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One tough Cowboy: Colome’s Kinzer is named Republic Player of the Year

COLOME -- Jackson Kinzer has always been a playmaker. So much so that Colome High School made a decision prior to the 2018 football campaign to shake up its offense in an effort to highlight Kinzer's playmaking abilities.

Colome's Jackson Kinzer is The Daily Republic's football player of the year. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Colome's Jackson Kinzer is The Daily Republic's football player of the year. (Matt Gade / Republic)

COLOME - Jackson Kinzer has always been a playmaker. So much so that Colome High School made a decision prior to the 2018 football campaign to shake up its offense in an effort to highlight Kinzer's playmaking abilities.

Kinzer spent most of his high school career as a running back, leading the Cowboys in rushing as a junior in 2017 and guiding his team to the Class 9B semifinals. Colome went 9-2 and averaged 38 points per game, but head coach Ben Connot wanted more and decided to move the 6-foot, 190-pound Kinzer to quarterback.

Kinzer responded by guiding the Cowboys to a 12-0 record en route to winning the Class 9B state championship. In the process, he compiled 2,834 all-purpose yards and 46 total touchdowns, leading to Kinzer being voted The Daily Republic player of the year.

Since 1994, The Daily Republic football player of the year has been selected by the newspaper's sports staff, and conducted via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top player, four points to the second player on the ballot and so on. Kinzer received 17 points in the voting, making him the first player in Colome's history to win the award.
Other players receiving consideration were Bon Homme's Joey Slama, Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Jesse Hastings, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan's Jamin Arend and Brady Hawkins, Mitchell's Carson Max and Canistota/Freeman's Trey Ortman.

Making the switch

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It is not unusual for a high school player to switch positions. It is unusual for two successful players to switch positions in the final year of their careers.

Layton Thieman had a strong season as Colome's quarterback in 2017. And leading an offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game doesn't typically result in a position switch, especially when the replacement had not played the position since seventh grade.

Connot wanted to give his most explosive player the most opportunities to touch the ball as much as possible, however, and the only position in the sport to do that is quarterback. So when fall camp opened up, Kinzer found himself throwing to Thieman, rather than vice versa.

"He was going to be the best athlete on the field against whatever team we played," Connot said. "We wanted to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Spreading the field out and limiting the numbers inside the box to get Jackson the ball in space."

Kinzer did not disappoint, rushing for 1,396 yards and 24 touchdowns, as Colome scored nearly 62 points per game and averaged 11 yards per play. It was how quickly he took to the intricacies of playing quarterback that stood out, though.

His rushing prowess was never in question, but how quickly he could take to making proper reads and learning the footwork - which plays a factor in throwing velocity and accuracy - were an unknown.

Kinzer dove in head first, throwing for 1,438 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he also set himself apart by completing nearly 60 percent of his passes without an interception, while one fumble accounted for his only turnover of the season in 231 combined attempts passing and rushing.

"Most of my routes were so easy because (the receivers) were getting such good separation," Kinzer said. "I was just reading the defensive backs well all year and if they weren't open, I had Chase (Dufek) for a checkdown and he could go for 20 yards any play."

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No shortcuts needed

Another factor to putting Kinzer at quarterback was his leadership qualities. Kinzer had always led by example, but this season he took on more of a vocal leadership role as he moved into his new position.

"I think I already had quite a bit of respect from those guys," Kinzer said. "They already knew what I was about. I was about winning. I didn't care where I was on the field. All I cared about was winning and trying to make our team better."

While his vocal leadership was improving, Kinzer continued to lead by example through toughness. Not only did he carry the load as a physical runner, but he also played on the defensive line. He finished second on the team in tackles, with 13 coming behind the line of scrimmage, while recording 2.5 sacks and an interception.

Connot believes that Kinzer's teammates saw his toughness and followed his lead, knowing there was no job he would back down from.

"He's just a tough kid mentally and physically, no matter what the situation was," Connot said. "He's not looking to take shortcuts, he's not going to back away from anything and I think that trickles down and everyone else sees that as well. If your quarterback can do it, everyone else on the team can do it as well."

That leadership was on display during the Class 9B championship game against Sully Buttes, the defending state runner-up and a team that had won 22 of its past 23 games, which included ousting Colome in the semifinals in 2017.

The Cowboys found themselves in a tight game in the second half after a season in which their closest margin of victory was 46 points in a 74-28 semifinal win over Wall the previous week.

