During the grind of the preseason, Staley running back Julian Ross established a couple of goals for the purpose of motivation, using them as rallying cries throughout early-morning practices.
But they didn’t last long. Six quarters into the season, Ross already had seven touchdowns.
The objective changed.
“At first I just wanted to be all-state,” he said. “But then the Simone (Award) got brought up, and I said, ‘I want it.’ ”
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It came to fruition Tuesday. Ross was presented with the Thomas A. Simone Award during a ceremony at his high school. The honor is for the most outstanding football player across all classes in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
In his senior season, Ross (5-11, 189 pounds) rushed for 2,257 yards and 37 touchdowns. He added four more receiving touchdowns for a total of 41 trips into the end zone. In six different games, he scored at least four times. He failed to cross the goal line only one Friday night — a playoff victory against Liberty North in which he departed before halftime with an injury.
“He put up some numbers that were unbelievable against some of the best teams in the state of Missouri,” Staley coach Phil Lite said. “Besides the individual aspect of it, this was a team goal pretty much all year long. Nobody wanted this award more than his teammates.”
Ross singled out those teammates during Tuesday’s hour-long presentation, most specifically his offensive linemen, whom he calls the hoggies. (“They like to eat,” he says.)
Behind that group, Ross enjoyed a breakout season. The initial three years of his high school football career included 1,043 rushing yards. He more than doubled that total in his senior year alone. He has not committed to a college but currently has a handful of FCS and Division II offers.
Blue Valley senior quarterback Matthew Dercher, Park Hill senior defensive end Chester Graves and Shawnee Mission North senior quarterback Will Schneider were also finalists for the Simone Award. Former Kansas City Chiefs player Jared Allen spoke before Ross was introduced as the winner.
The awards presentation honored several more athletes Tuesday. Graves won the Buck Buchanan Memorial Award as the best lineman or linebacker in the Kansas City area. He had 126 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Kearney senior quarterback Anthony Pritzel received the Frank Fontana Award, given annually to the top small-class player. In his first season with the Bulldogs, Pritzel threw for 26 touchdowns and ran for 18 more.
Kearney senior linebacker Ethan Luft departed with the Bobby Bell Award, reserved for the best small-class lineman or linebacker. Luft recorded 172 tackles, 107 of them unassisted. He is the fourth Kearney player to win the Bobby Bell Award.
Bishop Miege senior Jafar Armstrong won the Otis Taylor Award as the top receiver in the area. Armstrong, a Missouri signee, set a new Kansas high school state record with 45 career receiving touchdowns. He finished his senior year with 54 catches, 1,277 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Turner’s Jordan Martin received the sixth annual Nathan Stiles Inspiration Award. Martin has a hearing impairment. The honor was presented by former Olathe East football player James McGinnis, who received the same award two years ago. McGinnis gave a lengthy speech that was followed by a standing ovation from the Staley student body and faculty.
“The journey gave (Martin) a new appreciation for individuals with special needs and a deeper understanding of what is really important — to love one another,” McGinnis said.
Lincoln Prep senior running back Travis Martin and East senior defensive back Michael Brown took home the Interscholastic League offensive and defensive player of the year recognition, respectively.