The 2020 football season faced an adversity unlike any other as teams were forced to navigate through rigorous mitigation protocols as the coronavirus pandemic raged on in the state.
Players were quarantined. Games were canceled and at times, seasons came to an unfortunate end. But champions were crowned and on Saturday, Jan. 9 at Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, the 2020 Ed Doherty Award winner was named.
Mesquite quarterback Ty Thompson, who led the Wildcats to two straight state championships to end his high school career, was named the recipient this year after throwing for 3,431 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2020. The Oregon-bound five-star quarterback was among the 53 total players nominated for the award, and one of five finalists.
“It means the world to me, it’s a huge blessing, a huge honor,” Thompson said. “It’s a testament to everything my coaches and teammates have put in and the hard work they’ve done supporting me. I’m just really thankful.”
Several other East Valley and Scottsdale athletes were among those in attendance for the ceremony. Each nominee wore a medallion around his neck, given out by the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club throughout the course of the season.
While only one winner can be named, every athlete in attendance felt a sense of accomplishment just for being recognized during a difficult season.
“It’s a blessing just to be here,” Chandler senior running back Eli Sanders said. “Just everything we’ve been through, not knowing if we were going to have a season. We all just kept working and pushing through those hard days. We all came together as one unit, all of Arizona football, and it feels amazing to be at this point.”
Sanders was among the other four finalists for the award. His teammate, Chandler quarterback Mikey Keene, was also a finalist but was an early enrollee at the University of Central Florida and was unable to attend.
The 6-foot, 190-pound running back made the most of his first and only season as the lead-back for the state champion Wolves after transferring before his junior season. He rushed for 1,377 yards and 23 touchdowns, helping Chandler capture its fifth straight championship and second Open Division title.
His recruitment recently picked up as a result of his breakout senior season, with recent offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Hawaii.
“Going through recruiting, it’s stressful but fun,” Sanders said. “I’m just blessed to be in this position. I’ll be able to make the best decision for myself soon.”
Hamilton defensive back Cole Martin, a sophomore, was also among those nominated for the Ed Doherty Award.
Martin has long established himself as one of the top defensive backs in the state and country, regardless of class. He was named a varsity starter as a freshman and has become a lockdown corner with exceptional return abilities on special teams. His skill has helped him earn double-digit offers from Power 5 schools in just his first two seasons at the varsity level.
Now, he can add Ed Doherty nominee to his already long list of accomplishments.
“It’s crazy. I was just talking to Bijan (Robinson) and seeing guys like Demond (Williams Jr.), Eli Sanders, Bram (Walden); it’s an honor and humbling,” Martin said. “It’s a crazy experience and I feel blessed to be part of it.”
Martin was key in Hamilton’s run to the Open Division semifinals in 2019 and the state championship this past season, where the Huskies lost to rival Chandler after a missed game-winning field goal. Junior quarterback Nicco Marchiol also played a key role and was nominated for the Ed Doherty Award.
Holding up the Ed Doherty Award before he leaves high school is one of several goals Martin said he has for himself. Most importantly, he wants to continue to help bring Hamilton back to its standard of being a powerhouse in the state and country.
“I try to push myself to be the best version of myself I can be,” Martin said. “That’s going to keep going as I get older. I’m going to keep working behind the scenes and keep working toward being a leader for my teammates.”
Attending the Ed Doherty Award ceremony was a surreal moment for Basha freshman quarterback Demond Williams Jr. He became the first-ever freshman quarterback to be nominated for the award after leading the Bears to win six straight at the end of the regular season and finish with a 6-3 overall record.
“This is a really good experience,” Williams said. “To be the first-ever freshman quarterback to do it, it feels good.”
Game-by-game, Williams was able to adjust to the speed at the varsity level. At times, he was able to show off his dual-threat ability. His skill set complimented the talent level of other Basha offensive players, including senior running back Caleb Jones, who was also a nominee for the Ed Doherty Award.
In his first varsity season, he threw for 1,814 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns.
Like Martin, Williams aims to hold up the trophy in the future, perhaps more than once. For now, he remains focused on helping build the Basha program into a state title contender, which may happen sooner rather than later.
“I want to bring Basha its first state championship,” Williams said. “Whether it’s in the Open or 6A, I just want to win it. Hopefully, I can bring home one of these trophies, too.”