Top Arizona football scholar athletes honored April 2 in Scottsdale


The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the National Football Foundation will host the top 40 high school and college top football scholar-athletes, along with their coaches, on Saturday, April 2 at the Hilton-Scottsdale Resort and Villas in Scottsdale at the chapter’s 35th Annual Scholar Athlete Awards Banquet.

The public is invited.

Representing the best from over 258,000 students in 186 high schools, and players from our three universities and five junior colleges in northern and central Arizona, honorees will receive scholarship commitments totaling $40,750.

The chapter is a proud recipient of a 2015 Fiesta Bowl Charities, grant which will partially underwrite the scholarships.

ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici, also a semifinalist for the 2016 NFF William V. Campbell Trophy – the academic Heisman equivalent, will headline the stellar college recipients.

Bercovici will be joined by NAU’s first team All Big Sky running back Casey Jahn. Casey was an All Arizona record-setting player from Glendale’s Northwest Christian School in 2011.

Among the Scottsdale scholar-athletes to be recognized at the event:

  • Fiesta Bowl First Team scholar-athletes: David Sedmak from Scottsdale Prep and Mark Nolan from Notre Dame Prep High School.
  • Fiesta Bowl Third Team honors: James White from Saguaro.

Arizona Christian University head coach Donnie Yantis submitted the Chapter’s first NAIA  scholar athlete to be honored, Phillippi D. Sparks, Jr. – “P.J”.

With impressive academics, PJ was a standout running back and kick returner for the Firestorm, made first team All CSFL Conference, and played in the NAIA vs. D-II All Star Game.

PJ is no longer known simply as NFL’s Phillippi Sparks’ son, or singer Jordin Sparks’ brother. PJ is now a deserving NFF Scholar Athlete.

Glendale Community College will be represented by another familiar Arizona name as Byron Evans II will receive NFF Scholar Athlete accolades.

Byron’s linebacker play for the Gauchos and his exceptional classroom performance resulted in an offer from NAU. He is the namesake of former University of Arizona and Philadelphia Eagle’s linebacker Byron Nelson Evans.

Phoenix College quarterback Nicholas Duckworth led the Western States Football League (and AZCCAC) in passing offense and TD’s, and will be only the seventh PC Bear to receive NFF scholar athlete recognition. A transfer from Ventura College, Nick plans to continue football at Western Oregon University and pursue his bachelorette degree.

Nominated by their coaches, the NFF Scholar Athletes are selected and ranked by a blue-ribbon committee using criteria based on 40 percent academic performance, 40 percent football accomplishments, and 20 percent school and community citizenship, and participation.

This year’s class features three All Arizona-Big 25 high school players. Ryan Velez of Brophy Prep earned NFF Scholar Athlete honors in addition to being previously named the Chapter’s Archie Amerson Top Arizona Senior Running Back.”

Velez was also named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Arizona all-divisions team as RB.  He is joined by Arizona Football Coaches Association(AzFCA) Big-25 All Arizona punter- defensive back Zach Glaess of Queen Creek, and Big-25/ Top defensive lineman Roy Lopez III, of Gilbert Mesquite.

The Chapter’s “Shaw Courage Award”, designating a player that has exhibited valor and succeeded in the face-of-adversity, will be presented to DV State Champion Joy Christian School, All State quarterback, Matt Mitchell.

The Native-American heritage “Talking Stick Resort Award for Excellence” scholarships will be presented to Buckeye Verrado High School wide receiver Kenneth Wilson, nominated by his coach Derek Wahlstrom, and Marcus Mannie, Mesa Westwood High School, nominated by coach Jim Ewan.

The chapter-Board-sponsored memorial “Francis Kush Dedicated Student Athlete Award” will be presented to standout Brophy Prep quarterback Cade Knox. Highly recruited, Knox plans to attend and play QB for Ivy League Harvard University.

The special high school and college football players will be venerated and designated as lifetime NFF Scholar Athletes, along with the other Top-33 players in the 2015-2016 Class.

This class of talented gridiron athletes also brandishes a scholarly average GPA of 4.32 to compliment their extraordinary school and community services. Twenty-six other players will be designated NFF Scholar Athlete Honorable Mention – by certificate.

With this 2016 class, the Valley of the Sun Chapter has committed to scholarships amounting to almost $ 600,000.00, since 1981.

Past Chapter Scholar Athletes include Mike Nixon – Sunnyslope High School in ’02 and ASU in ’10; Austin Swerdfeger – Deer Valley ’09; Bret Powers – Glendale Cactus ’88; Tevin Hood – Chandler Hamilton ’10; Kent Kiefer – Tempe McClintock ’85; Todd Heap – Mesa Mountain View ’97; and, over 1,100 others by either scholarship commitment – or certificate declaration.

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