It was a special season for the offense at Bellevue West.
The T-birds were home to the statistically best quarterback and receiver in the state in Brad Brazeal and CJ Johnson, respectively.
It was Brazeal's first year as the full-time quarterback after playing multiple possitions his first three years. In his first year under center, Brazeal put up stagering numbers.
The senior tossed for 2,770 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air while completing 64 percent of his throws. He ran for almost 400 yards and six scores on the ground, also.
“We ask a lot out of our QB position in both the run game and the passing game,” coach Mike Huffman said. “They have to make plays with their feet and their arms but, most importantly, they have to be great decision makers.”
Brazeal's great numbers show his intelligence, both on and off the field. The quarterback is also a 4.0 student in the classroom.
“Brad is the epitome of the phrase student-athlete,” Huffman said. “His intelligence level allowed us to fully install the offense earlier then expected, which made it possible to have answers for opponents on a weekly basis.”
Brazeal's main target throughout the season was Johnson, who had a breakout season. The junior receiver led the state in receptions (79), yards (1,364) and receiving TDs (17). His 17 touchdown grabs is good for second best in state history.
“CJ is an elite athlete that is working really hard at becoming one of the best receivers that this state has seen,” Huffman said. “Week in and week out opponents schemed to take CJ out of the equation and he stayed patient and team focused and the results were staggering.
“He has amazing body control and seems to find his way out of tight situations frequently.”
While the offense stole most the headlines over the season, the defense did plenty to add to the T-bird success, with linebacker Mike Gilbert in on just about every play.
Gilbert was the catalyst on defense, made evident on the switch when he was injured and missed three games.
“Mike is throwback two-way player that was the heart and soul of our football team,” Huffman said. “Mike is a tough, hard-nosed player that made our defense go, and we suffered without his leadership and playmaking ability.”
Gilbert totaled 68 tackled on the season, 14.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage. He also did damage on offense by leading the team in rushing, just under 500 yards and six scores.
Huffman said he was equally important in pass protection, keeping Brazeal upright.
Frank Dolincheck was another T-bird who acceleded at protecting the passer. His dominate play from the tackle position was key to the outstanding numbers the West offense put up.
The other two West players on first team came from its secondary with Cole Patterson and Malik Hluchoweckyj.
Patterson led the team in tackles with 81 from his safety position. He also forced two turnovers, an interception and a fumble recovery. Hluchoweckyj was the T-birds' top cornerback with three pass deflections and one pick.
• Papillion-La Vista South running back Drew Klein led the group of Titans on first team.
Klein had one of the best years rushing in Class A history with 2,165 yards and 25 touchdowns. He became just the second back to eclipse the 2,000 yard mark in the regular season, with Omaha North's Calvin Strong being the only other player to achieve it, also this year.
“He's a very humble individual,” Titan coach Walt Olsen said. “I've never heard him say anything about himself or how good he's doing. He's a damn good kid.”
What makes Klein's numbers so impressive is how he continued to rack up yards with defensives keying on him.
“Everyone knows he is getting the ball and he still piles up yardage,” West's Huffman said.
In front of every great running back is a great line, and Kieron Keffer led that group for the Titans. He was considered the most consistent force on the line.
When Klein and the offense couldn't punch it in the end zone, kicker Billy Greco was a safe bet to boot it in.
He made five of six kicks on the season with a long of 47 yards. His big leg was also a weapon on kickoffs, racking up 41 touchbacks on 53 kicks.
Defensive selections Jacob Schram and Luke Sellers were all over the field as linebackers in being the top stoppers on the Papio South defense. Schram notched 85 tackles with Sellers adding 76. Schram added an interception and Sellers notched two sacks on the year.
• Papillion-La Vista had its share of representations on first team by taking up seven spots.
Highlighting the Monarch selections is quarterback Alec Ditoro, one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Nebraska Class A football.
He concluded his career with a 2,650-yard, 29-touchdown season. This season, he also added more plays with his legs that wasn't expected. He ran for 509 yards and six TDs on the ground.
“He's a great leader and he's got the respect of all his teammates, ” Papio coach Jeff Govier said.
“Alec is very unsatisfied as a player and that's part of what makes him so special. There's a lot of things he wants to accomplish and it's not the awards. He wants to win.”
The two main weapons for Ditoro on the year were receiver Reid Matthias and running back Sean Van Briesen.
Matthias grabbed 64 balls for 911 this year and 10 TDs.
Van Briesen notched 1,079 yards running and 208 yards receiving, scoring 13 total touchdowns.
Josh Roberts was the leader on the Monarch offensive line at the center position, making a 1,000-yard rusher and 2,500-yard passer possible.
The Monarch defense slotted four on that end. Linebackers Kyle Emerick and Nick Lechtenberg led Papio in tackles with 112 and 109, respectively, and two fumble recoveries each.
Tyler Koch lead the team in sacks with eight from his defensive end possition, notching 11 total tackles for loss.
Jalen Allison's secondary play was second to none on the Monarchs defense. The senior was seemingly always in the right spot.
• Bellevue East had four All-ITG selections, three on the offensive ball.
Trev Lovell did it all for the Chieftians with 18 passing touchdowns and another six on the ground in leading East to the playoffs.
His main target was Brady Pelzer, who had game-changing ability.
Pelzer compiled 1,026 total yards and 14 TDs. He was able to hurt defenses from everywhere on the offense.
Brandon Chunka-Butler was the force the Cheiftains needed up front for their offense to work. He racked up 60 pancake blocks on the season.
Aaron Galvan was the lone selection for the Cheiftains on the defensive end. Galvan led the squad in tackles with 73 from the secondary and added an interception.
• Senior Cody Petrie was the lone selection from Bryan as he was a key member of both the offensive and defensive lines.
Honorable Mention: Bellevue East - Tommy Walther, Carrington Jackson, Jake Wild. Bellevue West - Brennan Cascio, Jovan Gasper, Justin Tran. Bryan - Donny Nekola, JJ Williams, Terrance Finley, Jamaul Fitzgerald, Sean Visitacion. Papillion-La Vista - Steven Bowers, Jack Kalina, Nate Lechtenberg, Davis Newell, Kenzo Cotton. P-LV South - Taylor Bagley, Nate Stoner, Ryan Earith, Steve Zagurski, Kyle Kasun, Josh Manchigiah.