Trib HSSN 2022 Head of the Class: Football player of the year in all 6 classes

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Monday, December 19, 2022 | 2:42 AM


As the saying goes, big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Many of the best players in Western Pennsylvania proved those words true this fall.

Whether at Acrisure Stadium or Norwin Knights Stadium for the WPIAL finals or Cumberland Valley High School for the state championships, the “big-time” players certainly showed up.

The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are our players of the year in each of the six classifications.

Class 6A

Khiryn Boyd, North Allegheny

Boyd proved himself as a big-play offensive threat for the WPIAL champions, but also was a stopper in the secondary for a strong Tigers defense. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior scored a team-high 12 touchdowns. None were bigger than the two he scored in the WPIAL finals. He reached the end zone on catches of 68 and 51 yards, big plays that let North Allegheny defeat Central Catholic, 35-21, for the championship. The WPIAL title was the team’s first since 2012. Boyd finished the season with 44 catches for 771 yards. He surpassed 1,500 all-purpose yards, had a 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return and made a team-high six interceptions on defense.

Class 5A

Ryan Palmieri, Pine-Richland

The WPIAL already knew about Palmieri’s talents, but the running back-turned-quarterback impressed a statewide audience by contributing to four touchdowns in the PIAA finals. Palmieri rushed for two TDs, threw for another and also returned an interception to the end zone as Pine-Richland defeated Imhotep Charter, 28-14. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound two-way standout started his senior year at running back but switched positions midseason. The move to quarterback sparked a 12-game winning streak that led to the football program’s third state championship. Palmieri finished the year with 1,929 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns and also passed for 1,104 yards and 10 more scores.

Class 4A

Tiqwai Hayes, Aliquippa

There was no sophomore slump for Hayes, one of the top running backs in the state. He followed up an amazing freshman season by rushing for 1,982 yards and scored 30 touchdowns this fall. As a result, the Quips repeated as WPIAL champions and returned to the state finals. One of Hayes’ best games came in the WPIAL finals. He rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-7 win over Central Valley at Heinz Field. He’s already nearing 4,000 career rushing years and has two high school years left. The 5-foot-11, 203-pound sophomore has 496 career carries for 3,728 yards and 53 touchdowns.

Class 3A

Quinton Martin, Belle Vernon

Martin led the Leopards to their first WPIAL title since 1995, and then celebrated the team’s first PIAA championship a couple of weeks later. The junior accounted for 31 of his team’s 70 touchdowns, including the only one Belle Vernon scored in the state finals. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound running back and defensive back starred on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he rushed for 1,279 yards and added 424 yards more on 28 catches. Defensively, he had four interceptions. One of his best games came in the WPIAL finals. He scored on a 45-yard run, a 32-yard pass and a 51-yard punt return in a 24-7 win over Avonworth at Heinz Field.

Class 2A

Cruce Brookins, Steel Valley

Opposing defenses always focused on Brookins, yet they couldn’t prevent the senior from scoring 35 touchdowns this season. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback rushed for 1,663 yards on 142 carries — an average of 11.7 yards per carry — and also passed for 785 yards and seven more TDs. In the WPIAL finals, Brookins rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns to defeat Beaver Falls, 34-14, at Heinz Field. He’d scored six times in the team’s WPIAL playoff opener. Defense might be his strong suit. He had a team-high seven interceptions. He’d committed to Kent State, but reconsidered in recent weeks after adding offers from Pitt, Cincinnati and Syracuse.

Class A

Braylon Thomas, Union

The Scotties finished third in the competitive Big 7 Conference but Thomas led them on a historic playoff run to the state finals. The junior topped 1,000 yards both rushing and passing as Union (12-4) won its first WPIAL title since 1959. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound quarterback rushed 252 times for 1,466 yards and 20 touchdowns. He passed for 1,202 yards and 14 more scores. Tenth-seeded Union surprised No. 1 Bishop Canevin, 26-0, in the WPIAL finals. Thomas scored the game’s first two touchdowns on runs of 6 and 38 yards.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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