Year, left big shoes to fill. Cope didn’t mind the pressure, showing what he can do in charge of an offense by racking up 2,271 total yards and 19 TDs.
The four-year starter already holds offers from the College of Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Montana Western.
“He has a big arm with accuracy,” Ridgevue coach Tom DeWitz said. “He is also very athletic and creates matchup problems.”
Carter Fortin, QB/LB, Cole Valley ChristianInjuries limited the 6-3, 200-pound quarterback last year. But the senior and three-year starter returns fully healthy and ready to tear up the 2A WIC.
He already has an offer from Whitworth (NCAA Division III). Expect more to roll in after an impressive summer on the camp circuit.
“He will sling the ball around for Cole Valley and make us cover the entire field,” New Plymouth coach Dallan Rupp said. “With the amount of weapons he has, this will be difficult.”
OL/DL, NotusThe senior racked up 17 sacks a year ago to earn the defensive player of the year award in the 1A Division I WIC and second-team All-Idaho honors. And he did it all while playing with a torn meniscus.
With the knee fully healed, watch for him to terrorize opposing QBs and offensive linemen alike.
“He is much stronger and faster, and looks better than he did last year,” Notus coach Joe Woodland said.
Brayden Garrison, LB, Mountain ViewThe senior anchors the Mavs’ defense again after ranking third in the 5A ranks with 11.9 tackles per game last fall. His nose for the ball ensures he’ll make plays all over the field, erasing mistakes. And he delivers big hits once he gets there.
“(He) is another athlete that may not initially look like a dude, but he will absolutely punish your offense for underestimating him,” Kuna assistant coach Josh Rippy said. “You need to know where he is on the field.”
DJ Green, RB/WR/DB, McCall-DonnellyGreen carried the Vandals to their first state basketball championship game, earning the 3A All-Idaho Boys Basketball Player of the Year award in the process. But you could argue he’s even better on the football field.
The Vandals will get the ball in the hands of the four-year starter in nearly every way imaginable, from handoffs to passes to kick and punt returns to any touches he can steal on defense.
“The average fan may want to drive up the mountain on Friday nights to watch this kid,” McCall-Donnelly coach Lee Leslie said. “He does it all.”
CJ JACOBSEN, WR, ROCKY MOUNTAIN
The 6-5, 215-pound junior flew under the radar on last year’s undefeated state championship team, hauling in 10 catches for 146 yards and one TD. But those days are gone.
His size, sharp routes and sticky hands earned him an offer from Nevada this summer. And they will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
“(He’s a) huge target with great hands,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “(He will be) a matchup problem in the red zone.”
HAYDEN KINCHELOE, RB/DE, HOMEDALE
The reigning 3A All-Idaho Player of the Year returns for his senior year after racking up 1,683 rushing yards and 19 TDs. Those numbers came despite Kincheloe riding the bench in many of the Trojans’ blowout victories.
His size (5-10, 212 pounds) and strength allow him to bulldoze tacklers. But he also has the quick feet to leave them in his dust.
“He’s the most physically dominating back I have ever coached against,” Sugar-Salem coach Tyler Richins said last year. “He is going to get his yards. Your only hope is that you can slow him down enough to stay in the game.”
SETH KNOTHE, RB, BISHOP KELLY
The 6-1, 205-pound tailback burst on the scene last year, racking up 1,004 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns en route to landing on the 4A All-Idaho second team.
He can batter opponents with his size. But he’s also a patient runner with the speed to turn a crease into a touchdown from anywhere on the field.
“He’s a big, physical runner,” Middleton coach Bill Brock said. “He can wear a defense down.”
TAYLOR MARCUM, RB, TIMBERLINE
The Montana State commit and three-year starter first made a name for himself when he led the 5A SIC in rushing yards as a sophomore. Only a broken wrist and limited schedule slowed his production in 2020 (558 yards, nine TDs).
Everyone in the league knows he’s a home-run threat the second he touches the ball. But he’s also a handful between the tackles with his strength and toughness.
“He has great speed and is athletic enough to line up as a wide receiver,” Capital coach Todd Simis said. “You can’t let him get going vertically.”
