MaxPreps has already handicapped the races for National Junior of the Year
as well as National Sophomore of the Year
, both of which will be announced after the season.
Now, MaxPreps examines the field of top ninth-graders in the running for National Freshman of the Year.
The award was first presented to Hopewell (Aliquippa, Pa.)
running back Rushel Shell
in 2008. Since receiving the award, Shell has posted two more outstanding seasons and will be a top recruit in the class of 2012.
Here's a look at the players vying to follow in his footsteps.FAVORITELeonard Fournette, RB, St. Augustine (New Orleans)
The 6-foot, 210-pound Fournette boasts 4.5 speed and would have started last year as an eighth-grader for 5A St. Augustine if it had been permitted. He's received more acclaim than any freshman in the country, and is already being talked about as having a future on Sundays. He's rushed for 1,688 yards and 24 touchdowns and could top 2,000 yards before the season ends.CONTENDERSJabrill Peppers, CB, Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
Not many players step into national power Don Bosco Prep's starting lineup as a freshman, but Peppers did just that, earning a spot in the Ironmen's secondary that is already teeming with Division I recruits. He's made an instant impact, intercepting six passes, recovering a fumble, and scoring two defensive touchdowns as Don Bosco Prep marches toward another section title.
Sony Michel, RB, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.)
A well-known commodity since his eighth-grade season, Michel has not disappointed in his freshman campaign. He's been the focal point of American Heritage's offense, rushing for 1,533 yards and 20 touchdowns.Cole Ousley, QB, Lone Oak (Paducah, Ky.)
Ousley, who is already 6-3, has posted eye-popping statistics as a freshman quarterback. In addition to throwing for 34 scores, he's also compiled 3,372 yards in the process. In three different games this year, Ousley connected for five touchdown passes. He's also rushed for a half-dozen scores, giving him 40 total touchdowns on the year.DeShaun Watson, QB, Gainesville (Ga.)
It's no surprise that Gainesville is home to one of the country's top freshmen in Watson, as the Red Elephants routinely churn out top prospects. Watson is an athletic quarterback with good size at 6-2, 170 pounds. He threw for 17 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards in leading Gainesville to a 10-3 record.SLEEPERSAidan Wilder, QB, Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.)
Wilder steadily improved throughout the season, throwing for nine touchdowns in his final four games. On the season, he completed 81 of 138 passes for 6A Central Catholic, compiling 1,039 passing yards. Wilder also rushed for four scores.
Nick Harvey, ATH, Lancaster (Texas)
It seems as if there is nothing that the 5-10 Harvey can't do. He's already a seasoned starter on two sides of the ball for Lancaster, and with his speed and athleticism, has developed a reputation for making big plays. K.C. McDermott, OL, Palm Beach Central (Wellington, Fla.)
Perhaps no ninth-grade offensive lineman has made the kind of splash that McDermott has made this season. With two brothers playing at the Division I level, it's no surprise that McDermott entered high school ready to contribute on the varsity level. According to head coach Rod Harris, he'll go anywhere he wants for college.Jalen Brown, DB, Mountain Pointe (Phoenix)
Also a standout basketball player, Brown has wasted no time in carving out his reputation for excellence on the gridiron. The most impressive ninth-grader in Arizona, Brown has intercepted six passes on defense, and has also contributed to Mountain Pointe's offense from the wide receiver spot.Know of a candidate that we might have overlooked? Comment below, or email National Football Editor Stephen Spiewak at email@example.com.