Meet the 2017 U.S. Army Player of the Year Finalists

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystNovember 28, 2016

Meet the 2017 U.S. Army Player of the Year Finalists

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    Alabama commit Najee Harris has dominated throughout his high school career.
    Alabama commit Najee Harris has dominated throughout his high school career.Credit: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

    The chase for U.S. Army Player of the Year honors is down to six high school seniors. A star-studded list of finalists, announced Monday morning by the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Selection Committee, sets the stage for a Jan. 6 award ceremony in San Antonio, Texas.

    This honor was previously bestowed upon eventual national standouts such as BCS champion Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak, current Cleveland Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. and legendary Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

    A trio of rushers—Cam AkersEno Benjamin and Najee Harris—headline the list of 2017 candidates. Each made the cut from 16 semifinalists, who were announced earlier this month.

    Approximately 15 to 20 voters, including long-standing U.S. Army All-American Bowl committee members and partners, will determine a winner, who will be revealed one day before the game. 

    Quarterback Jacob Eason, who warranted 2016 U.S. Army Player of the Year accolades, ultimately earned a starting job with the Georgia Bulldogs this season as a true freshman. Immense expectations for immediate success will also encounter each member of this year's list.

    Here's a closer look at the six finalists vying for an illustrious award, along with insight from Erik Richards, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl national recruiting director.

RB Cam Akers

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    Credit: Student Sports

    High School: Clinton (Clinton, Mississippi)

    Size: 5'11", 212 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 2 running back; No. 4 overall

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; options include Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee

            

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    Cam Akers projects as an every-down running back in college but carries the load as a quarterback for Clinton High School. He's pushed his program into a state championship matchup set for this weekend. 

    A three-touchdown effort in the semifinal round continued prolific production for Akers. He's thrown for 2,900 yards and 29 touchdowns through 14 games, per MaxPreps, adding 1,888 yards and 29 scores on the ground.

    His 59 total touchdowns—including an interception return—lead all Player of the Year finalists. The former Alabama Crimson Tide commit has tallied 12,795 total offensive yards and 143 scores during a dominant prep career.

       

    Insight from Richards: "Hard to believe Cam has had the kind of season he has had strictly from quarterback. I truly believe that Cam has the ability to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion in the next four years. It's been hard for some college coaches to imagine how deadly he can be once he makes the transition to placing his hands on his thigh pads. He has very good hands out of the backfield, which is an underrated part of his game due to him playing QB the last four years."

RB Eno Benjamin

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    Credit: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

    High School: Wylie East (Wylie, Texas)

    Size: 5'10", 203 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 10 running back; No. 105 overall

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; options include Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma State

        

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    Eno Benjamin, who previously spent time as part of the Iowa Hawkeyes recruiting class, eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards for a second straight season. He gained 2,604 yards on the ground in 13 games as a senior, according to 247Sports, accounting for 32 rushing touchdowns along the way.

    Though Wylie East High School just suffered a loss in the third round of state postseason action, Benjamin came up big throughout his final prep playoff run. He opened the tournament with 353 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in a first-round victory over Marshall High School, per MaxPreps.

    Benjamin averaged seven yards per carry during his high school career, turning more than 1,000 rushing attempts into 7,546 yards and 106 scores. He added seven touchdown passes as a senior.

        

    Insight from Richards: "Eno's climb up the rankings ladder over the last 10 months has been legendary, starting with the offseason camps and seven-on-seven tournaments he participated in. I think Eno's greatest asset is maybe his off-the-field character. Out of all the high school players in the country, I truly think that we could be chanting 'Eno for President' in 2028."

RB Najee Harris

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    Credit: Student Sports

    High School: Antioch (Antioch, California)

    Size: 6'2", 221 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 1 running back; No. 1 overall

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Alabama

        

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    Widely considered this recruiting cycle's premier prospect, Najee Harris has never failed to live up to the hype. Another monstrous campaign places Antioch High School in its first sectional state title game since 1977, according to Allen Payton of the Antioch Herald.

    That contest occurs Saturday, following a fantastic start to Harris' playoff journey (569 rushing yards and six touchdowns through two games, per MaxPreps). He's rushed for 2,596 yards (9.7 per carry) and 33 scores this fall, which features nine 200-yard rushing efforts in 12 contests.

    Harris has now surpassed 2,000 rushing yards in three straight seasons, totaling 96 touchdowns during that span. Committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide since his sophomore year, he'll follow a long line of elite running backs to Tuscaloosa under the direction of head coach Nick Saban.