MALAKAI MARTINEZ, QB, MERIDIAN
The senior is one of the rare talents who may be better when everything goes wrong. His cool head, athleticism and creativity ensure he can make something out of nothing and deliver backbreaking plays against defenses.
He ranked fourth in 5A with 221.4 passing yards per game last year. And he was efficient, throwing 19 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
“Having a QB with that skill set is a terrible thing to compete against,” Timberline coach Ian Smart said.
KY MCCLURE, QB, MIDDLETON
He led the 4A ranks in passing yards (256.9) while completing 58% of his passes with 22 TDs and nine interceptions. So what’s left for an encore?
Opponents will soon find out. The 6-3, 210-pound senior has the quick release, accuracy and touch that allow him to carve up defenses down the field. But he’s also a threat with his legs, running for 461 yards and three TDs a year ago.
“He has a big arm and can make all the throws,” Vallivue coach Layne Coffin said.
ETHAN MIKITA, RB, EAGLE
The senior did a bit of everything for the Mustangs last year, moving all around the field to find soft spots. The one constant was the damage he inflicted, converting 43 touches into 608 yards (14.1 yards per touch) and five TDs.
Eagle expects to feed Mikita, who has an offer from Idaho, more this fall. That spells trouble for the rest of the 5A SIC.
“He is Mr. Do-It-All on offense,” Rippy said. “His ability to play multiple positions in that offense can lead to death by a thousand cuts for your defense.”
NICO RODRIGUEZ, OL/DL, COLUMBIA
Wrestling remains the top sport for the two-time state champion at 220 pounds. But the senior throws opponents around on the gridiron, too.
He earned first-team all-conference honors on both the offensive and defensive lines last year. And he stands as the unquestioned leader of the Wildcats.
“He’s a big, strong lineman with good feet,” DeWitz said. “He likes to get after people, and he does it all game long on both sides of the ball.”
KEEGAN SMITH, OL/DL, HORSESHOE BEND
The senior wrecked opposing coaches’ game plans a year ago, racking up 102 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three forced fumbles. That earned him a first-team spot on the 1A Division II All-Idaho defensive line. He was also elected as a second-team offensive lineman.
Even facing constant double teams, he still overpowers opponents and makes plays from sideline to sideline.
“He is a beast inside,” Garden Valley coach Jason Yearsely said. “He is tough to block on ‘D’ and is able to tie his blocks up consistently on ‘O.’ ”
BRETT SPENCER, QB/DB, WEISER
The SRV must be sick of Spencer, a three-year starter under center, by now. But it will have to suffer through another year trying to contain the 6-foot, 185-pound, elusive quarterback.
He racked up 1,396 total yards and 21 TDs a year ago, and he earned second-team All-Idaho honors as a defensive back. But Idaho views him as a quarterback, extending a scholarship offer.
“He’s an unreal athlete,” Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy said. “He can throw the ball all over the field. He can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.”
DAVIS THACKER, WR, MERIDIAN
As a four-year starter, defenses know all about Thacker’s athleticism, strong hands and top-end speed. He can blow the top off any coverage, and his 39-inch vertical jump ensures he can win any jump ball.
But he’s honed his craft in the offseason, improving his route-running technique to make him an all-around threat.
“Anytime he is in single coverage, defensive coordinators should be scared,” Kenyon said.
KODY WALK, TE/DE, CAPITAL
Players with Walk’s size (6-4, 225 pounds) and athleticism don’t come around often. And when they do, they strike fear into the heart of opposing defenses.
The senior holds offers from Idaho, Idaho State and Eastern Washington. He served as the Eagles’ leading receiver a year ago (26 catches, 362 yards, one TD). Expect him to do so again.
“He is a tall, physical tight end who has a huge catch radius,” Centennial coach Matt Greene said. “He demands a double team, especially near the red zone.”
CADEN YOUNG, QB, EMMETT
The reigning 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year returns for his senior season with an offer from Idaho to play quarterback. He posted jaw-dropping numbers last year (3,427 total yards, 37 TDs). But that only tells part of the story.
The bigger the moment, the better the 6-3, 185-pound quarterback played. He always found a way to pull a rabbit out of his hat, including on a handful of snaps as a defensive back.
“He’s very athletic and can be a game-changer on both sides of the football,” Brock said.