The race for the Aiken Standard's high school football Player of the Year honors now comes down to four finalists for each award.
The finalists for Offensive Player of the Year are Strom Thurmond's Jay Baker, Barnwell's Jamari Chisolm and Craig Pender, and Ridge Spring-Monetta's Collier Sullivan.
The finalists for Defensive Player of the Year are Ridge Spring-Monetta's Tray Dean, Barnwell's Ernest Smith and Deshawn Watson, and Wagener-Salley's Westin Williams.
The winners will be named at the Aiken Standard's Best of Prep Sports awards banquet, scheduled for May 29 at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.
Pender and Chisolm led Barnwell to a second consecutive runner-up finish in Class AA. Pender, the Warhorses' senior quarterback who was an Offensive Player of the Year finalist a year ago, completed 155 of 246 passes for 2,447 yards and 23 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He added another 496 rushing yards and four more touchdowns. Chisolm, a junior running back, burst onto the scene with an area-leading 1,785 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns on 201 carries. He added three more TDs and 324 yards on 26 receptions.
Baker, a newcomer for Strom Thurmond at wide receiver, gave the Rebels a game-breaking threat in the passing game. He caught 74 passes for 1,136 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he routinely found himself wide open behind opposing defensive backs during the Rebels' run to the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.
Sullivan is a finalist for the second year in a row after helping Ridge Spring-Monetta reach the Class A state title game. The senior running back rushed for 1,527 yards and 21 touchdowns on 250 carries, and he caught five passes for 128 yards and two more scores. All of that, in addition to 100 tackles at linebacker for the Region 3-A Defensive Player of the Year.
Watson and Smith headlined a punishing defense that again had the Warhorses on the brink of a state title. Watson, a senior linebacker who represented South Carolina at the Shrine Bowl, is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist for the second year in a row after racking up 172 tackles (28 for loss), 14 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown – that's a big reason why a Burke High assistant coach tweeted that his players called Watson a "cyborg". He pointed out that Smith, "99 at DT", was a handful, too. The senior made 118 tackles (30 for loss), had eight sacks, broke up a pass and blocked a field goal.
Dean was as relentless as ever for the Trojans during their Upper State championship season. The senior defensive end earned all-region honors after making 146 tackles (22 for loss) to go along with seven sacks, four fumble recoveries and a touchdown return during the Trojans' win in the Upper State title game.
Williams spent more time in the opposing backfield than anyone in the area. The War Eagles' senior defensive lineman and tight end, a North-South all-star selection, was named Region 3-A's Player of the Year after making 110 tackles (63 for loss) to go along with eight sacks, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown. He also caught three passes for 76 yards and two scores for the back-to-back region champions, whose senior class is the most successful in school history.