        

    Insight from Richards: "Very rare combination of size and speed that only comes along every so often at the RB position. Adrian Peterson and [2015 Heisman Trophy winner] Derrick Henry are two that come to mind that I have scouted that I can compare him too. Najee is better out of the backfield than both of those U.S. Army Bowl alumni."

DB Richard LeCounte

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    Credit: Scout.com

    High School: Liberty County (Hinesville, Georgia)

    Size: 6'1", 186 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 3 safety; No. 39 overall

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Georgia

        

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    Richard LeCounte edged out fellow Georgia Bulldogs pledge and Player of the Year semifinalist Jake Fromm for a spot on this list. This Peach State pair should play a key role for head coach Kirby Smart's program development in Athens, with LeCounte likely to be counted on for defensive leadership.

    His senior season, which ended last weekend with an overtime loss in the state quarterfinals, featured 88 tackles—10 for loss—two interceptions and 20 total touchdowns (four non-offensive), per MaxPreps. He posted career-best production as a receiver, averaging 20.5 yards per catch en route to 739 yards and 16 scores.

    LeCounte, who also helped lead Liberty County High School to a state basketball championship last winter, leaves the prep level with a loaded stat sheet. His accomplishments include nearly 400 career tackles and 55 touchdowns.

        

    Insight from Richards: "LeCounte has been on our radar since his freshman year when we were scouting [former 5-star Liberty County recruit and current Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker] Raekwon McMillan. Richard is a lot like Charles Woodson and Jabrill Peppers in that he can hurt you in so many ways and from so many different positions."

QB Tate Martell

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    Credit: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

    High School: Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)

    Size: 5'10 ½", 203 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 2 quarterback; No. 26 overall

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Ohio State

        

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    When we examine the greatest high school football careers this century, Tate Martell belongs in that discussion. He's unbeaten since taking over as a sophomore starter at Bishop Gorman High School, prevailing over several national powerhouse programs while thrusting his squad into No. 1-overall-team-ranking contention each season.

    Martell, a 2016 Elite 11 finalist, can cap off his prep career with another state championship this weekend. He's thrown for 2,238 yards and rushed for 1,181 yards through 14 games this season, per MaxPreps, compiling 57 touchdowns and just one interception. 

    The gaudy stats (9,600 offensive yards and 143 scores since 2014) are undeniably impressive, but his reputation is built upon clutch crunch-time performances, many coming in the final moments of marquee head-to-head showdowns against fellow blue-chip quarterback recruits. Martell committed to the Washington Huskies in middle school and later spent months as a Texas A&M Aggies pledge, but he's now on course to become head coach Urban Meyer's newest quarterback pupil in Columbus.

        

    Insight from Richards: "Don't know if we will ever see another quarterback lead a team to a 44-0 record over three years against a national schedule like Tate has done with Bishop Gorman. Tate's greatest asset is his mobility and ability to extend plays."

DE Jaelan Phillips

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    Credit: Student Sports

    High School: Redlands East Valley (Redlands, California)

    Size: 6'6", 250 lbs

    Scout.com Ranking: No. 1 defensive end; No. 7 overall

    Recruitment Status: Committed to UCLA

        

    Why He's a Player of the Year Finalist

    Offensive linemen largely dominated competition in the trenches this summer at The Opening, an elite invite-only prospect showcase held at Nike's world headquarters. Jaelan Phillips was an exception, consistently beating lauded blockers to assert himself as the nation's most prominent pass-rusher.

    He carried that momentum into his senior campaign, notching four multi-sack games during a seven-week midseason stretch, per MaxPreps. Phillips especially feasted on quarterbacks during league victories over Redlands High School (four sacks) and Citrus Valley High School (seven sacks). 

    History suggests he faces difficult odds to earn U.S. Army Player of the Year honors, as only one lineman has ever accomplished that feat (2015 Florida Gators offensive tackle signee Martez Ivey). Recognition as a finalist resonates on a personal level for Phillips.

    "Winning the award would be incredible, especially because my aunt, uncle and great-grandpa served in the Army, so to win the award would be in honor of them," he told Bleacher Report.

        

    Insight from Richards: "Phillips dominated the camp circuit this year so he wasn't going to sneak up on anyone and not go unblocked this season. He was constantly double-teamed and still had 20-plus sacks during the regular season."

        

    Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Prospect ratings and information courtesy of Scout.

    Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.