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Connot continued to lean on Kinzer throughout, totaling 285 yards and three touchdowns. Even when Colome appeared to have the game in the bag when Sully Buttes scored 14 points late in the game - including a 96-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute to play - Kinzer was looked upon to put his team in the right positions.

"In the huddle he was like, 'Let's go score, let's go score,' and it carried over," Connot said. "When your quarterback has confidence in the offense and has confidence in the other players, then things are going to go well. It just makes everyone else feel good about themselves."

When Colome won the overtime coin toss, Kinzer went against conventional thinking and elected to take the ball first. The result was a game-winning touchdown by Dufek.

'One of the best athletes ever'

Kinzer put together a senior season that can match up with any in the state from a statistical standpoint, but he does have something to hold over any senior football player in the state this season: he was the quarterback, not only of a state championship team, but for the only team to finish undefeated in the state.

Combine that feat with capping his career as the Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player in a championship game that was won in overtime and Kinzer has a memory to share for the remainder of his life.

"That's pretty special," Kinzer said. "It's quite an honor and I'm glad we got that record. It's great to be part of this team, that's all I know."

The state championship win was the fourth for Colome since 1981, but Connot believes Kinzer and this particular team are different.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he'll go down with one of the best single seasons ever," Connot said. "He's one of the best athletes ever, whether it's football, basketball or baseball - it doesn't matter. He'll be remembered as one of the best to walk the hallways (at Colome)."

Here's a look at the other players who received consideration, with point totals in parentheses:

Joey Slama (16): The Bon Homme senior threw for 1,653 yards and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 972 yards and 16 scores. Slama was responsible for 10 touchdowns in his final two games, including 369 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in Bon Homme's Class 9AA state championship win over Kimball/White Lake. Slama was the leading tackler for the Cavaliers, who came back from 20 points down to defeat the WiLdKats for Bon Homme's first state championship since 1995.

Jesse Hastings (10): Hastings was the motor of the MVP offense, carrying the team into the Class 11B semifinals for the first time in Titan history. The junior ran for 1,468 yards and 25 touchdowns, averaging 10.3 yards per carry. Hastings ran for 218 yards and four touchdowns on just nine carries in a Class 11B quarterfinal game against Lead-Deadwood, despite nursing a shoulder injury.

Jamin Arend (8): Arend, a senior for the Seahawks, was BEE's top rushing threat. He ran for 1,258 yards on 219 carries and had 22 touchdowns, helping the Seahawks to the Class 11B championship game. A dual threat player, Arend had three receiving touchdowns, three return touchdowns and an interception returned for a score. He had 66 tackles and five interceptions on defense.

Carson Max (4): As the Kernels' best two-way player, the senior ran for 706 yards on 125 carries and 10 touchdowns. As a linebacker on defense, Max had 116 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.

Trey Ortman (4): Quarterbacking the Class 9A state champions, Ortman threw for 1,625 yards on 91-for-136 passing, with a 67 percent completion percentage and 21 touchdowns to four interceptions. The junior ran for 762 yards on 113 carries and 15 touchdowns, and had 47 tackles on defense. Ortman went 8 of 9 passing for 165 yards and two scores in the Class 9A finals against Howard.

Brady Hawkins (1): The junior quarterback was 73-for-123 passing for 1,302 yards for 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 689 yards on 106 carries and nine touchdowns. Hawkins had a team-best 126 tackles, as BEE finished second in Class 11B.

Previous award winners: 1994: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1995: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1996: Glen "Andy" Thomas, Gregory; 1997: Jeff Schultz, Freeman; 1998: Chris Mikkelsen, Gregory; 1999: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2000: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2001: Tim Dacy, Gregory; 2002: Justin Horn, Tripp-Delmont; 2003: Michael Veskrna, Gregory; 2004: Doug Carlson, Howard; 2005: Jim Williams, Hanson; 2006: Jake Steffen, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2007: Josh Endres, Emery-Ethan; 2008: Earv Archambeau, Avon; 2009: Jayd Knodell, Winner; 2010: Jeb Olsen, Canistota; 2011: Jason Greenway, Mitchell; 2012: Jaden Bartling, Gregory; 2013: Brandon Kocmich, Avon; 2014: Luke Loudenburg, Howard; 2015: Windsor Barry, Winner; 2016: Spencer Neugebauer, Mitchell; 2017: Andy McCance, Gregory; 2018: Jackson Kinzer, Colome.

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